Is it Cheating to Get Help with Your Job Search?
Why it’s Okay to Ask for Help with Your Legal Job Search
Sometimes I hear from law students and young lawyers who are uncomfortable asking for help with their job search. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Some people are uncomfortable admitting they don’t have a job offer, whereas others don’t want to feel like they’re “taking advantage” of people they know socially or recently met in a professional context. This sense that it’s somehow “cheating” to ask for help is particularly common among applicants who don’t into the traditional, or stereotypical, profile of a lawyer: white, male, and upper class.
And it’s probably the reason so many lawyers and law students hate networking!
But, let’s break this down. Is it somehow not okay to ask for help with your job search? And, if it is okay, how can you get help in a way that feels authentic, and not too uncomfortable?
Why It’s Okay to Ask for Help with Your Legal Job Search
You might find this hard to believe, but many people actually like helping young lawyer and law students find their way in the profession! People help for a variety of reasons:
- You remind them of a younger version of themselves. Especially with alumni of your law school (or college), nostalgia is a powerful pull. “Oh, I remember back when I was a second-year law student and the world was my oyster! I had such dreams and hopes for the future.” Never mind that most of those naïve dreams got crushed on the shores of rocky reality! Helping you achieve your dreams of finding a great job and making a difference in the world can be the road not taken in their own life. Let them help, and they’ll get to relive a bit of their youth, through you.
- It’s in their best interest to do so. Not everyone helps for entirely altruistic reasons. In many cases, it’s in their best interest to do so. The legal world runs on referrals and favors, and – even if your potential contact isn’t ever going to hire you, they might know someone else who wants to. If they refer you to that person and you’re a great fit, they’ve earned a favor that can be called in later. Never underestimate the power of enlightened self-interest!
- People like to be helpful. That being said, many people just enjoy being helpful. Any successful attorney knows that he didn’t get where he is totally on his own. Everyone had mentors, and those people who pushed the door open just a crack at the right time. Even when busy and powerful, many attorneys enjoy helping younger lawyers, if only to return the favors they received in their younger days.
Ways to Ask for Help That Won’t Make You Cringe
Even if you believe, in theory, that it’s okay to ask for help, actually doing so can be intimidating and unpleasant. Here are a few tips for making things easier:
- Ask for an informational interview, not a job lead. News flash: People love to talk about themselves. If there’s a lawyer you’d like to meet, it’s completely acceptable to ask for an informational interview. (Here’s a detailed guide to setting up a successful informational interview.) Your goal here isn’t to directly generate job leads – it’s to learn more about an interesting potential career path and to (possibly) acquire a mentor or advocate for your career.
- Look for affinity groups. Especially if you’re not a “traditional” attorney, look for opportunities to connect with others who are similarly situated. Because you may lack access to certain back-channel knowledge, it can be useful to connect with others who are like you in some way (whether that’s gender, ethnicity, interest in a specific area of law, and so on). In an affinity group, you’ll already have commonalities, and people are eager to help those they perceive as being similar to themselves.
- Connect online. If setting up a coffee date seems overwhelming, start on social media. Lots of lawyers are on Twitter, and it’s fairly easy to make professional connections. (I actually met my business partner on Twitter!) One advantage of starting online is that it’s much easier to make a face-to-face connection later. Any time I attend legal conferences or events, I meet “Twitter friends” and we already feel like old pals, even though we’ve only communicated in 140-character bursts.
Ultimately, asking for help in your job search is one of the best ways to make progress. Don’t be shy! Use these tips to get the help you need to find the legal career of your dreams.