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The 20 Skills of the Legal Job Search

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The twenty skills discussed below fall into four categories: self-assessment, detective, communication, and selling yourself. Each skill is briefly discussed below.
The 20 Skills of the Legal Job Search

Self-Assessment Skills

1. Values

Identifying and clarifying the highest-priority rewards and satisfactions you hope to obtain in your career, discriminating sharply among competing alternatives.

2. Money

Evaluating the importance of financial security and high earnings in your career equation. Deciding how money will rate compared to other sources of satisfaction.

3. Skills

Identifying and labeling your most prominent strengths or abilities and choosing the ones you most enjoy using in work situations.

4. Creativity

Learning to envision new and previously unimagined career possibilities by using creative thought processes such as adapting, reversing, combining, and magnifying.

5. Decision Making

Comparing the desirability of several career alternatives, in terms of the factors you consider most significant. Using structured and unstructured methods for making these comparisons.

6. Reality Testing

Acquiring experiences that enable you to compare your expectations about a career and your relevant skills with firsthand exposure to the actual field of work. Participating in a career setting without having to make a commitment to it.

Detective Skills

7. Prospect List

Building a comprehensive list of people, organizations, and situations that seem most likely to offer the kinds of work you desire.

8. Personal Referral Network

Learning how to create contacts for yourself by establishing relationships with people who can refer you to other people who can help you.

9. Information Interviewing

Obtaining information and insight directly from people in careers you may desire to enter; learning what questions to ask and how to conduct the entire exchange.

10. Library Research

Using readily available published materials to quickly obtain data about a target employer, an industry, or a given individual you hope to meet.

Communication Skills

11. Listening

Attending fully to another person’s words, feelings, hidden messages, and subtle meanings; learning how to detect when you are not listening effectively.

12. Questioning

Using questions in ways that encourage the other person to talk freely and offer more information that will aid your exploration; learning effective and noneffective methods of questioning.

13. Assertiveness

Taking initiatives in the career-search process; learning nonaggressive methods to interest people in talking with you and providing you with assistance.

14. Self-Disclosure

Expressing yourself freely and comfortably when asked to talk about your accomplishments, aspirations, and past experiences; practicing self-disclosure.

15. Writing

Using written forms of communication in a personal way; writing letters to prospective employers that convey your inner motivations and spark a personal response.

Skills for Selling Yourself

16. Self-Marketing

Sensitizing yourself to elements of your background that are most likely to be marketable; collecting evidence of your abilities so it can be presented to an employer.

17. Getting Experience

Numerous ways you can acquire experience that will enhance your presentation to an employer; translating indirect experience into skills and knowledge that are directly relevant to the job you want.

18. Interim Jobs

Accepting stopgap employment that allows you to survive financially but also makes it possible for you to continue exploration toward your career goals.

19. Selling Yourself Long-Distance

Practicing your career skills when you are far away from your target geographical area; deciding what skills to use before the move and when to move to the target area.

20. Interviewing

Acquiring the skills necessary to deal with the nine-item hidden agenda in any job interview; learning to understand what interviewers look for and how to follow up.

Diagnose Your Own Career Ailment

Perhaps you already understand many of the career skills and have used them successfully. Or perhaps you have precious little time and must be selective in deciding where to devote your energies. Or maybe many of the skills simply do not apply to your situation. Even if you can eliminate some career skills from your agenda, you may still be confused about where to start. You don’t care to do everything, but would like some definite instructions to follow. To help you use your time most judiciously, I have distilled several typical career search problems and proposed that each problem can be attacked best by concentrating on a small number of skills. Your special predicament requires that you look at certain career skills before you look at others. In other words, I am giving specific directions for the shortcut that best applies to you.

Find yourself in the six problem situations described below. You may be out of work and desperate for anything that pays money, or you may be solidly entrenched in a job but bored enough to contemplate a new career. Go directly to the problem that correlates best with yours, and put those skills listed into practice without delay. As your career search proceeds, you will use other skills, but I have advised you to use these skills first because they will produce results most quickly.

