Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Networking Trail of Tears

In analyzing U.S. history, the average American Indian probably views our nation's past with some reservation. (Okay, that was bad.) You don't have to be particularly PC, however, to recognize that the white man has broken many a peace treaty.

Likewise, if you're the typical job seeker (particularly one searching for an attorney position), you've likely encountered your own share of broken promises and disappointment. Some of the broken promises are explicit - somebody promising to do something for you and failing to follow through. Others are more implicit - somebody giving the impression that he can do something for you and then offering little more than cliche advice and well wishes.

In honor of Jay Leno's return to late night, I've decided to offer my Top 10 greatest networking disappointments...What? It's the other guy who has the Top 10 list? Well, I'm still going to do it anyway.

Please note, I actually needed to sort through a number of networking failures to actually narrow things down to only ten. Also, this does not include the reams of resumes as to which I have received no response.

10. Rejection Never Felt So Good

This was a quasi-networking situation. I learned about this business opportunity via an e-mail list to which I used to subscribe. I hadn't actually graduated law school yet (and it was a non-legal position that they probably wanted to fill immediately), so it should come as little surprise that I received the typical "Your credentials are indeed impressive...but take a hike." letter.

What actually is surprising is that I received any acknowledgment at all that I submitted a resume! Maybe by mentioning my affiliation with the organization that ran the e-mail list, I put myself on the inside track to actually getting a rejection letter.

Until my recent interview, this experience had the dubious honor of being the highlight of my job search.

9. Talking to Industry Insiders...and Hearing Nothing Back

One suggestion career strategists usually make is to talk to people involved with the industry in which you're interested. I suppose this is reasonable advice, but my two contacts (within IT) weren't exactly a great help.

One guy literally had no advice. He pretty much just worked his way up from the call center and didn't have any special training for his analyst position until he actually got the job. He was, however, able to depress me by letting me know that he had a pretty good job despite not even bothering to attend college.

The other guy had some advice for me, but he also hadn't really done much to get his position. The only thing I really learned was that he had a much better network than I do because apparently some family friend handed him his current position.

He did say he'd put me in touch with some contacts, but even after trying to follow up, he never really came through.

He did, however, put me in touch with some recruiters...

8. The Recruiter: A More Professional Method of Getting Rejected

My friend put me in touch with two IT recruiters. One guy was apparently a heavy hitter in the industry...Obviously, I never heard anything back from him.

The other guy was the typical run of the mill recruiter working for a larger firm. At first he seemed quite willing to help me out even though I explained my background in detail before talking with him.

After reviewing my resume, he said that the type of positions for which I'd be the most qualified would prefer someone with an engineering degree. Oddly, he couldn't have told me this beforehand, but at least he kept me on the hook.

When I asked if there was a specific area of my tech knowledge which I could improve to be more employable, I heard nothing back. I understand the guy isn't my personal consultant, but you'd think if I could improve my resume, it would give him a better chance of placing me and earning a fee. Given that I did get at least one tech related interview, I don't think I'm entirely unemployable in the field.

7. Harvard, Yale, Standford or Take a Hike

Now we're getting into the good stuff - searching for attorney positions.

First up is a friend who had a relative at a big firm. I've spoken about this before - that non-attorneys don't realize that the big firms are entirely inaccessible to anyone without the right pedigree.

Most of the time I tell people who have contacts at the big firms that I don't think I'd be a good fit for such a firm and that while I appreciate their assistance, it isn't worth their trouble.

This friend was insistent, however. Not surprisingly, when he got back to me, he informed me that his contact said unless "[Esq. Never] went to Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, there was nothing [she] could do for [me]."

That's right, even if you were a good student at the other lowly T-14 schools, you could go pound sand. Are you taking notes TTT bound law students? I'm not making this up!

6. Alumni: Brothers of the Bar

When career services realizes that your class rank makes it more likely that you'll win the Powerball drawing than land a job through OCI, instead of telling you to drop out and cut your losses, they instinctively urge you to talk with alumni.

