Searching for a new job during the COVID-19 crisis can seem overwhelming at first. With the rapid changes affecting the job market, including the legal industry, many attorneys find that there are more job seekers competing for fewer positions in their respective practice areas. Long-term uncertainty about the economy can add even more stress to the job-hunting process.
Even amidst these challenges, however, I consistently see attorneys landing new positions. In my experience, the one practice that’s common to every successful job search is the ability to leverage your network.
But how can your network help you find opportunities, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it’s not possible to meet and connect in person? LinkedIn is a perfect place to go. Most attorneys have profiles on LinkedIn, and the platform’s power lies in the fact that your entire network’s professional backgrounds—as well as their connections—are available to you.
If you’re like most attorneys, you may not be using LinkedIn to its fullest. The missed opportunities I see most often include:
a profile that’s out of date or sparsely populated
listing only employer names or general skills
using the profile feature, but not the networking features
overlooking LinkedIn job postings and employer pages
You likely know that it’s not enough to send in an application and take a “wait and see” approach. Using LinkedIn to access your network and enhance your professional standing is key to “powering up” your job-search efforts. Below you’ll find LinkedIn strategies for three crucial stages of your job search. (And if you’re not currently contemplating a move, now’s the time to get on top of your LinkedIn game: implement the habits described below now, so that your network is fully developed when you’re ready to actively tap into it.)
#1: At the beginning of your search
Discover job postings
LinkedIn should be high on your list of places to look for job postings, as many employers post open positions on the site. In fact, some employers post openings on LinkedIn before they post on other sites—this is especially common for in-house counsel positions. You can save time by setting up email alerts for your areas of interest, and LinkedIn will suggest job postings to you.
Market yourself and manage your professional image
Employers, interviewers, and people you network with are going to search for you online, so make sure they can find you—and be strategic about how you present yourself.
You’ll want to use an up-to-date, professional profile picture (i.e., not a selfie!). Mention in your profile that you are looking for job opportunities, and consider sharing some brief information about what you are looking for. Note: if you’re you’d prefer to keep the fact that you’re looking for a new position private (for instance, if you’re currently employed), don’t include this info in your profile—but do consider mentioning it when you reach out to your connections.
Take a strategic approach to filling out your profile’s “experience” section. Your bio on an employer’s website is out of your control and usually limited, but on LinkedIn, you get to decide which experience you want to showcase. Be specific in describing your successes—your areas of strengths and specific matters on which you’ve worked. What tangible outcomes did you win for your clients? How did you add value to the employer? Details like these tell the story of what you can bring to a new position.
Grow your network
Many attorneys are averse to the idea of networking—it can make them feel awkward, vulnerable, and disingenuous. LinkedIn removes (or at least lessens) these sources of discomfort by overtly offering a platform to promote—and indeed encourage—professional networking. In doing so, the site makes it easier to find people with whom to network, to make new connections, and to tap into your extended “friend of a friend” network.
Start by connecting to your current co-workers, law school classmates, and other people you personally know from your professional and educational circles. If you feel uncomfortable reaching out, remember that connections are mutually beneficial. You aren’t just asking to join someone else’s network: you are offering them a place in yours.
If you’re in the midst of a job search, consider including a brief note in your connection request saying that you are looking for a new position and the type of opportunity you are looking for. This gives context to the connection request and may spark a conversation.
Once you establish LinkedIn connections to contacts you already know, you can ask those contacts to introduce you to valuable new contacts in their networks.
If you already have many LinkedIn connections, try to get to 500 or more. This shows prospective employers that you are highly connected. Look through LinkedIn’s suggestions for potential new additions to your network. Think back to college and law school, prior positions, CLE workshops, and networking events to make sure you have captured all of your professional and educational contacts. If you collect business cards, make sure you’ve added those contacts as connections on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to include the new contacts you have landed through your networking efforts!
#2: After you apply for a job
Use your network to get out of the job application pile
Start by checking your connections to see if any of them work at the employer you applied to. If so, consider asking them for insights about the employer or if they can help advance your application. Someone who knows your work well may be able to put in a good word with the hiring manager, and even a more casual connection may carry weight with the hiring manager.
Next, research your connections’ connections. If you have a strong relationship with someone in your network, and that person has a strong relationship with a current employee of the employer you’ve applied to, consider asking your connection to introduce you. The research involved in this extra step is worth the time—being a “good friend of a good friend” is often extremely helpful in advancing your application.
Research the employer
Use LinkedIn to locate current employees in roles similar to the one you are applying for. Read their profiles to learn about their backgrounds, including prior employers, current/prior practice areas, and where they went to school. This helps you get a sense of what the employer is looking for in such roles, as well as the structure of the practice group or legal department. Keep looking for more “good friend of a good friend” connections that might help you.
Also, check LinkedIn job postings to see what other jobs the employer is hiring for. This can give you a sense of whether the employer is growing and how much hiring they are doing right now, which helps you predict how fast the hiring process might move.
Spend some time on the company’s LinkedIn page. Not all employers are active on LinkedIn, but some post information, videos, and other content. Read or watch anything that’s available to see how the company brands itself. This will help you decide if the employer is a good fit for you, and it gives you a head start on interview preparation.
#3: After a job interview
Get prepared for a potential job offer
Use your network and “friend of a friend” connections to find people who have worked for the employer in the past, and ask them to share their experiences. If any of your connections are current employees that you haven’t already talked to, consider contacting them too.
Don’t be afraid to reach out—many people in your network will be happy to talk with you, and you’ll get a perspective that isn’t available anywhere else. You might ask about the employer’s culture, management styles, workloads, approach to work-life balance, how the employer compares to other places they’ve worked, or other issues you’re interested in. If you’re talking to a former employee, you can also ask why they decided to leave. Getting more information about the employer generally—and the specific position you interviewed for, when possible—can help you evaluate whether it’s the right fit for your needs and career goals.
Maintain the new connections you’ve made
Be sure to add your interviewers to your LinkedIn network and follow the company’s page. Even if the employer ultimately decides you are not the best fit for the particular position you applied for, your interviewers are potential connections and allies in your continued search. Especially if you had a particularly good rapport with one of your interviewers, that connection may be a valuable resource in the future.
Keep yourself in the employer’s world
Whether or not you get an offer after an interview, remember that a career transition process includes a long game and that interviews are opportunities to grow the network of professionals who think highly of you. Consider posting regularly on LinkedIn to build your overall professional reputation and deepen the connections you already have. You can link to interesting legal articles, comment on or share posts by other users, and even showcase your expertise by writing articles.
Your extended network will help you at every stage of your job search, and LinkedIn gives you the power to reach it. Remember that, as an attorney, you are part of a broad, vibrant professional community—and that by leveraging your network and the tools that LinkedIn offers, you can increase the power of your efforts to successfully find your next position within that community.
I’m always impressed by the flexibility and tenacity of the attorneys with whom I work, and have found it deeply satisfying to see many attorneys secure new positions, even in this particularly challenging job market. The above strategies for leveraging LinkedIn have consistently helped them, and they may well prove vital for you as well.