All these shortcut strategies are designed to reduce your task to a manageable size so that you do not feel overwhelmed. There is nothing sacred about the skills chosen for each problem. You may choose skills other than those I have proposed. You may see yourself in more than one problem area and thus have to concoct your own strategy. My main concern is that you use a strategy simple and brief enough so you don’t wear yourself out, but specific enough so you are enthusiastic about getting started.

Problem One: I’m Panicked, Desperate, at My Wits’ End

I need to find work in a hurry. My income is fast shrinking toward zero. I have little time to spare, must get a job the fastest way possible.

Interim Job (Skill 18)

In your impoverished state, you must first get a job that provides enough income for survival. But make sure this is also a job that allows you sufficient freedom to keep looking for your real vocational goal.

Prospect List (Skill 7)

Most panic results from not knowing where the jobs are. This skill teaches you how to uncover potential employers with a minimum of effort, so you can conduct your search in an organized manner.

Personal Referral Network (Skill 8)

Once having developed a list of prospects, you need to establish personal contact with them. This skill tells you how to attract personal attention from people who offer career possibilities that interest you.

Selling Yourself Long-Distance (Skill 19)

Your panic may result from being far away from your target geographical area. A special strategy is necessary for searching at a distance, knowing when to move and how to manage the transition between long-distance searching and in-person exploration.

Getting Experience (Skill 17)

Drop back and get a slice of experience in the field where you are trying so hard to find work. Volunteer your services, work part-time, or get a field experience in a college course. Sometimes a little firsthand exposure will give you just the confidence you may need.

Problem Two: I’m Bored, I Need a New Challenge

I am secure in my present job situation, but cannot stand this place anymore. I have fulfilled my usefulness here, solved the big problems, and now need a new challenge to get the juices flowing again.

Information Interviewing (Skill 9)

You probably have been in your present job a long while; hence, you must reactivate the skill of getting information from others. Information interviewing is the key link between you and a new career. This skill gives you specific guidelines for gathering data from other people.

Questioning (Skill 12)

The success of your information interviews will depend heavily on your ability to question tactfully and with clarity. Certain questioning methods have a high likelihood of yielding positive results; others are almost certain to discourage your respondent.

Reality Testing (Skill 6)

If you are determined to leap into a difficult field, you should participate in it directly before deciding you want to embrace it. This skill reveals how you can sample a work environment before committing yourself to an irreversible change.

Self-Marketing (Skill 16)

When changing occupational fields, you must be aware of the marketable talents you can transfer from one field to the other. This skill tells you how to assess your marketability and how to present yourself to a new employer.

Problem Three: I Have Been in School and Have Little Work Experience

I don’t know where to start. I have never been in the real world before. My only experience is in the classroom.

Skills (Skill 3)

Make a thorough review of your prominent strengths. Persuade yourself that you do have a lot to offer, even if you are young and inexperienced. By knowing your own assets, you can judge which jobs need you more than others.

Values (Skill 1)

Obstacles move aside for people who know what they want. Take a close look at the activities you find most satisfying and the reasons these activities stimulate you. You need not have work experience to discover career-related values. These values appear in your informal, out-of-classroom experiences.

Self-Disclosure (Skill 14)

As soon as you have a firm grip on what your strengths are, you should learn to talk about yourself and practice with others until it becomes second nature; this skill tells you how to describe yourself without appearing to be overly self-important.

Prospect List (Skill 7)

While you have access to a career resource library (in your school's guidance office or career planning center) and other libraries, this skill is easy to develop. You can put together a list of prospective places of employment by using these handy reference materials. Use these resources to convince yourself there are jobs out there when you’re ready to find them.

Library Research (Skill 10) Once again, your access to libraries gives you the advantage of gathering research data about employers long before they interview you. Let the research competencies you developed through your academic work prepare you for future career exploration.

Problem Four: I Don’t Want to Change My Job, Just My Assignment

I don’t want to move from my present employer at all, but I do need a different kind of work, a different project, assignment.

