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Beating the recruitment blues

|Written By Wela Quan
Beating the recruitment blues
The recruiting process is stressful but our writer notes that everything will be OK!

Recruitment season is upon us and everywhere around this vast country law students are dizzying themselves with worry over landing a coveted law job.

Whether it is for the government, for a non-profit, or a chance to stroll down Bay Street, recruitment seems to intensify every year as the competition for fewer positions stiffens. With the media still obsessed with the dreadful topic of the “economic downturn” and law blogs buzzing over the hemorrhaging of jobs, it’s no wonder law students are fraught with nervousness going into recruitment.

The odds, it seems, are stacked against even the brightest legal minds. So you think, “I might as well call it quits now” since you’re hardly the brightest.

As a matter of fact, you’re pretty damned average all around. Your grades are average. Your resumé seems pretty average. And let’s face it, you look pretty average as well. What’s an average student like you to do in this recruitment death match?

These were all thoughts that I had in my head when I went into the recruitment process in the fall of 2008. I remember it like it was yesterday and I will be very honest with you: it was the most gruelling three days I have experienced. Now being an articling student and remembering the intensity of the process, I decided that someone ought to give some advice to try and help calm everyone down.

First of all, it’s going to be OK.

You are a law student. You have gotten this far. No matter what happens, things will work out. Even if you don’t land that summer or articling job you wanted, you will end up doing something worthwhile. I won’t pretend that everyone is successful at recruitment, but even if you are not, there are other ways of getting a job if you take initiative and be creative.

Having said this, let’s start with the basics: feeling like you don’t know anything about anything. This is normal. You are not alone. I did not know a single thing about how recruiting worked going into law school. As a matter of fact, I pretty much knew nothing all the way through the process. And you know what? That’s OK!

The recruitment process has a steep learning curve for everyone, which leads me to my first piece of advice. Remember to breathe.

Remembering to breathe is important during recruitment for several reasons. First, it is important to calm your nervousness during interviews. You are meeting a lot of new people all at once and having to take in a lot of information. It can all be overwhelming, which is why your personal health is very important.

Eat lunch. Take five minutes between interviews to write things down and collect your thoughts. Stamina counts for everything so be mentally prepared for a long-distance jog instead of a 100-metre sprint.

Second, take breathers to conserve your energy wisely so you are not mentally checked out at the dinners and the cocktails. The last thing you want is to tire from exhaustion so make sure you get a good night’s sleep. It is OK to leave early if you are feeling tired. It is better to make a 20-minute appearance at a cocktail party where you are on your game than staying for an hour of which 45 minutes are spent thinking about going to bed.

After the first day of recruitment, I was so tired I really could only stand to be at a cocktail event for about 20 minutes. I gave it my all for that time but then knew I had to go home because I was developing a scratchy throat. I could not risk being sick for the next two days.

In hindsight it was probably the best thing I could have done because I woke up the next day feeling refreshed after getting eight hours of sleep. I prevented a cold that could have ruined the rest of the week for me. At first I felt bad about not spending enough time at the party as at the time it was a firm I was very interested in. But as it turns out it didn’t matter because I still got an offer from that firm — the firm I am articling with today!

This leads me to my second piece of advice. Work smarter not harder.

This piece of advice has several applications. The first is using your time wisely. Don’t hang around for a long period of time at an event just to have a physical presence. The lawyers who are interviewing you may not seem like it but they are human too. They get tired as well. There is no point in being somewhere if you do not want to be there.

Recruitment is like the dating scene; make your appearances count for something. How many times has it happened that when ladies show too much interest, the boys stop caring? Yet as soon as you stop calling, they wonder about you and start to call you? It’s clichéd but true, a little bit of mystery goes a long way. Firms are exactly the same. I am not saying that you should not go to the events that you have been invited to. You should definitely go to everything you can go to, but make sure you are genuinely interested when you do go, and not just for the sake of going.

On this I can give you one example. There was a big Bay Street firm that I was really interested in. I had my first interview and got invited back for a second the next day. The next morning I went back and they invited me to meet even more people in the afternoon. This went on for three days such that I was even there the afternoon of the third day just hours before the call time. In total, I went to that firm five times. Did I get an offer? Hell no!

Things like this happen all the time. I felt like I had it in the bag the whole time, up until the fifth time I went to the firm. When I went at 2 p.m. on call day I met a senior partner whom I could just feel that I did not click with. I could sense her quiet dislike of me. I am certain that had I not met her, I would have received an offer.

The truth is not everyone at the firm will like you. The more people you meet, the more chances there are of meeting someone who may not like you. While it is very important to meet a lot of people, there are also risks associated with this; balance is key. Not only did the firm monopolize my time, I was not really doing myself a favour by making so many appearances.

In the end, the firm I got a job with I went to twice for first and second interviews and spent 20 minutes at their cocktail, a mere slice of the time I spent at the other firm. Go figure.

This leads me to my third piece of advice. Ignore the gossip.

There is no magic formula. To this day, I still don’t know how my firm picked me or what the decision process looked like, but what I do know is how important it is to focus on yourself. Some people get invited to dinners, some don’t. Some get asked back for more interviews, some don’t. No one can tell you what anything means and you should not read into anything. So what if your friend has a dinner with the firm you want to work for?

Focus on the firms you have interviews with and filter out the buzz. Different firms have different policies. Some firms make it a policy to invite everyone to dinner. Other firms only invite those they are not sure about — to better understand candidates. Some firms invite those they want to hire. Whatever the case, do not over-think it. Do not over-think anything.

Two anecdotes on this piece of advice. The first was a cocktail party I was invited to by a firm on the first day of interviews. I was pretty confident they only invited candidates they were interested in so I thought things were going well having been invited. I even thought I had great first interviews. Later that night when the firm called, I was certain it was going to give me a second interview. To my utter shock, they were calling to tell me they were not going to move ahead with me in the process! That came out of nowhere.

The second, and perhaps the most important lesson to take away from my ignore-the-buzz advice actually happened almost towards the end of my summer with my current firm. A bunch of us summer students were all together and we somehow started talking about recruitment. Someone then mentioned the dinner they had with the firm. I was so confused, what dinner? I found out — at the end of my summer with the firm — that there was a recruitment dinner to which I was obviously not invited to. This just shows why it does not matter because I got the job anyway!

One final piece of advice — this one is directed towards female students — wear what you are most comfortable in. I met with a lot of upper-year students to learn more about recruitment and asked for some fashion tips. On three different occasions by three different girls I was told to wear a pearl necklace. “You’re joking!” I said, but they were not. “Really? But I don’t like pearls!” Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who wear pearls, but they’re just not part of my wardrobe. I wasn’t about to be someone I’m not just for recruiting and you should not either.

Remember to breathe, stay balanced, and ignore the buzz. And as those of us from Quebec would say, bon courage!

Wela Quan is an articling student at a Bay Street law firm and completed her two law degrees at McGill University. A proud Albertan, she went to and worked for the University of Alberta prior to her life as a lawyer-to-be. She can be reached at wela.quan@mail.mcgill.ca.

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