The Florida Bar results are out and resumes and cover letters from young and eager new attorneys are flooding our inboxes. If you are either looking to hire or looking for a job I have compiled a list of 10 tips that I have learned as an employment lawyer that I believe are worth sharing and that may help you make a better hire or increase your chances of landing a job.
1. No typos, obviously
Typos are an absolute disqualifier. Typos on a resume or cover letter indicate a lack of attention to detail.
Having someone you trust like a loved one, career counselor, former professor, etc., give your application materials a second look is incredibly beneficial. A fresh pair of eyes can catch small mistakes that someone who has stared at the same document for hours could easily miss.
Also, having someone else read over your resume and cover letter allows you to gauge how effectively — or ineffectively — you have communicated your message.
2. Bar admission
In addition to asking an applicant if they have passed the Bar exam, be sure and ask the applicant when they expect to be admitted to the Bar. I have seen Bar admissions take years.
If it’s important to you that the applicant be able to handle a hearing or deposition on Monday, remember they are not able to do so unless they have been admitted to the Bar.
Be specific — ask if there is anything in their background that could cause a hiccup in their Bar admission. I have counseled clients who have had a law school grad on their payroll for several months with no Bar admission.
If they expect the admission may take a while, consider hiring the graduate as a law clerk at a lower wage until they receive their Bar admission.
Sometimes it is a situation where, through no fault of their own, the applicant is delayed, i.e. a stolen identify can wreak havoc on a Bar admission.
3. Resume gaps
Significant gaps or periods of unemployment in a resume with no explanation could be a red flag for employers. Applicants should be prepared to offer an explanation for the gap.
Employers should ask the applicant why there is an employment gap. If the applicant was laid off, ask the reason for the lay-off, the number of people who were laid off at the same time and whether they received some kind of severance package.
Employers should not be afraid to ask hard questions, and employees should not be afraid to answer them.
4. Quality over quantity
Employers should pay close attention to a resume where an applicant seems to bounce around from one job to another. Do applicants seem to get the 18-month itch?
Bringing a new hire onboard takes a significant amount of time, training and investment. While Florida is an at-will employment state — meaning an employer or employee may terminate an employment relationship at any time — employers want someone who is likely to stay for more than 18 months.
To that same end, beware of an applicant who seems overqualified for the position they are seeking. If a lawyer is applying for a paralegal or a legal assistant position, you should be wary.
You want someone who is going to be proud of both their job and stage in life. It’s not a bargain if you have an employee who has one foot in and one foot out, or better yet, thinks they are doing a job that is beneath them.
Employee job satisfaction is so important and an employee who is not satisfied does not stay long-term very often.
5. Scatterbrained career path
Yes, there is such a thing, and I have experienced this personally when making hiring decisions.
A resume showing the applicant has moved from a career in cosmetology to real estate to law all by 30 may be an indication of the applicant’s level of commitment to their chosen profession.
Granted, no two career paths are identical, but an applicant who went from “Beauty School Dropout” to “Legally Blonde” is a risky hire. In my experience, the best hires are those who have been planning for the job they are seeking for a long time.
Employers should always ask an applicant about their hobbies. Applicants should, likewise, prepare answers to these kinds of questions.
This is an opportunity to show a potential employer what you are passionate about. You can learn a lot about what someone by learning what it is they like to do in their spare time.
Even if you work in a small private practice, we all have to work with other people in order to be successful. Employers should attempt to establish whether an applicant is a team player and able to get along with others.
Participation in team sports, serving on committees, prior military experience and membership in a sorority or fraternity are all fair indications of collegiality.
Don’t be bashful. Ask applicants to provide examples of when they have had to work closely with others in order to get a project done.
8. Availability and punctuality
I think we all want someone who is going to show up on time every day and be prepared to stay until the job is done.
Explain to the applicant this job is demanding and often requires evening and weekend work and even some travel. Ask applicants if there is any reason why this would be a problem for them.*
Applicants should know that their potential employer has these concerns in mind and be prepared to address concerns about availability.
* Employer cautionary note: Remember that asking someone if they have children, their childcare arrangements, etc., could be unlawful. Also, resist the urge to make assumptions based on someone’s stage in life.
Look critically at an applicant’s references and ask the applicant about each one. Ask an applicant who they consider to be their mentors and why.
The best hires are often those who are willing to ask questions and learn from other people’s experiences.
10. Community service
As attorneys, we are here to serve the community in which we live. Whether the applicant is involved with local youth groups or national nonprofits, the more a person is willing to sacrifice for the betterment of another, the more connected the applicant may be to the community.
Applicants should explain the types of community service they are involved in and why. If you are seeking a job and are currently not involved in any type of community service, you should attempt to become involved.
Not only does community service make you a more well-rounded applicant, it can also be a great networking tool.
Michelle Bedoya Barnett is a partner with Alexander DeGance Barnett.
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