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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 28, 2017
Question

My company is failing. How much will this negatively impact my candidacy for a job? Do today’s companies only want to hire from “successful” companies?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Everyone loves a winner. And everyone wants to be associated with a winner. But in the cutthroat, Darwinian world of all that is Corporate, not every company can lay claim to victory.

There are several factors that influence a company’s success or failure. Sometimes it’s the executives, sometimes the market, sometimes a company is ahead of its time and sometimes it can’t keep up with the times and sometimes…it’s just dumb luck. When a company finds itself hurting, it can also encounter serious morale issues among its employees. And when an employee feels low, s/he will often decide to roll the dice on another company and explore the employment market for new horizons. For attorneys in this situation, does a poorly performing company affect a candidate’s marketability? Is it true that employers only want to hire lawyers from “successful” companies?

No.

In today’s legal market, employers prioritize a handful of hiring criteria when assessing the viability of a candidate. The key factors include: 

  • Quality of substantive experience
  • Work history
  • Credentials
  • Culture fit/interpersonal skills
  • Prior relationship/experience working with the candidate if one exists (i.e. known commodity)
  • Seniority 

Company/Employer brand is a factor too, but it plays a limited role as a measuring stick of a candidate’s ability, excellence and overall fit. Sometimes it can be a plus, sometimes a negative. But working for an employer that has been on the decline will rarely DQ a candidate out of the gate. As employers evaluate legal candidates, they review the criteria important for their new hire and balance candidate strengths and weaknesses in each category to determine whether to move forward. Hiring managers may work through this exercise in a methodical and conscious way, or analyze it internally. But regardless of the process, everyone weighs the pros and cons against their criteria. So where does company brand fit in the priority pecking order? Is it at the top or are other factors more important?

I’ve worked with scores of corporate hiring managers and currently the single most important threshold factor in defining a viable candidate is the quality of his/her directly relevant experience for the position. So even if your current employer is underperforming, if you have great experience and check the other important boxes, you will be considered a competitive candidate with hiring potential…even among those from “successful” companies. It is also important to note that lawyers coming from whiz-bang companies aren’t shoe-ins just because of their employer/company brand. While a great company can be attractive, if (1) such company candidates are lacking in one or more of the other priority requirements; (2) the legal department has a poor reputation; or (3) despite its success, the company itself is not highly regarded by the hiring organization, their candidacies will be compromised…just like everyone else’s.

A candidate whose employer is winning in the corporate world can enjoy a leg up when competing for a job…when all else is equal. But all else is rarely equal. And candidates vary in the quality and abundance of the other factors that are so important to hiring managers. At the end of the day, whether your company is enjoying success or is on the ropes, neither will solely make nor break your candidacy. Instead, the viability of your candidacy will hinge on a variety of key factors starting with the quality of your experience…and ending with an assessment and balancing of the rest of the must and nice to haves. So as you move forward in your job search, do not fret about your employer’s performance because ultimately, it will be yours that will make all the difference.

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