Well, I live in the suburbs outside of a major city; outside of where I went to law school. I found an alumnus with his own firm in the town next to mine. You'd think this brother of the bar, this fellow 2TT alumnus, this fellow native son, and even local politically involved figure would be interested in talking to a fellow alumnus. No. No, he was not. He wouldn't even return my messages.

Glad to see that loyal alumni base that my school was always talking up coming through during these tough times.

5. CLE's: Meet the Pros...Get Blown Off By Them

CLE's are a great way to kind of learn what should have been taught to you in law school and meet with practicing attorneys, right?

Sort of. In my experience, most of the attorneys just share anecdotes and refer you to the written materials for actual information. I don't think any attorney who saw my resume was too impressed with CLE courses.

Moreover, the networking advantages of these session is pretty overstated. For one thing, the speakers while interested in talking about the law, aren't too interested in doling out career advice. Every time I asked, "How can I get into X law?" you could see their frustration with the question. This probably happens to them all the time.

Most of the time they provided general advice to just try to find some guy to work for to pick up some experience (as long as it was a guy other than one of them, of course) or to go out and get my own clients. Well, thanks. That was worth the price of admission. At least I got some pizza out of the deal.

Moreover, most of the other participants at these introductory classes were fellow recent graduates or solos struggling to find new practice areas to eek out some base living. Not exactly people looking to take on full time attorneys.

The only contact I made was with another student who helped turn me onto another vain attempt to try to find a legal job....

4. The Attorney Hard Labor Fantasy Camp (aka An Unpaid Internship)

Well, I guess some of my networking paid off. It helped me land an unpaid internship. (At least I didn't have to pay for it.)

I was told upfront that the position wouldn't lead to permanent work. Nonetheless, I thought I'd learn some valuable skills, maybe make some good contacts, and even have my boss recommend me to other attorneys.

The only thing I really learned was how awful it is to be a practicing attorney. This is actually what led me to abandon the law altogether. I guess, it did kind of work out for the best. (Too bad it took me months of boring labor and a miserable commute to figure that out.)

3. Anything Can Happen (Sadly, Most of the Time It Tends to be Bad)

Over the years, I had gotten to know a man pretty well who was very excited about my decision to become an attorney. He lives in the jurisdiction in which I currently live. He was a very outgoing person, and he was really in my corner in trying to help me find a job.

In fact, one of his close friends ran his own firm. This also wasn't just some solo shop. It employed multiple attorneys (but was definitely not an elite firm).

He talked this guy up while I was in law school and promised to put me in touch with him. It took a while, but after I took the bar he eventually got in touch with the guy...or actually his friend's wife...make that his soon to be ex-wife.

Apparently, his friend was in the midst of a bitter divorce and was doing everything he could to hide his assets including trying to dissolve his firm. Needless to say, he wasn't hiring.

Regrettably, I had an indirect falling out with this man and was no longer able to avail myself of his assistance.

(Pro Tip: For all you law students with "guarantees" of good jobs once you graduate, just remember, anything can happen.)

2. Like Father Like Son

What's better than knowing someone with a friend with his own firm? How about knowing somebody's whose dad runs his own firm.

My contact wasn't exactly my best buddy, but we were definitely on good terms. We also went way back and had quite a bit in common. He's a young attorney who works in my jurisdiction for his father's reasonable sized firm.

I figured this would be a pretty decent way to start off my job search and build my contacts, so I asked if he wanted to get together for lunch. He e-mailed me almost a minute or two after I sent out my query and seemed very excited to get together.

While it was nice to catch up with him, he was unable to really provide me with any contacts...except for his dad. He did, however, say that his dad would be happy to speak with me and that I should e-mail him and see if I could set something up. As an established attorney, he should be able to point in the right direction or at least have some good contacts. (I also somewhat knew his father.)

