Don’t fear failure

Don’t fear failure
Being rejected during the recruiting process does not mean the end of your law career. illustration: Shutterstock
Wela Quan

It has now been a full month since the end of recruitment and the fallout has only started to clear up. Months and months of preparation culminated in an epic battle for the golden prize of a coveted law job. For some, the sleepless nights of resumé formatting and the years of hard work finally paid off. A phone call at 5 p.m., a job in your pocket, and one step closer to “making it” in the world. For others: silence.

No phone call at 5 p.m.

No phone call at 5:02 p.m.

At 5:15 p.m. the pit in your gut has already swallowed your stomach and pretty soon you will completely fold into yourself. Whoever said silence is golden obviously never went through law firm recruitment and ought to be shot.

What happens now?

While a lot of students are successful during recruiting, there are many who do not end up with law jobs and are left wondering what they did wrong. Did they talk too much at their interviews or not enough? Did they have bad table manners or, heaven forbid, bad breath? The truth is, none of that really matters now that recruitment is over. For those who did not get a job, the future all of a sudden looks bleak.

We have all experienced failure. Along with being rejected by the girl of our dreams, failing at something is just simply awful. This is especially true for law students who are all, in general, extremely bad at dealing with failure. After all, we are law students, meaning for the most part we have generally been successful.

It may be hard to believe initially but failing at recruitment does not mean the end of your legal career. Not even close.

Though it is annoying to be told that failing at recruitment is inconsequential when so much of yourself was on the line, the reality is that it really is insignificant in the big picture. As you continue to dig yourself out of the failure trench and pick up the pieces of your shattered pride, I offer you a few things to think about.

First and foremost, everything happens for a reason. I know this is as clichéd as it comes, but I would not ask you to think about this if it were not true.

Ever thought about the fact that maybe you did not get a job at a big law firm because you’re really not meant to be there? Big firm jobs are not for everyone and there is a good chance you were not hired because they could tell you would not enjoy it there. This does not mean you are incompetent or a bad candidate, it just means you should re-evaluate your career choices.

One of my close friends from law school really thought she wanted a big firm job. She went through the recruiting process three times in two different cities and was rejected from every firm job she applied to. Finally she decided to apply for a very prestigious clerkship and got the job right off the bat.

All along, her confidence kept dropping and dropping receiving rejection after rejection, but really it had nothing to do with her qualifications. The firms could just tell that she was not meant to be there. After everything, she realizes the rejections were a blessing in disguise because when she I tell her about my job, she does nothing but tell me how glad she is to not have to work at a firm.

Even if you did get a firm job, it does not mean that you will get hired back after articling. One of my friends who went through the process did not get hired back after working at a big firm. He, like all of us who got jobs, thought he had evaded failure because he had gotten a job. When he did not get hired back, he was devastated but told me this forced him to evaluate his situation.

Instead of giving up on his legal career, he decided to start his own practice and now, a few years later, he is a very successful solo practitioner. Last year he brought in over $100,000 of revenues through his practice and tells me not getting hired back was the best thing that happened to him.

Learn from this experience and decide if today’s failure will be your own blessing in disguise.

I also urge students to take it to heart that recruitment is but a small piece of the job-search pie. Sure it is a well-oiled machine and sure it can be the easiest way to the most lucrative jobs for some, but for you, if you didn’t succeed then maybe it’s not the easiest way for you. Many law jobs are obtained through informal channels. Whether it is through volunteering at a clinic or applying to jobs directly, there are all sorts of ways to land a job without going through the gruesome recruitment blitzkrieg.

On this end, I asked my former career development office for any tips it may have for students looking to diversify their job search. Catherine Bleau, director of the career development office at McGill University’s law school, gave me some practical advice and things students can work on.

To start with, Bleau suggests students should be proactive and aggressive in their job search. She advises students to network with the purpose of establishing a “vast network of professional contacts who can advise you and alert you to interesting opportunities in your interest field.”

Most importantly, she says students should not jump to conclusions about employers; interesting jobs come up in unexpected places and students should always be open-minded in their job search.

In looking for other ways to find jobs, play to your strengths. Forcing yourself to be someone you are not will always come through to an employer, so approach your job search by doing what is comfortable for you.

If you are good at networking, then use that to your advantage and keep in touch with the contacts you made during recruitment. Show initiative and let them know you are interested in other opportunities. If you hate networking and are not good at it, then take initiative in other ways such as building your legal resumé through extracurricular activities; they do not even need to be law-related so long as you show that you are engaged. If there are professors who know you, ask them about opportunities or assistantships.

Even when it is not your dream job, adjusting your expectations and taking advantage of chances to gain practical experience will eventually pay off and lead you to your dream job.

If I still have not managed to convince you that recruitment isn’t everything then, at the very least, learn from this unsuccessful attempt to help you be successful at your next recruitment. What is important is to overcome your fear of failure and to try again.

We are all unsuccessful at different things but the ones who succeed are those who dust themselves off and grow from their experiences. You have nothing to lose by trying again and if you are convinced that the formal recruiting process is the way to go, then hold your head up high and go for it again. Think of this time as a practice round. Now you know what to expect and now you know the battlefield. Use your experience to refine your tactics and speak to people who may have advice for your next shot.

The sooner you decide what your next step is the better. So, even though you are allowed to wallow in your own pity for a little while, it is important not to let it consume you or become your own worst enemy. Don’t let this failure own you and most of all don’t let the fear of failing prevent you from trying again. As we say in Alberta “don’t squat with yer spurs on.”

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 [email protected].

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