Top 5 tips for getting your first job
So your law degree is coming to an end, and you’re finally going to be a law graduate. All the hard work, long nights and tireless exam preparations have finally paid off.
It’s an exciting time, but can also be a stressful one as you turn your mind to the next big steps: finishing your Practical Legal Training (PLT) and finding a job.
Here are five tips to help make the task less daunting.
1. Look beyond job boards
Job boards are a popular destination for job seekers and we’ve all relied on them at one time or another.
But it may surprise you to know that only around 20% of jobs are advertised. So if your job search strategy consists entirely of responding to advertisements, you are potentially missing out on a whopping 80% of opportunities. This is known as the ‘hidden job market’.
So how are the other 80% of jobs getting filled?
Contacts & networks
There have been studies suggesting that candidates referred to an employer by a mutual contact are up to twice as likely to land an interview. So a great strategy for any job search is to start by asking yourself: who do I know in the profession? Make a list of everyone in your life who has any connection to the kinds of organisations you’re interested in working for, and talk to them about making an introduction.
They don’t even necessarily need to be lawyers or HR Managers; there are plenty of cases where jobs have been secured through support staff passing on a CV, or even mutual contacts in social circles. So don’t be afraid to think more broadly about the concept of ‘contacts and networks’.
Let’s assume you’ve exhausted your networks or are having difficulty identifying existing contacts. The next job search strategy to consider is the direct approach. This involves researching organisations and individuals that you are interested in working for, and contacting them with an expression of interest for employment.
While this may sound daunting, it will get easier with practice and, more importantly, it regularly works! The key, however, is to tailor each approach to the particular individual you are contacting. The ‘scattergun’ approach rarely reaps rewards, and a handful of tailored emails will always be more effective than a mass-mailout of generic letters.
2. Ask for advice, not just a job
A great way to get in front of employers is to reach out to experienced practitioners for advice. Rather than only asking a practitioner about job opportunities, why not ask them for career guidance?
For example, let’s assume you have an interest in personal injury law, and you want
to find out more about how to practise in the area. One way to do this is to identify an accomplished personal injury lawyer, and reach out to them for what’s known as an ‘informational interview’.
An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area that interests you who will give you information and advice. It is an effective research tool, but it’s also a potential stepping-stone to a job. At its core, an effective job search involves building relationships and networking. Getting in front of decision-makers, even for advice, is a great way of getting on their radar and potentially being considered for future roles. At worst, you’ll get some great advice. At best, you’ll get a job! There’s also no substitute for building a small pool of mentors to bounce ideas off as you go through your career.
3. Set up a LinkedIn account
Having a LinkedIn account is becoming increasingly important if you want to tap into the ‘hidden job market’.
The platform hosts millions of members and company profiles, and is a powerful tool for anyone wanting to research prospective employers. It’s also a great place to find and approach lawyers for informational interviews.
LinkedIn also gives access to job boards, useful articles, and discussion groups so that you can network and meet with like-minded people in your field of interest.
Over 90% of recruiters use social media for their recruitment strategy and, as you build more experience in the law, you will probably start to receive approaches from recruiters on LinkedIn looking to hire you for their clients. Ironically, the jobs will start to find you. So it’s important to start building your LinkedIn network early in your career.
4. Look beyond traditional legal careers
There was a time when completing a law degree led to a rigid and predictable career. But today, law graduates have access to more varied and interesting career options that go way beyond typical law firm roles, and it’s important that you know all your options.
Chances are you’ve heard of lawyers in private practice, in-house, and at the Bar. However, there are some wonderful opportunities for law graduates in lesser-known areas such as government, insurance, human resources, policy and case management. Many law graduates have gone on to become HR Managers, Claims Officers, Compliance Managers, Project Coordinators, Dispute Analysts, Industrial Relations Advisors, and Members of Parliament (to name a few).
So an important first step to improving your chances of getting a job is to look outside the square and open your mind to possible career paths you may not have considered.
5. Build and demonstrate non-law skills
This might sound counter-intuitive given you’ve just finished law school, but believe it or not the most important skill set you bring to an employer isn’t necessarily your legal knowledge. Particularly in the age of Google and artificial intelligence, it is becoming less important to know the law, and more important to know how to use it. It’s all about adding value, and that takes more than just an ability to analyse case law and legislation. Your future clients and colleagues will want you to use your knowledge to creatively and effectively solve problems.
Additionally, employers are increasingly insisting on graduates who can demonstrate leadership, emotional intelligence (EQ), and business development skills. Information technology skills (particularly coding) are increasingly in demand, as is an ability to build authentic relationships with clients.
So a good way to increase your chances of employment is to build your non-legal skills and demonstrate them in your CV and job interviews. Need to build your communication skills? Why not join a debating team. Need to improve your marketing skills? Perhaps take a course in business development. Keen to polish up on client relationship skills? How about volunteering in a role that gets you in front of clients or customers.
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