Values (Skill 1)

Review the sources of your disenchantment by clarifying the values you feel are not satisfied in your present job responsibilities. Try to define or identify positions in the organization that would rekindle your enthusiasm.

Self-Marketing (Skill 16)

When leaving a comfortable position for a new assignment, you should review what is most marketable in your work background so you can readily interest another department in your services.

Assertiveness (Skill 13)

In order to change assignments or job titles, you’ll probably have to initiate the request, follow it up, and perhaps persuade someone else to be uprooted. All this requires assertive skill, the ability to present ideas openly to those in power.

Information Interviewing (Skill 9)

Because you are already on site, you have abundant opportunity to interview people about their work in other departments. Even though you may believe you already know what they do, a few interviews will convince you otherwise.

Decision Making (Skill 5)

Your values and skills have changed since you first took this job. Determine which of your attributes are most important to you now, and check to see which new job assignments would satisfy most of these. Don’t change assignments until you find one that meets a lot of your present needs.

Problem Five: I’m a Late Entry, Returning to the Work Force

I’ve been away from organized employment for many years. I’ve been a homemaker, odd jobber, traveler, or self-employed person.

Skills (Skill 3) You will feel out of place and somewhat immobilized until you use skills-identification methods to generate some self-esteem. You’ll discover that you have cultivated numerous job skills even though you weren't paid for them.

Personal Referral Network (Skill 8)

To acquaint yourself with job markets you've hitherto ignored, you should tap a pool of personal contacts who can lead you to sources of employment. This skill details how anyone can build a personal referral network, especially those who have not been employed by someone else recently.

Assertiveness (Skill 13)

Anyone has the right to initiate contact with a target employer, but many people don’t know how to practice the skill. Assertiveness is always painless and usually pleasurable when done correctly; the skill can be practiced in many everyday settings.

Prospect List (Skill 7)

In addition to your personal referral network, you should use readily available employer directories to build a list of possible places of work. Using these directories gets you started quickly; with these and other prospecting materials, you can generate a list long enough to keep you occupied indefinitely.

Creativity (Skill 4)

As a person new to the career search, you will probably overlook many career fields that might interest you. You should stimulate your thinking by applying a few creative processes to your own background, and be willing to try the results.

Interviewing (Skill 20)

Get as many job interviews as you can, so that you can practice these skills and become comfortable with the process of talking about yourself. Learn the art of selling yourself by talking about your past experiences, skills, and motivations.

Problem Six: I’m Trapped

I know I must make a change, but family and financial priorities prevent me from considering it. I am sad to admit that this will probably be my position for many years to come.

Selling Yourself Long-Distance (Skill 19) Just for your own mental health, take a fantasy trip to places and career settings where you’d like to be if you could free yourself. Draw as clearly as possible the pictures you imagine and then use long-distance skills to identify organizations and people who might satisfy your career wishes.

Values (Skill 1)

Isolate the factors that make your present work unhappy; this is the most demanding of career search skills, but worth the effort. What sources of reward would make a difference to you? Don’t be vague; pin down the activities, resources, and specific tasks that would be most likely to change your attitude.

Library Research (Skill 10)

This skill allows you to explore your new interests with a minimal time investment. Use the nearest library for newspapers and journals that focus on your target interests, and write away to organizations for their free literature. Stimulate your imagination with these materials; perhaps these materials will prepare you for the day when you are no longer so “trapped.”

Writing (Skill 15)

This skill encourages you to take an additional step toward creating a fantasy job while you are stuck in your present one. If you establish correspondence with just one or two people in a fantasy field, you have made contacts and probably the beginnings of friendships as well. Letters need not be scholarly or pushy, just personal, enthusiastic, and genuine.

Reality Testing (Skill 6)

You are never trapped as long as you can get exposure to other alternatives and learn that many people have changed their jobs and careers. Ask people who made career shifts how they managed the financial difficulties and what inspired them to overcome the obstacles.

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