I wrote him a polite and relatively short e-mail asking for about 15 minutes of his time. Guess what? No response. I then e-mailed my friend to see if his dad was particularly busy or if he would be able to speak to him for me. Remember how my friend got back to me in about a minute the last time I contacted him? Well, this time, the delay was a little, forever.

I even ran into my friend's mom (who is still married to his dad) at one point and talked to her about my job search plight. She wished me luck and made no mention of asking her husband for assistance.

If family friends are blowing you off for informational interviews, you know this is a tough field.

1. Just Because I Said "Send Me Your Resume" Doesn't Mean I Have to Read It

I had another close, family friend who was also interested in seeing me land a job. He had a good friend, who is also a lawyer. This guy has his own firm. My family friend has often availed himself of this man's legal services. (My own father even once used his services.)

In addition, this attorney is involved in the local bar and was pretty well known in town (and the surrounding community). You know, one of those "give back to the community" guys.

The family friend talked to the guy about me and explained my situation. The attorney gave him his contact information and told me to send in a resume and cover letter.

I prepared both of them and had them reviewed by other people who thought they looked great. I dutifully mailed both to him and waited two weeks without hearing back.

I then called up his firm and politely explained the situation to his secretary. The result? He was unwilling to even take my call. He just instructed his secretary to inform me that if he was interested, he would get in touch with me.

As you can guess, that day never came. Moreover, he wasn't even willing to offer me the opportunity to clerk or serve as an unpaid intern for him. Heck, he wouldn't even give me 5 minutes to maybe give me some advice or explain why he couldn't do anything for me.

Bonus: I already covered this guy, so I left him off the list, but if you want to hear about another networking failure, check out my old post about "My Loyd Braun". (Where do I find these people?)

So there you have it, folks. That's not even a complete list of my networking failures. It isn't easy to network for any job, and it's even more of an uphill battle in the saturated and inaccessible market for attorneys.

Now, I know some of you are probably thinking, "Get real, Esq. Never. We all know you're a pathetic nerd who couldn't network himself out of a paper bag. Your examples prove nothing but your own awkwardness and lack of people skills."

I'm not going to defend myself as some back slapping, glad handling, 20 something version of Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, I have been able to make and maintain some friendships and contacts over the course of my life. Moreover, I've even had non-legal success in networking. I once was able to secure a paid summer internship (take that University of Dreams!) where most of the other interns went to more elite colleges through contacts I made.

If you want to dismiss these examples as outliers or just part of an insufficiently aggressive networking campaign, be my guest. If, however, you're plugging through law school and the bar because you're convinced your networking skills are vastly superior, well, good luck to you. You're sure going to need it.


  1. I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face (and then some), but lawyers are going through what people who studied the humanities went through three decades ago (like 51-year-old me). American education has morphed into a bunco operation to collect tuition from unsuspecting high school grads. Sure, if someone can get position atop the education food chain (for lawyers that’s T14 in at least the top half of the class), they can step up into a comfy air-conditioned office job without one bead of sweat ever forming on their foreheads. The rest of us ought to be preparing to get their taxi licenses.

    When I was in law school, I remember the rancid feeling in my stomach when meeting with these whatchamacallit employment liaisons people. They reminded me of the ragamuffin burglars at the end of Dickens A Christmas Carol after picking the bones of some poor defenseless dead guy. I’m pretty sure I even heard one of them cackle. These vultures will tell you to change the color of your tie, rearrange your resume so that this or that item is there (while this item should be over here), or get you to memorize some snappy talking points. Do I really have to tell you they are jerking you off?

    Meanwhile, learn the word “sinecure” because in essence that is what the savvy are looking for. That’s what your beloved law professors have too. Don’t read about what color your parachute is or study sample resumes.

    I sure hope you find a good job, but, my friend, you said it perfectly at the beginning of your post: you are a Cherokee and they want you to move to Oklahoma now.

  2. Really liked this post! Just enough of a dab of humor.

    BTW, Esq Never, you're a girl?

