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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

June 10, 2016


Julie Q. Brush

Every profession or industry going through disruption experiences its own set of byproducts. The legal profession is no different. As it sits in the eye of a Darwinian hurricane – its force has thrown off chaos, produced disorientation and created a higher level of drive…and competition among those ambitious lawyers who are striving to survive and thrive.

Jockeying for legal jobs and career ascension is as strong and competitive as it has ever been. So lawyers seek understanding and ways to secure competitive advantages in these changing times. Many tap experts, coaches and gurus who might provide the secret sauce to achieve them. Advice ranges from nonsensical to noteworthy – and the effectiveness in which lawyers implement such advice can make…or break a career. Everyone is looking for an edge and the insatiable drive to obtain it can cloud judgment and result in…Overkill.

Rarely is there a positive feeling, good impression, excellent review or anything else likeable when something or someone is described as Overkill. And while it may seem obvious to avoid such excessive behavior, an increasing number of candidates, law students, new grads, networkers, happily employed and unhappily employed legal professionals are pushing too hard…whether they know it or not.

I see this manifested everyday and also witness how it has undermined careers. So as you move forward in your own career journey, bear in mind the most common types of Overkill in the market today and take the necessary steps to avoid the following saboteurs:

Too Much Self Promotion.

Yes, we are all great with special gifts. And yes, it is important that one not be too modest about his/her virtues and accomplishments. But how we effectively communicate this (verbal or otherwise) is a delicate balance that takes tact, skill and judgment. When the competitive stakes are raised to unprecedented levels, tact and skill and judgment are vulnerable to compromise – and more fervent chest beating behavior ensues. This can have some fairly significant downsides. In the interview context, it can come off as too aggressive, self absorbed and off-putting. In other contexts, it can annoy and irritate. The shameless self-promoter is often an unwelcomed guest in any conversation and those with too much toot in their horn will be perceived negatively. So be mindful of how…and how often you are singing your own praises.

Too Many Champions.

In our uber-connected world, everybody seems to know everybody. And when applying for a job, applicants want to leverage their powerful friends to get a leg up in the process. So they ask for a reference, a good word, a ringing endorsement – anything that can help them score an offer. Depending on your champion, the connection could have significant impact so this approach is usually prudent ground to cover for the interested candidate. But many go a step…or two further and dust up several contacts to speak on their behalf. While it may seem logical to think that the more who endorse you the better, in the job search process…the opposite is true. Employers raise a brow when they are fielding recommendations from every direction – and often get annoyed and put-off by a tactic they view as overaggressive. I’ve seen many-o-employer decline to pursue candidates when experiencing this dynamic. So it undoubtedly hurts a candidacy. How many champions are enough? Two max. If you have a contact that is high up and/or has a lot of juice (board member, top exec, client), limit your plug to one.

Too Much Follow Up.

It can be maddening waiting for feedback from an interview or job application. Employers are notoriously slow responders – and in the case of the online job application, there is often no response at all. So candidates are proactive in contacting those in charge for a status update. There’s nothing wrong with following up. In fact, I encourage it. But too much follow up is Overkill and leads to an impression that you are a pest, overaggressive, desperate, lacking in judgment or emotionally off-kilter. So what is appropriate? Below is a guide for a few situations:

  • After an interview:
    • 1st follow up = 2 weeks after interview
    • 2nd follow up = 3 – 4 weeks from last outreach
    • 3rd follow up (optional) = 4 – 6 week after 2nd follow up
  • After submitted job application:
    • 1st follow up = 2 – 3 weeks after submission
    • 2nd follow up = 3 – 4 weeks from last outreach
  • Networking Request:
    • 1st follow up = 2 weeks after request/introduction
    • 2nd follow up = 3 – 4 weeks from last outreach
  • Asking for Professional Assistance:
    • 1st follow up = 2 weeks after request
    • 2nd follow up = 3 – 4 weeks from last outreach

If radio silence remains after two or three follow ups, I recommend that you move on and shift focus to your other career advancing activities.

Too Much Information.

Otherwise known as TMI or “over sharing”, this is one of the biggest career saboteurs – particularly in interviews. It typically occurs when a candidate over shares detailed information about personal or professional issues with someone s/he may know…or not know much at all. The information communicated is often inappropriate in the context of a particular situation. Or it’s just plain ol’ inappropriate in any circumstance. Some high level categories include: relationship problems, mental or physical health issues (large or small), marital problems, family issues, disclosure of confidential information, negative gossip, and personal quirks or idiosyncrasies.

It would seem obvious to stay clear of these types of risky subjects, right? Right. But in today’s professional world, “TMI” is popping up more frequently and is compromising candidacies, careers and reputations. So before you engage in your next professional communications, pause for a moment and assess the following: (1) Your audience; (2) The nature and context of your relationship; (3) The strength of your relationship; (4) Your level of familiarity; (5) Typical information exchanged historically; (6) How you’re feeling/your mood; and (7) Potential consequences if particular information is shared. After slowing down and making the assessment, you’ll be more cognizant of the professional boundaries and skilled in keeping your conversations safely within its lines.

Too Much Flattery.

It’s always nice to be flattered or receive a well-deserved compliment. But too much praise raises suspicions as to authenticity and motives. And nobody likes a brown-noser. So if you suffer from Eddie Haskell syndrome (I’m dating myself with this reference), dial it back and keep it from the heart. If your heart is overflowing with positive sentiments, limit your gushing to the appropriate situation (end of interview process, after numerous meetings/encounters), number of times (once!) and level of effusiveness. If you’re unsure how to assess, ask a friend or colleague for advice before you act.

Too Much Resume.

Your resume is the first impression that an employer or colleague receives about You. So it is an important tool in your career toolbox. There is a psychology to resumes – how they are crafted and how they are interpreted. And what’s on (or not on) the page can provide important tells about you as a person and a lawyer. An increasing number of lawyers in today’s profession are peppering their resumes with a heavy amount of content. