struggling to get a job in the post-COVID economy
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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Unfortunately, it is reality. Most recent law graduates are struggling to find a job, any job, at all. Even those who will graduate in 2021 are likely to face the same terrible job market.

Offers have been rescinded. The biggest law firms have delayed the joining of freshers they recruited last year, who were due to join in June-July by 6 months or more. Even that looks like a very optimistic situation. 

Long term internships that should have ended with job offers did not end on happy notes. Recruiter confidence is seriously dented, and if law firms and companies are hiring anyone, they are looking for very experienced candidates.

And yes, the young graduates are competing with lawyers with experience who are also out there looking for jobs.  That is not an easy situation to deal with. Even for the few openings that are there, if employers can find many experienced candidates in a similar budget, why should they hire those who don’t have any?

What do most people do when they do not get a job?

Let’s talk about what people do that do not work:

  1. Spraying and praying. You may want to send out 500 generic applications and hope that someone will call back, somehow you will stumble onto some opportunity. 

When you do not put in the effort and care into each application, when you do not specifically prepare for each interview, and do not research the employer, it shows. 

And it shows you in very poor light. 

2. People often become desperate after failing to get a job for a while. They make desperate calls, they appear desperate in interviews. Desperate is also clueless. 

Desperation does not look good on your CV, or when someone is hiring you unless they are planning on exploiting your desperation. It is not an attractive quality to put across to potential recruiters. More desperate you become, the more good opportunities will tend to slip away from you.

3. Blaming others – the economy, luck, dumb employers – anything. Shifting the blame here does not help because this is the time when you need to take responsibility. 

When you take responsibility, you will be in the position to do the difficult work that you have to do in order to get the job as soon as possible, instead of moping around and failing to take the actions that you need to take. 

The rejection may not be your fault, but still, you are in a tough situation and you have to dig yourself out of this difficult situation. Only you can do that!

4. Getting depressed and failing to take care of yourself – When you are in a very bad economic situation, and you are not getting the opportunities you deserve, it is very normal to question your self-image, your standing in the world, withdraw from everyone and ignoring self-care. Existing mental health or self-esteem issues are likely to get aggravated. This is a time when you need to pay more attention to self-care to avoid spiraling into a health crisis.  

5. Sign up for some redundant and expensive master’s degree – a lot of people’s solution to not getting a job during a recession to sign up for a master’s degree such as an LLM or an MBA. For some people, it may make a great sense, but for a vast majority, it does not. They often end up taking on huge educational loan burdens, without really increasing their employability in any justifiable way, and just manage to postpone the embarrassment of not getting a job for a year or two. 

Others do the same by signing up for UPSC or some other government job preparation, which they do not really care about but it kind of saves face.

6. Accept really low paid, menial and irrelevant jobs that have no future. You need to think about how this job will reflect on your CV. For instance, accepting an LPO job may look terrible for your CV if you want to work with law firms next year. It may be far better to take a low paid research assistantship with a professor even, while trying to get your own clients on the side. That may be a better use of your time even financially. Being strategic about what you do, keeping in mind the years ahead, is very important.

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To get a job in a really bad job market you have to stand out heads and shoulders above other applicants. How can you do that?

No matter how bad things are, there are always jobs. Even in the great depression, the worst known in modern history, only 15% of the US workforce was jobless, and the rest had work. At its peak, for a short while, unemployment reached 25.6% and then it again climbed down.

This time it is nowhere as bad yet.

Understand that there are jobs but the rules of getting them are different

So well, never ever believe that there are no jobs in the market. They are just fewer in number, competition is fierce, and you have to work harder to get them.

Your usual methods are unlikely to work. I will tell you some time tested methods that have always worked for my students and working very well even today as our placement office of LawSikho slogs it off trying to get jobs for our students even during this pandemic.

However, when jobs are few in the market and candidates are many, then jobs do not have to be advertised. Employers already know a lot of people and they can take their pick from the pool that is available to them already.

So only the best get hired. You have to be a top performer, one way or the other, to get a job right now. It does not mean you have to have degrees from top universities or that you have to have top rank in your class, though those things do not hurt. However, it is possible to get a job if you can prove that you are a really good fit for the job and it will be very profitable for the employer to hire you.

Normally, it is great if you can do that but not always necessary. However, these are different times. This is a very different situation from a normal job market.

In a normal job market, the demand for new workers is so high, with the economy expanding, that employers are ready to hire even sub-par candidates very often with the hope that with some training they can pull up their performance. Better to have someone on the job rather than wait for the perfect person! 

But when 15% of the experienced workforce is already out of jobs and looking for new opportunities, and new graduates are joining the mix desperately looking for opportunities as well, and the economy is shrinking rather than growing, it is a very different situation.

Employers have many more options. They are also under pressure and do not want to hire greenhorns who will require a lot of on the job training. They can hire experienced people inexpensively, and that is what they do.

Specialized is better when standing out is so important

During a bad economy, mass recruitment goes out of the window as it has now. 

During prosperous times when businesses are rapidly growing, mass recruitment is the norm. Employers will hire a large batch of people based on some criteria, and hope that some of them will turn out to be good. They are less risk-averse and more willing to experiment at those times. But not now.

When budgets are tight, they are hiring only the minimum stuff they need. Which means one wrong hire can be quite costly. They have no appetite for experiments. 

So if your CV looks more tailored for what exactly they are looking at, that is a very good sign. They will like that.

And this is exactly what you should be aiming at. Someone may have had 10 years of experience doing other kinds of work, but they were not drafting technology contracts which the job involves and you know how to do this work very well. The other person may need some training and time before they start delivering, but you won’t. You will be productive from day 1! This should be your pitch and it has to be based on some specialized knowledge or highly relevant skill that you have developed, which hopefully others don’t have.

Let me give you another example. Telemedicine companies are doing well and growing fast. For a moment, let’s imagine that there is a telemedicine startup that is looking to hire a lawyer. Sure, it may hire a lawyer with 10 years of experience as in-house counsel normally. 

However, if you can show that despite relative inexperience, you have written 12 papers on telemedicine regulations around the world, have drafted a few tech contracts, have a working knowledge of changing tech policy landscape in India, have learned how to do GDPR compliance work and have a genuine interest in the sector, there is a chance that someone may prefer you over a generalist. 

Specialization and specific experience often trump general experience in the job market, and that is your best bet right now.

Choose a niche

That brings me to my next point, which is closely related. This is high time you start working on one or two specific niches. I am not saying do not appear in interviews or don’t apply to jobs in other niches, but 70% of your time needs to be devoted to focussing on these one or two niches.

Why?

Well, the same reason as specialization holds good here. When your efforts are highly diffused across different sectors and randomly targeting random companies, your chances of getting through is lesser.  

Imagine that you choose two high potential sectors, that you really like. Then you focus on researching the sector, find out who are the established companies in the sector, read up on legal troubles they have had in the past, figure out how economics is shaping up for the sector, which startups have high potentials, who are the biggest investors and what law and policies impact these sectors most and so on. 

Soon, you may start attending events, writing articles, and connecting with people on LinkedIn – all related to this sector.

What is happening here? Due to your sustained and strategic focus on a sector, you are developing strong knowledge, skills, experience, and connections that make you a great candidate for hiring, which will never happen if you randomly keep trying your luck with different sectors.

It is very critical to choose the right niches. There are dead niches right now with very little potential while there are others that are screaming for more resources as they are growing at a breakneck speed.

The market is still inefficient, recession, or not. It always is. So where are the sweet spots with high demand and low supply?

Could it be tech law and data protection? Could it be media law? Could it be arbitration? What about bankruptcy and insolvency law? Is there a lot of contract drafting and renegotiation work these days? 

You need to spend some time identifying and thinking about where there is strong demand in the market.

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You will not even find out about the best opportunities if you are not part of the network. So start getting in touch with people who may be able to help.

Are you shy? Do you not have a professional network? That is bad news in a recessionary job market. 

Here is why.

You are probably applying to jobs that are publicly advertised. Your odds of getting those jobs are terrible. Too many people applying for too few jobs. No personal endorsements would mean your application will be lost in a sea of unopened applications, most probably.

Every time I post a job on LinkedIn, I get hundreds of applications. I can’t even open them all though I want to.

But if a friend, former colleague or collaborator reaches out saying:

Hey, I saw your post, I know a great guy for this role. Should I introduce you? I say oh of course, that will be great! Do you know this guy personally? Have you seen his work? How well does he do x? If the response fits my bill, the candidate is almost halfway in.

I will rather go through 5 applications of people who my friends or people I know well are ready to vouch for rather than going through 200 applications trying to shortlist 12 people to interview!

This is the magic of having a professional network that trusts you and backs you.

In a market like this, most of the time we do not even have to advertise a job. We have a former intern or former colleague or someone we know from past projects looking for a job right now, and having worked with them in the past we know their weaknesses and strengths. Should we take a chance on them or on strangers? Most employers advertise vacancies only when they cannot fill a position from their immediate network. That means in a recessionary job market, most jobs are not being advertised, and you do not even get to apply unless you know people personally.

Hence I hope you are working hard on your professional network.

