Forge Ahead

Forge Ahead

21 January, 2013

It is simple supply and demand – when the markets slow down, available positions decrease and the supply of candidates increases.  Whether you’re just starting your career, have been recently downsized, or are unhappy in your current role, now is the time to put extra effort into your search.  Below are 7 tips to help you forge ahead.
Network.  I mean without your computer.  Get out there and engage, with real, LIVE people.  Call a former classmate or someone who works in your desired industry and invite them for a coffee.  Attend CLE seminars, conferences, meet with recruiters, get involved with your children’s school, your alumni group, charity work…  The more people you engage with on a daily basis, the more opportunities for them to see how fantastic you are and recommend you to someone they know when the time comes.  And the time always comes – the legal community is very small.
Do your homework.  The best starting point for researching a company or law firm is their website.  Know the business inside and out before your meeting.  Your first question at an interview should never be “what does your company do?” or “what area does your firm practice in?”  At this point in the process, your due diligence should have given you those answers already.  Research the profiles of the people you are meeting – know as much about them as you can.  If they are on LinkedIn, you may be able to see where they went to school, who they are connected to, and how long they have been with the organization.  (And if you’re not on LinkedIn, you should be.  A professional without a LinkedIn profile is like a company without a website – it raises questions about your legitimacy).  A simple Google search can also give you a lot of information, including recent news, transactions, and other activity.
Dress the part.  As my favourite TV character, Barney Stinson, often says, “suit up!”  When you’re not working, getting out of your sweatpants and putting on a suit for a coffee meeting gets you into “business mode” – the right attitude for job searching.  Suit up for your interviews too – you can never be overdressed (apart from wearing a ball gown or tuxedo, but you know what I mean.)  A suit says “I am a business person and I am taking this meeting seriously”.
Flip your perspective to that of the employer.  Put some actual thought into why they should hire you.  Be ready to answer the dreaded final interview question “do you have any questions?”  It shows the employer you’re interested, and that you are good when put on the spot.  Focusing on your wants, including salary, won’t help the decision-maker determine if you’re the right candidate.  Yes, compensation is an important factor in any job search, and yes, the subject will have to be discussed at some point – but don’t make it the focal point.  Even when you know you’re perfect for the role, the employer has to come to that realization on their own.  There is no point negotiating until they do.
Don’t be negative.  Oh wait, that’s negative.
Be positive!  Everything negative can be turned into a positive.  “I feel there is a glass ceiling in my current company” can be re-stated as “I am looking for an opportunity that will provide me with greater opportunities for growth and advancement”.  “My work environment is toxic” becomes “I am searching for a more collegial atmosphere”.  “I am grossly underpaid” becomes “I am seeking a role that will value all that I bring to the table”.  You get the idea.  But be careful – some things are perceived as negative no matter how you say them.  Never speak poorly of your current or past employer; that leads a potential employer to wonder if you will badmouth them one day.  And be cautious when speaking about achieving work/life balance – this generic phrase can sometimes be the kiss of death.  Instead, focus on what balance means to you: greater predictability in your schedule, fewer late nights and office sleep-overs, etc.
Be direct.  Ask for what you want and express your interest.  Too many times we assume the person we are talking to knows what we want.  Leave every meeting with a reiteration of your interest (if you are, in fact, interested).  Those coffee meetings you had?  Ask them for a reference, a referral, to pass along your CV.  Remember that no one is a mind-reader and nothing ventured means nothing gained.
Follow-up.  Send a thank you note.  There is something to be said about a short, hand-written thank you note – it always gets my attention.  But if you feel that’s over the top, simply send a brief, well-written email thanking the person for their time and expressing your interest.  Make sure that you collect business cards so that you can properly follow-up – but be respectful of the process and don’t harass anyone for feedback.
Emily Lee is a Toronto-based partner with ZSA Legal Recruitment.  For nearly 10 years, she has focused on placing lawyers in law firms and in-house counsel positions throughout Canada and globally.  Emily can be reached at


1050 West Pender Street, Suite 620 Vancouver B.C V6E 3S7

(604) 681-0706


(403) 205-3444


200 University Avenue, Suite 1000 Toronto, ON M5H 3C6

(416) 368-2051


1470 Peel St, Suite 726 Montreal, Quebec H3A 1T1

(514) 228-2880