  3. My husband was laid off from his 20 year plus electrical engineering job 3 months ago. He had worked for a large communications company in their cellular division. During the first week after he was let go, he reached out to dozens of former collegues in an effort to start networking. He recived responses from most of those collegues, stating that they would help get the word out and circulate his resume. Hoewever, the immediate initial compassion was very short lived, and the response e-mails quickly dissipated (similar to the recent situation in Haiti).
    Last week he attended a job fair in the area. One female recruiter he introduced himself too, said her firm was not taking any resumes. He wanted so badly so ask, THEN WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING HERE?, but decided not to. These job fairs are very often just dog and pony shows where area firms show their faces in the community to make it look as though they really care.
    Yesterday, he went to a "networking career seminar" which also turned out to be an exercise in insulting one's intelligence. The overly enthusiastic person conducting this "seminar" then asked all in attendence to name their favorite actor! CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS??!!! What relevance could this possibly have on anything? This time, my husband could not resist and stated that his favorite actors were Bert and Ernie reenacting the desert scene from the film, "Casino." (it's available on YouTube for anyone interested, but please don't play it if there are children around). Believe it or not, this actually got the attention of one recruiter who did ask my husband to send him his resume. Whether something ever comes of this is difficult to say, but I was glad that my husband decided not to acquiesce in some of the banal tactics that these recruiters at job fairs and seminars often engage in. Today, he is attending yet another job fair, so I cannot wait to hear what ridiculous hoops he may have been asked to jump through in order to demonstrate his viability in the workplace. I myself prefer to avoid these job fairs and seminars since I happen to like the concept of self dignity, but for him, it gives him something to do, and fortunately he manages to maintain a sense of humor in the process.

  4. Kelly,

    I think the pronouns were a little confusing in one of the quotes.

    Alas, I'm not a lass. (If I was an attractive one, I might be able to land a job.)

  5. Uh oh, the networking police have just put you on their list!

  6. I believe another blogger had an article up about the Harvard grads without jobs complaining that networking is a sham because it didn't work for them. And that's precisely true, your "network" either exists or it doesn't, and the quality of that network and luck don't really factor into what you as an individual do. For Harvard grads traditionally "networking" simply meant they applied for a job; if you apply for a job and you are going to get it either way it doesn't matter how you applied.

    "Networking" is also another way for career center and people in hiring positions to pass the buck and act in an elitist manner at somebody else's expense, that somebody else being the ones seeking work of course. I remember during one of my final classes in undergrad a mousy looking woman from my undergrad career center made a presentation. Without being antagonized in the least, she made a very arrogant comment about "I'm not the one that needs a job, you do, I already have a job." That sort of attitude is very common in academia, actually it's common everywhere but even more so in academia, but that basically told me the story of my undergrad career services. All any career service does is tell you to change trivial things on a resume that don't even matter, that they themselves forget and tell you to do the other way if you come back later on.

    I remember being annoyed by that woman, although she wasn't even speaking to me, and wanting to get a prestigious career. I worked for a year after undergrad and things were really looking to move into place for me, and then I foolishly went to law school and gambled my entire future away. Now I'm right back to mostly looking for jobs I could have had out of undergrad, except I am now almost 4 years older and with a mountain of debt, and the economy is so much worse (not that it was great 5 years ago even, but the last 2 it has gotten even worse, make no mistake it's been on a steady decline for at least a half decade if not more).

  7. About the alumni connection. I contacted an alumnus of my law school who was looking to hire a part-time attorney for her small law office. I sent her a cover letter and resume. She called back within an hour telling me how she was soooo impressed, how I seemed overqualified for the job, and that she would love to meet with me to discuss details. I set up a meeting with her at a restaurant for the following week. I was shocked that she didn't even bother to show up. I waited at the restaurant for an hour and called her law office several times where her receptionist said she wasn't there. The woman never even emailed me to apologize. Only a month later did I receive a rejection letter by email that never included an explanation or apology for missing our meeting. That T14 alumni collection really helped me out, not!