Do you have a track record? If not, time to build one

Even if I introduce you to a hiring manager looking for a lawyer, will you be able to close that job? It depends on what you bring on the table.

There are two things you can bring on the table primarily. One is your proposal as to what you are going to do to make the employer successful at whatever they are trying to do. 

The other is your track record that backs up your claims about what you can achieve. If you are applying for a job in media law, do you have a track record that shows sustained interest in the area over a period of time? If you are saying you are really good at handling employment law cases, what have you done in that area in the past?

A great way to build such a track record when you do not have experience is to do pro bono work, for startups and industry associations. You can also create a track record by volunteering for government projects, politicians and policymakers, writing articles, speaking at events, organizing webinars with distinguished speakers, assisting top academicians on their research and so on. 

Past associations really matter at this time

A startup will prefer to hire lawyers who have helped them in the past. A law firm will prefer to hire lawyers they have worked with or across the table and had a chance to see the quality of work. 

They may also prefer to hire someone who has done a long term internship and shown great promise. 

If you have been helping law firm partners to write books, articles, organize webinars etc, as we advise our LawSikho students to do, then there is a good chance that they will favour you when they are looking to hire new people in their teams. 

If you did not spend time building lasting, long term, meaningful relationships with people you may want to work with in the future so far, it is high time that you start doing so.

Do not be the candidate who only has “I will work very hard” in their favour

What makes you stand out from other candidates? Why are you best suited for this job? Do you know how to do xyz work?

No sir/madam, but I am very hard working and I learn fast.

Maybe, but this is not the best answer you can give. It is easy to claim these things in an interview. Everyone who is not prepared always says this.

And some of them may even be right.

But here is the problem:

If you are so hardworking and if you learn so fast, I would like to know about all the hard work and hours you put in to learn the work you would have to do if you get hired, isn’t it?

If you expect to get hired first and then learn how to do the job, that suggests to me that you are a bit too optimistic and unrealistic in a bad job market, and also perhaps a little entitled!

How we help our students at LawSikho to get jobs and internships

Many lawyers and law students find doing these things consistently quite hard.

Here is how we help them:

  1. We help them to identify a niche that will work for them, and then they create a roadmap to work with.
  2. Their learning goals and networking goals are supported by our curriculum itself. They just need to show and do what we have in store for them.
  3. We help them to come up with a job-hunting strategy. We ask them to identify potential employers and start building an irresistible CV keeping those recruiters in mind. Our counselors from the placement team work for them through this process.
  4. We map the career interests and weaknesses of our learners, based on their personal goals and motivations. Then we look for opportunities using our extensive network to find the right opportunities for them.
  5. We push them to write articles, host and attend webinars, and if they are senior, even speak in webinars, give lectures, and even write and publish books! 
  6. We connect our learners with tons of pro bono and low bono opportunities so that they can build a great track record. 
  7. We get them opportunities to assist academicians from around the world as well as law firm partners and top in-house counsels in writing articles, books, managing social media, and such other work.
  8. We vet their CVs before sending, and we prepare them for interviews. We help the recruiters to understand their strengths, and provide genuine recommendations that a host of recruiters have come to trust over time.

So well, if it works for us, it will work for you too! Work hard, hustle, and stay positive. 

Here are some LawSikho courses that close for admission in 3 more days:

  1. If you are interested in corporate governance, you should check out the diploma in Companies Act, Corporate Governance and SEBI Regulations;
  2. If you want to get that in-house counsel job, go check out the diploma in Business Laws for In-House Counsels;
  3. If Industrial and Labour Laws interest you, go take a look at that diploma course;
  4. The Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Laws will be booming in the coming times, if you’re inclined towards that career, check out that diploma course;
  5. If you’re sure that your niche lies in M&A, Institutional Finance and Investment Laws (PE & VC transactions), go check out that course;
  6. The Cyber Law, Fintech Regulations and Technology Contracts is in dire need of good young talent if that is what ticks for you, go check out that course; and
  7. Every young lawyer should check out our diploma course in Advanced Contract Drafting, Negotiation and Dispute Resolution

Check out our other executive courses which can be helpful: 

  1. We have a certificate course in Advance Corporate Taxation
  2. You can also check out this course for Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
  3. If Trademark, Licensing; Prosecution and Litigation interest you, we have a course for that;
  4. LawSikho also teaches Competition Law, Practice and Enforcement in a course;
  5. Technology Contracts will be essential to every business in the future, you can check out that certificate course; and
  6. Knowledge about Banking & Finance Practice: Contracts, Disputes & Recovery is essential for every BigLaw layer, you can check that out too.

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