If you are graduating this May, you have my deepest sympathies. You are graduating at a time when most of the world is economically frozen. Many of you will not get your first-choice jobs. Others will not get jobs at all. To make things worse, your graduation ceremonies are either put on hold or canceled altogether. You and your loved ones cannot celebrate at the fanciest restaurant in town as every restaurant is closed. Your graduation present will probably be a box of extra-soft Charmin and a set of face masks that a family member waited in line since 5 a.m. to get.
I understand. I understand too well actually. I graduated college right before the internet bubble burst. I graduated with excellent grades at a top tax LLM program. I was a finalist at an ABA national tax competition and was published at a top tax journal. So I thought I had a shot at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, a tax court clerkship, or possibly a major law firm. But I graduated in 2007 right when the housing crisis began. I didn’t get one interview. Some of the firms at least had the courtesy to send me a rejection letter on their nice firm letterhead.
So you, like myself, are a victim of bad timing. After graduation, you may end up doing something else after graduation. In the job market, you will be competing for jobs with experienced lawyers who have been laid off. If the effects of the pandemic continue, you may compete for jobs with new graduates and recruiters will wonder why you had an employment gap for so long. While they may claim to understand that you did what you had to do because of the pandemic, I suspect some will think you are hiding something. Or it is easier for them to find their purple squirrel.
The traditional method of job searching is tedious, frustrating, and discouraging in a bad job market. You will apply to many jobs and will get rejected by all of them. This is because, if you can see a job opening, so can many others and you will be competing against them. From the employer’s perspective, they barely know most of the job applicants other than what’s on their resumes. So they are naturally going to look first at where you got your degree and your recent work experience. The reality is that most lawyers don’t know how to properly select a good candidate. Your goal should be to have the lawyers think of you before they resort to the classifieds or to contract lawyers.
Your best bet is to join a local lawyers’ group on social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn. You can find multiple groups that fit your interests. Right now, a lot of lawyers and other professionals have more free time and are spending their time in these virtual groups. Participate in the conversations and try to connect with a few members. Try to have the members get to know you a bit before announcing your interest in a job. Once they know you, they will remember you when they see a possible opening in the future.
Also, now that this pandemic has popularized virtual meetings, it is easier to attend these meetings without leaving home. And many groups are offering them for free. So try to attend as many as possible. Wear business-appropriate attire. And if you are attending in your home, make sure that you don’t show a messy room or inappropriate photos or language in the background.
Second, read up on the areas of law that you are interested in. Hopefully your law school will give alumni free access to the school library’s digital subscriptions. If they don’t, demand it. Isn’t this is what you paid $50,000 per year for? Shouldn’t they take some minimal steps to help you pay your $300,000-plus in student loans? Otherwise, your school’s law library is going to waste.
Lastly, use this opportunity to help people and to make solid connections. You are not the only one hurting. Help them in their time of need. Most will remember what you did for them and will eventually return the favor. They will refer potential clients to you or send you job leads and give strong testimonials. Make friends you can trust. You may end up starting a law firm or a start-up business together.
A bad job market will test your grit, persistence, and creativity. Do what you have to do to survive and to help others along the way. You may not see immediate results but with consistency and time, people will reach out to you with reliable job leads. Just know that if you can make it through this recession, chances are good that you’ll survive the next recession too.
P.S. If people are still ignoring you, reach out to me. I’ll be happy to chat with you and help.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolve tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people with large student loans. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.
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