What to Do if You Don’t Have a Job Offer at the End of Your Summer Clerkship

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It may well be that you leave your summer clerkship without knowing if you’re going to be invited back or not. At many employers, offers don’t go out until mid-September, when all of the clerks have finished their clerkship and the hiring committee (or other decision makers) have had a chance to meet. Particularly if you go to a law school with a pre-interview week, waiting to see if you’ve got an offer from your summer employer can make you miss a lot of on-campus interviews. What should you do?

It’s a sticky situation. Everybody agrees that until you have an offer in hand, you should interview with other employers. No employer—at least, no employer who’s speaking off-the-record—will expect you to cool your heels waiting for them to make a decision about you. As one career services director remarked, “I’ve seen firms push up their offer dates when they found out that their clerks were interviewing! So, interview away. However, if offers are made, and there isn’t one with your name on it, what do you do?

You Dropped The Ball, Or The Ball Is Dropped On You. You Don't Get An Offer From Your Summer Employer. Now What?

There’s no question about it. Not getting an offer from your summer employer bites the big one. I know. It happened to me. I went from being perceived as one of the best and brightest at my school in the Spring of Second Year, to walking around with a professional Scarlet Letter on my forehead in the Fall. It just blew. There’s very little that’ll crush your ego like that kind of rejection. What made it even worse was the way they did it. One of the lawyers walked up to me, patted me on the head (!!), and said, “Kimm, some people just aren’t good enough.” Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!

It sure seemed like the end of the world at the time, but in retrospect it really wasn’t that big a deal. Of course, it’s easy for me to say that now. It’s kind of like talking about the extinction of the dinosaurs. We don’t think about it much now, but it was pretty cataclysmic at the time. The point I’m making is that you have to get from the point you’re at right now, to the point where you can put it in perspective.

In a nutshell, here’s what you should do:

1. Stay calm. This is not the time to tear people a new—ahem— excretory passage.

When you first get the word that you didn’t get an offer, you’re going to be massively pissed. If it’s in the form of a letter, great. Go target shooting or drinking or running or vent with your best friend or whatever else you do to blow off massive steam. But if you get the news in the form of a phone call or person to person with your employer, stay calm. Take deep breaths. Don’t betray any emotion to them, now or ever. These people will serve as a primary professional reference for your third year job search, and even after graduation in your Character and Fitness affidavits for admission to the bar.

For another, don’t let people who’ve rejected you see you crumble. No matter what went wrong during your summer, you can go a long way toward resurrecting your reputation by the way you handle the rejection.

Whether it’s at the moment they reject you or after that, if you moan and scream and threaten and cry, they’re going to think “Whew! Thank God we dodged that bullet!” They’ll pat themselves on the back for making the right decision.

But if you make a superhuman effort to suck it up, so they never see you sweat, you’ll gain a lot of respect. And you’ll make them wonder, what do you know that they don't know? It’s kind of like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. If you’ve ever done it—and I’m sure you have—be honest. When you break up with someone, don’t you want them to be just a little upset? You don’t want them to say, “OK, I understand, good luck.” If you can manage your emotional response, you’re outwardly acknowledging what the truth is: your future is within your control. When you’re rejected, they’re releasing you to the Universe! The world is still full of wonderful jobs for you, minus one—that’s all.

2. Take a deep breath, and talk to them to figure out what happened.

It may be that your employer isn’t hiring anyone permanently, due to budgets or business prospects or whatever. Or maybe they’re not hiring anybody in the specialty you want. If that’s the case, you’re really not behind the 8-ball at all. No future employer could expect you to get an offer if none were forthcoming. You just need to make sure that the employer really will tell anyone you interview with in future that that was the reason you didn’t get an offer.

But if your summer employer hired some or most of the summer clerks and you weren’t one of them, you’ve got to find out what went wrong, whether it was a people-oriented problem or a work-oriented problem or exactly what it was. I’m not pretending this is easy, mind you. While it’s very difficult under the circumstances, try to approach the situation calmly, rationally, and with a positive attitude. Try to understand what caused the firm’s position. Don’t confront those supervising attorneys who supplied negative reviews. Seek them out with an open- minded attitude and look at the situation as objectively as you can. Identify how you can learn from the experience. Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, if you approach a difficult situation in a positive way, you’re most likely to secure the firm’s cooperation and assistance going forward.

3. If you missed the boat with a project or sparred with someone in the office, find references among people who did like your work, and did get along with you.

If you didn’t receive an offer because of a poor piece of work, or because you didn’t get along well with people at work, find someone for whom you did good work, or did get along, and ask them to serve as a reference. You need to find at least two people. This is best done face-to-face. You should also confirm exactly what this person will say if called by a potential employer. Getting a written reference on the employer’s letterhead, though lawyers may be reluctant to give you one, gives you more control in later interviews than a telephone reference. Seek out references that confirm your superior legal skills, because that’s the primary concern future employers will have.

4. Line up at least one other reference outside of your summer employer.

Stack the deck further in your favor by lining up another reference, from either a law school professor or another employer. What you want to do is to have references that are sufficient in number, and sufficiently glowing, to overcome any negative inferences of the non-offer.

5. Acknowledge that what might have happened is that you just didn't want it.

Self-sabotage is a very common source of rejection. The fact is, if you really don’t like something, it’ll show. If you seem indifferent to the employer, you won’t get an offer. Sometimes it’s just not the right place for you. Sometimes people respond to the royal ‘should,’ and take a job to fulfill other people’s expectations. There’s nothing wrong with that, but what you have to make sure is that you don’t go back to that same well for another drink. If you’re not emotionally suited to the work or you just don’t fit in for any reason to a certain environment, don’t go someplace else that has the same characteristics. If you didn’t like it, be honest with yourself about it, and do some serious thinking about what you like, now that you have the opportunity to explore anything you want. Go to your career services office and ask for help. They’ll have a bunch of ideas for you.  Career services can help you pick up the pieces and move on.

6. If you intend to be a lawyer somewhere else, don’t ever say anything negative about your summer employer in any professional setting, be it an interview, a job, a professional function.

This is really, really easy to say and very hard to accomplish. When-ever you hear the name of an employer who rejected you, your temptation will be to chime in with a hearty “Those a**wipes!” Fight the urge if you possibly can, especially in job interviews. As one recruiting coordinator explains, “Sometimes things just don’t work out, but remember that it is a small legal community and how you handle situations like this will be remembered for a long time. Don’t burn any bridges.”

7. Do some practice interviews before you go for the “real thing.”

When you’ve been rejected by your summer employer, it’s easy to seem emotional and angry in subsequent interviews. To smooth out your interviewing skills, do some mock interviews with your career services office at school before you go out for the real thing. As Gail Cutter advises, “You have to be able to answer the question ‘Did you get an offer?’ easily and comfortably. You need to be confident and matter-of-fact in your interviews even though you may be feeling shocked, hurt and angry about the way your employer treated you. Work through those feelings with your counselor at school before you embark on any interviews.”

8. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the summer. You’ve really only got one option: Get over it. And get on with it.

You can and will pick yourself up and have a happy life. My advice to you is to get on with it as soon as possible, instead of beating yourself up and ruminating about what might have been. For all you know, your future will be much brighter and much happier without working for your summer employer. It was certainly true for me, and it’s been true for tons of other people as well. As Omar Khayyam wrote: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ; Moves on; not all your Piety nor Wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.” Accept what you can’t change, and move on!

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