Canadian Lawyer 4Students spoke with recruiters and students to get their tips on how to effectively market yourself and, ultimately, land a job.
André Bacchus, director of professional development at Heenan Blaikie LLP in Toronto, says the first thing students should consider when they don’t get hired back is that it’s not a reflection of their skills. “They should not take it personally as a rejection on their abilities,” he says. “We hired them and kept them from summer to articling . . . we would definitely like to continue to allow them to continue to grow and develop as part of the firm, but it becomes a numbers game at that point.”
This year, Heenan Blaikie hired back 13 of its 18 articling students. Bacchus says the hire-back rate has ranged from 60 to 100 per cent in the past six years, depending on how the firm is performing as a business and therefore how much work is available for first-year associates.
Bacchus says the firm explains to its students how hiring decisions are made so they have a better understanding of the business side of it, but he recognizes that it’s still upsetting.
One of the students at Heenan Blaikie who didn’t get hired back says it’s almost harder to accept being qualified for the job but not getting it due to economic factors.
“Obviously you’re disappointed,” says the student. “If you put your name in for hire-back, you have professionally, personally, and most importantly, emotionally invested in the idea of coming back and building a career at that place.
“For me, I felt like the career side of it would work itself out. . . . What was harder was the emotional side of [it]. I found this place where I could really see myself building a career, having great colleagues, enjoying the work that I would want to do, and all of a sudden that’s off the table after having spent really three years thinking about that and building that up.”
The student compares it to a breakup. “It’s hard to switch into the frame of mind of ‘OK, now I’m going to go out and look for something else,’ when you’re still sort of dealing with something that you wanted being taken off the table.”
However, the student says there is a positive side. “Not being hired back is really the only time I think where someone’s going to sit you down and say, ‘OK, this is what you need to know to be able to go out there and get a job.’”
Not being hired back can be equally as crushing for articling students at small firms.
Christina Fitzmaurice articled at Hoffer Adler LLP in Toronto, which currently employs four lawyers and one articling student. Going into her articles, she knew that it was unlikely she’d be hired back. When she found out in April 2011 that the firm didn’t have a position available for her, she started her job hunt. In October, she landed a job as a contractor for a company that outsources its legal work, which ended in February. Then in March, she became legal counsel at TD Bank Group, which she believes was partially achieved through networking.
Fitzmaurice says students need to be realistic about the process of job searching because it’s still a tough market and could take longer than expected to find something. She suggests contacting recruiters at law firms and getting in touch with anyone you’ve met through firm events.
To increase your chances of landing a job, she advises students to be flexible in terms of location because Toronto can be a difficult market to break into. It doesn’t have to be long term, she adds, just enough time to gain some experience and make yourself more marketable.
Another thing to consider, says Fitzmaurice, is that business is typically slower over the summer so maybe take some time off for yourself and go on a vacation or do something that you haven’t had the time for because you’ve been completely consumed in your articles for the past 10 months.
Most importantly, take advantage of the firm’s resources to learn skills that will assist you in finding a job while you’re still there.
• Schedule a meeting with your student director: Bacchus sits down with each student individually to go over their resumé and any other material that could showcase their abilities and experience.
• Speak with a consultant: Heenan Blaikie brings in consulting firm Phoenix Legal Inc. to conduct a seminar and one-on-one meetings with students to discuss job-hunting strategies.
• Utilize your mentors: Spend time with mentors and other lawyers at the firm to further develop your relationships and leverage your network. Keep in mind that if an opportunity opens up at the firm down the road, it usually turns to its former articling students first. “We know these individuals and we trained them so we are always happy to be able to bring them on board,” Bacchus says.
• Take CLE courses: Attending continuing legal education courses that pertain to an area of law that you’re interested in will help you to remain current and it could also open up a new network of contacts.
• Volunteer with law-affiliated organizations: Programs like Lawyers Feed the Hungry and Law Help Ontario are a good way to meet other lawyers and gain experience.
• Network: Spread the word that you’re looking for a job to as many people as possible, even people you have never met. You never know when a connection might link you to a job opportunity. Cold-calling firms and taking random lawyers out for coffee could also increase your chances of finding work.