7 Things I Learned About Job Hunting by Planning a Conference

Catapult 2013As you might know, we’re throwing a conference in a few weeks. (If you DON’T know this, obviously my social media/email spam campaign has failed. Get up to speed now: Catapult 2013: Tools for a 21st Century Legal Career.)

Editor’s note: Year one was so fun, we decided to do it again! March 1, 2014: Catapult 2.0 Be there!

If you’ve never planned a conference, let me give you one piece of advice: Don’t do it! It’s one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done (and that includes twice studying for a bar exam in only a few weeks).

Anyway, the point of this isn’t to complain about how terrible my life is (luckily I’m in the resigned acceptance phase now where I just assume everything will somehow work out). The point is to give you some words of wisdom for your own job hunt, based on this experience.

So, without further ado, here you go:

  1. It really is a numbers game. I get annoyed when people smugly say things like, “It’s a numbers game.” But, the reality is, it’s a numbers game. In this job market, you’re probably going to have to send out a lot of applications, go on a lot of informational interviews, and generally pound the pavement for a lot longer and harder than you think you should. This is normal. It’s not you…it’s just the reality of the situation. Plan for it, accept it, and try not to take it personally.
  2. It’s not about you. I know I just said this, but it bears repeating. Rejection is rarely about you — personally. Of course you should analyze what’s working and what’s not, so you can improve, but much of this process is out of your hands. The person who ends up being hired might be the nephew of someone at the firm, or might have gone to the same undergrad as the hiring manager. Maybe she took a certain class that’s critical for the job. Maybe he had work experience in some random area that happens to be appealing. You can’t do anything about this. (One of the key reasons I was hired for my clerkship was that I’d studied architecture and the Judge happened to really like architecture. What did this have to do with my qualifications for the job? Nothing.)
  3. You have to ask for help. I hate asking for favors, and you probably do, too. (Really, who doesn’t?) Time to get over it. Here’s the thing — most people actually like helping. Particularly when you’re asking for advice, or for something else that requires very little time or money, it’s not much of an imposition, and the person who’s able to help gets a nice psychic benefit. Don’t underestimate what people are willing to do, if you approach them in a humble and respectful manner. You’re not entitled to help from anyone, but most people will be happy to help, if you ask nicely. (And if you tell them what you need.)
  4. You’re going to get frustrated. After weeks, or months, of putting forth your best effort and seeing no results, it’s somewhat inevitable that you’re going to get frustrated and upset. (If not, can you please share your secret? Seriously, the comments are open!) There’s really only one option when this happens. Stop what you’re doing, and take a break. Personally, I make myself go to a yoga class, but it’s your call on exactly what to do. Just do something that you personally find relaxing, then go to bed early. Things will almost certainly look better in the morning. If not, take another day off. Repeat as needed. You’re in this for the long haul, and taking care of yourself has to be priority number one if you’re going to have the stamina to keep going.
  5. Celebrate the small victories. When you’re in the middle of a long job hunt, it’s important to find excitement and encouragement where you can. Obviously it’s awesome to get an interview, but you can also take pleasure in setting up a coffee date with a potential contact (or even in being brave enough to send the email in the first place). Sometimes, it’s the little things that get you through the day!
  6. Always have another iron in the fire. There’s no way to predict what’s going to work out. I sent out at least 30 emails yesterday, and 27 of them were completely ignored. What will I do next? I’ll send out another set, and another one, and another one. Why? Because what else am I going to do?!? You have to keep moving forward and experimenting with new tactics. One of them will eventually work out…but you can’t possibly know which one in advance. Always have a Plan B, and start executing on it as soon as you can.
  7. Keep the faith. One of the strongest predictors of success is grit. If you just absolutely refuse to give up, there’s a very good chance something will eventually work out. Maybe your first legal job doesn’t look exactly like what you were planning (or maybe it’s not a job at all). So what? It’s a stepping stone. It’s a starting point. You’re on your way. And one day, you’ll look back on this and marvel at how far you’ve come. If — that is — you don’t give up. Onward! Always onward.

I hope these observations have been helpful. The good news is all of this stuff gets a lot easier the more you do it. The first time someone ignores your email, it hurts. Now, I hardly notice!

Shameless Self-Promotion Alert:

You should come to the conference. Seriously.

Editor’s note: Year one was so fun, we decided to do it again! March 1, 2014: Catapult 2.0 Be there!

It’s for law students and new lawyers, and we’ve got a fantastic array of smart, creative, optimistic people coming to talk about finding — or creating — a legal career you’ll love. It’s an intimate event, and you’ll have the opportunity to really interact with tons of people who want to see you succeed. (You can get personal help with your application materials and win great prizes!)

Here’s the schedule and the registration link.

And the logo! Fun, right?

Hope to see you there! Good luck with your job hunt.

Catapult 2013


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  1. Great post, as always Alison. Solid advice and thoughtful commentary. As a bonus, I like that I can picture you saying these things. There is a personal quality to everything you write.

  2. Great post, Alison. Right on point, and the personal anecdotes do make it so much more powerful.

  3. Great post Alison! I’m definitely with you on all of these, my job hunt for a summer internship has been insane. It’s so easy to get caught up with the herd and get down on yourself, compare yourself to others (especially when you’re surrounded by classmates getting jobs)..I definitely have to agree with celebrating the small victories and asking for help! 🙂 It’s kept me going!

    • Yes, seeing other people easily get jobs/internships sucks, even if you want to be happy for them. Oh well, such is life!

  4. It’s all true! Every word. The fact that it’s a numbers game can be very discouraging, but I’ve realized that I can either a) deal with it and keep pressing forward, thereby retaining the possibility of getting a job, or b) wallow in self-pity and doubt and never get anywhere. In my summer job hunt it’s been hard not to take rejection personally (people who go to law school generally think they’re pretty awesome), but I know that, like you say, it’s usually because of circumstances beyond my control. Although it would’ve been nice to get this job situation wrapped up months ago so I can study for finals unencumbered, I know that my perseverance will make landing a great job that much better. Onward, indeed.

    • One side benefit of sending out a ton of emails is that you can forget which ones you sent, and it’s a nice surprise when someone responds days later! Stay strong — something will work out. Fingers crossed!

  5. Terrific advice! I can’t wait to share your post Alison.


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