Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Job Search

After two years of practicing and hating almost every minute of it, I decided to put my resume out there. Mind you, I began my job search when the unemployment rate had approached 10% and many employers were in the middle of a hiring freeze. This may have affected my prospects somewhat.

Most of my applications received no response. I applied at non-profits for office manger and receptionist positions (I have a great deal of administrative office experience). I applied at hospitals for patient advocate positions (who better to be an advocate than a trial attorney?). I applied for paralegal positions. Nothing. Not even a rejection letter.

Then, I applied for a State paralegal position. This required me to complete an exam, which consisted of answering several essay questions outlining my experience and skills. I ranked number 2 (!!) and was offered an interview. This consisted of meeting with a panel of attorneys who asked me the exact same questions I answered on the essay test (??), and a few days later I was called in for a second interview. During the second interview, I felt confident that everything was going well. Until the very last question. One of the interviewers looked at me and said, "I'm a little concerned that you have a law degree, and this is only a paralegal position."

I was fuming. This could have been brought up at the beginning of my first interview, and instead, the interview had been rigged so that I would end on a low note. No matter how you slice it, having to explain why I was switching from practicing law to a support position would involve some negativity. I tried to spin it in a positive way, explaining that I did not enjoy the adversarial nature of law, and that supporting people and organizing projects are areas in which I excel. No dice. I received the rejection letter a week later.

In the meantime, I continued to go to work everyday, arguing with prosecutors about how much jail time my wife-beating, drunk-driving clients should receive, and writing threatening letters to insurance companies on personal injury cases. I died a little more each day. Which is why I continued applying for jobs, even though I knew most of them would never get past an initial screener's eyes since I had two scarlet letters on my resume: J.D.

There were many nights when I came home and cried to my husband about how much I hated myself for choices I had made. I had made a poor decision to spend thousands of dollars on a law degree, which left me $80,000 in debt. I had made a poor decision to stay in law school even after I realized I never wanted to be an attorney. I had made a poor decision to practice law, which only made it harder for employers to believe that I would not be "bored" in another line of work. He tried to be supportive, even telling me at one point to quit my job and just focus on my job search. This would basically mean that we would be living paycheck to paycheck with absolutely no luxuries and barely enough money to even eat. Don't get me wrong - my husband makes an awesome living (about $80,000 per year), but with my student loans, which are about $600 per month, and the fact that we are in about the 28% tax bracket, my husband only brings home about $46,000 per year. With our mortgage, my student loans, and our cars, we would not be able to afford cable, any travel, clothing, books, fuel, or even enough for groceries. So I chose to stick it out.

But, I decided to change my approach to the job search. I had been sending out resumes to jobs that were advertised everywhere, which practically guaranteed that I was wasting my time and energy - most of my applications probably never even made it to a hiring manager. Then I remembered that when I attended community college part-time, I had worked for a temp agency. So I decided to go to some and register, just to get my name out there.

I registered at two. They both gave my resumes to various employers, but no one wanted to hire an attorney. The job recruiters explained that prospective employers felt I was "overqualified." Which never made any sense to me - isn't that better than being under qualified and incompetent? So after about six months of being told how overqualified I was, which was entirely untrue (more on that later), I decided to try for part-time work. One of the recruiters I worked with happened to have a co-worker whose husband was looking for a temp at his company, at $15 per hour. I would be working 30 hours per week. I talked with my husband about it, and he told me to go for it. We could always cancel our cable subscription. So I went on a brief interview and explained that no, I would not mind answering to their paralegal. I almost cried when I was offered the position. I put in my two weeks notice at work and tried not to look back.

I know a lot of career counselors advise against taking "just any job," and some people would probably consider my decision to take a receptionist position as doing just that. But to be honest, this job is helping me develop my computer skills in a way that could never have happened as an attorney, when my secretary did everything for me.

Tell me, what roadblocks have you run into in your job search? How did you overcome them?

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1 comment:

  1. Just found your blog via BIDER's blogroll.

    Trying to explain away the JD is hard to do, and for non-legal positions, I always leave off my bar admissions. I found I got further in interviewing processes when I stated at the top of my cover letter that I was interested in finding an entry level position outside of the law, even if I never called myself a lawyer.