Time to face an uncomfortable truth: no one likes showing up to a place and asking for a job. Law students and lawyers know that building a strong network is a great way to guard against unemployment, and at some point have experienced the awkward sensation of a conversation shutting down because someone says (in some way or another) “I am here because I want a job.”
Suddenly, no matter how pleasant, resourceful, or awesome that individual seemed, they have transformed into a needy person at the party. It is a message that many job seeker do not intend to send, but feel the greatest need and urgency to send.
To anyone who is seeking an opportunity, remember that your goal is to create an opportunity for yourself. That is the signal you want to send out. Avoid asking for a job by considering one of the following approaches:
Suggestion 1: Ask them for their thoughts on opportunities you are interested in.
This is an approach that requires you to do a bit of homework. If you have an idea about who the person you are speaking to is, and have a particular opportunity (or target employer) in mind, ask them what their thoughts are on that opportunity of interest.
For example, if you meet a litigator who you know is familiar with an area of work in a different firm you are interested in, rather than ask them “do you know who I can talk to to get a job there?,” ask instead: “I saw that FIRM is looking hire someone to work on MATTER. What are your thoughts about MATTER?”
This enables you to collect information—perhaps giving you details and giving rise to an opportunity for you to show that you can solve it (“I’ve resolved issues about MATTER” or “My primary area of focus is about MATTER, and I agree that I would take the following steps.”).
Suggestion 2: Convey your genuine interest and enthusiasm for a team.
If you have ever had a favorite television show or sports team, you know how to find a tactful entry point for you to share how much you LOVE that show or team. Similarly, there is a tactful way for you to weave a message about your genuine interest or enthusiasm for a particular team or practice area.
After utilizing Suggestion 1, perhaps it doesn’t make sense for you to share what you can do to address a potential employer’s particular need. Instead, consider conveying your genuine enthusiasm or interest in the information you just learned (“That sounds exactly like what I would I love to be doing” or “I would be so pumped to be part of a team like that.”).
This is a gentle way to get your contact to talk more about that opportunity, and perhaps even give rise to an opportunity for you to ask how you can get in touch to learn more.
Suggestion 3: Ask for a specific update.
If you have done your homework—or know that the person you are speaking with is abreast of who is hiring for what or connected to the movers and shakers—asking them “what’s new” at a particular firm or practice area is a great way to spark a conversation that may uncover job opportunities (“I heard that FIRM merged with OTHER FIRM…have you heard of any new opportunities or developments there?” or “I read about these ongoing CASES…is JUDGE SO-SO going to need any help in the MATTER?”)
Even if the contact is not a subject matter expert, they might have great information to share why you fit in a particular team or can resolve a particular problem.
(As a bonus, these suggestions will give you all the information you need to send a great follow-up email the next day!)
Remember: it is about sparking a conversation and learning about opportunities, not about asking for a job because you hate what you are doing or unemployed. Check out my previous post advising law students and new lawyers.