Technology streamlines the legal job search in ways not available just a few years ago. Students can apply for jobs online, email cover letters and resumes to potential employers and research firms in minutes. But it also raises questions for law students caught between digital job search techniques and more traditional approaches to entering the legal market.
Should I tweet the firm I want to work for? Should I email that recruiter or call? Do I really need a LinkedIn profile? Is it ok to use the selfie I just Instagrammed as my Facebook profile photo?
The Career Development Office works to balance law students’ and employers’ perspectives on best practices for landing a legal job. The CDO offers a host of programming covering all aspects of the job hunt. The Student Bar Association’s CDO liaisons arrange for students to take discounted headshots to use on their online profiles. (Hint: It’s probably time to lose that selfie.) The CDO liaisons also offer business card ordering to assist students in more conventional job search tactics. And Assistant Dean for Career Development Sarka Cerna-Fagan and CDO Director Katie O’Leary explain the digital dos and don’ts for the student job search.
Do you think social media has changed the landscape for the job search? If so, do you have any advice on how students should navigate that?
Katie: I do, and I think there are some positives and some negatives. Starting with the positives, it’s much easier to connect with practitioners than it used to be. You don’t have to have an email address for them or have someone introduce you, so we often encourage students to connect, especially on professional sites like LinkedIn. I think Twitter can also be a great use for that. If you’re interested in a particular field, it’s very easy to follow the heavy-hitters and communicate with them one-on-one . . . It’s also easier to prep for interviews, because you can easily find out what firms or employers are doing based on their Twitter and Facebook pages. The negative is obviously that students are also out there from the world to see. From day one, we remind them of that. Our students are professionals, so I think it’s rarely an issue. However, they do have to be aware that employers are checking them out online and making decisions on a social media platform about whether they’d be good fits for their organizations.
Sarka: But I think there is a little caveat, and it is that the legal profession is so traditional and is famous for not keeping up with technology. . . . The students who are very creative may have a hard time complying with those traditional requirements, like ivory-colored resumes and matching envelopes. To some extent, students may feel restricted when they reach out to employers.
Katie: And I think that goes for social media, too. It’s much easier to use social media if you’re interested in a field that’s a little more cutting-edge. I always think of the sports law students when I think about this, because most of the heavy-hitting players in the sports law arena are very present on social media. A student interested in that field can find out pretty much everything they want to know online. . . . A student who’s interested in a corporate transactional setting may be a little disappointed in the fact that they’re not getting as much from the practitioners whom they’d like to connect with. That being said, I think a lot of the larger firms are doing a great job of promoting themselves on social media. I follow a lot of the big firms in our local market and can find out pretty much anything they’re doing at any time, but that is not the case for smaller and mid-size firms, and those are the employers a lot of our students go to. I think some of our students may be a little ahead of the people they’d like to connect with, because they’ve just been doing it longer. It’s a transition.
Sarka: It’s just the little things. I remember some students could not understand why they shouldn’t have [QR] codes on their resumes. I know for sure that some of the more traditional recruiters just don’t like that. But if you are applying to a solo practitioner who does a lot of IP work, they may be more likely to click. So it does depend on where you’re applying.
Katie: It does highlight, not necessarily the generational gap, but the gap between students and professionals. Because in our field at least, the important people are not necessarily valuing technology as much, and students may be valuing it a little too much. I feel like both sides could get to a happy medium. It is an issue we have with students – you can’t always email, you can’t always expect texts, you sometimes have to get on the phone or in person and chat.
Sarka: Lawyers are also used to talking a lot, and now the students and younger population seem more comfortable texting and emailing. Sometimes, we have had issues when emails are not as clear as talking to someone in person. Students should think about getting outside their comfort zones and meeting in person or picking up the phone, rather than sending emails or text messages.
Katie: But, to answer your question, that is the flip side of it. Students have to kind of work backwards, because they need to work within the parameters of the decision-makers in the field. At some point, those decision-makers may come around to more social media, more technology, more texting, but at this point, I don’t think the majority of the field is there.
Sarka: They still need to play according to the old rules.
Q: So it sounds like social media is a good resource for students, but it isn’t a substitute for the traditional ways of communicating with employers.
Sarka: That will happen when these students become partners one day!
Katie: But by then the new students and associates will be onto something else and won’t even use email anymore!
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