  8. Esq Never, don't worry about the naysayers. You are being vindicated by the economic realities. I wrote about the Harvard Law article myself. When the T14s are whining, you know there is something to what you're saying. The fact of the matter is that there is a law school bubble that is bursting.

    The scary part about it is that a couple hundred thousand more hapless souls will be shuffled through law schools over the next 6 years only to enter a market that doesn't exist. They won't be able to make any money in the legal field. They will be fighting an uphill battle to transition into another field. They will struggle.

    It will take a while for people to realize this scam, but it will be tough not to notice once students start to default on bubble-inducing student loans and Sallie Mae goes the way of her bankrupt, leech cousins, Fannie and Freddie.

    Within the next 6-8 years there will be many law schools folding. The game is up. Count on it.

  9. I don't think we can wait 6-8 years to see some of these law schools fold, it needs to happen much sooner, or the problem will become even worse. It was good to see students protesting college tuition hikes and budget cuts across the country yesterday as these college administrators need to be called out for their deceptive practices. I can only hope that administrators at law schools also get called out by current and former students for their deceptive practices as well.

  10. Tear #1: I visited a church during a period of unemployment, and at the end of the service, I met a fellow Christian who happened to be a lawyer. I thought that the conversation went well and he passed along his business card at the conclusion. About a month later, I reached out to him, and I didn't even request to meet him. We lived 3 hours apart, and he knew that. I simply asked for job searching advice. His reply was very cold and brief, "I have too much going on right now. Contact me later."

    The networking walls! And what exactly are we chasing?

  11. If I were you, I'd keep a list of names of people who pulled this stuff. That way, the minute you do something great or they ask for a favor you tell them where to shove it. Same for anyone else. I'm a firm believer of karma & don't go around dicking people since it will come back to bite you big time.

    When I was in undergrad & trying to find out about law schools, I contacted this one alumna who was a lawyer. She proceeded to tell me that I should stay in a region I hated & aspire to nothing. She also had the gall to accuse me of not doing my research when I'd done a hell of a lot more than SHE did to get where she was (she merely lived where she went to law school). I remember her name & this whole thing like it was yesterday. Believe me, if I ever meet her in person she will be reminded of this & I'll relish telling her that I'm living my dream. Anyone I meet that I find out went to my undergrad will be reminded of my trying to reach out & getting nothing in return.

    Oh, and this is on top of being tormented constantly as a kid; I like thinking of my existence as a scheme to piss off people who think I'm not capable or should settle for a miserable life.

    I'm just waiting for my revenge to take hold; it already has in some ways since I could help so many people move ahead but not helping yourself or being nasty to me in the past just means we'll be ice skating in Hell before you get so much as a "Hello" from me.

    I'm shocked that some of you haven't just resorted to outright calling people out or taking them out in a hale of gunfire; I've done it to a few older lawyers since I'm doing something they aren't & they should really be nice to me (one tried telling me to put up w/lawyer BS & I pointed out her lack of reading comprehension). Just like others in my business, I never forget a name & I consider it my duty to talk about your misdeeds toward me.

  12. Wow, I could write my own book about humiliating networking failures. It's all true, Esq. Never- it's a horrible, disappointing process. That being said, I eventually ended up getting a shitty job through networking that set me up to get my (less shitty) current position. So unfortunately you have to keep at it. And strangely, while I met a lot of douchebags and outright assholes networking I ended up meeting some really helpful, kind people who are still my friends today.

  13. I'm late in the game but this is so true. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry but I have lived it all.

    BTW, as a lass I have another fabulous experience to add - imagine the pride I felt when I reached out to a professional who completely misinterpreted my interest in a professional conversation as an invitation to sexually harass me.

  14. I wish my relatives would read some of the law school scam blogs. It would make Thanksgiving less horrible.


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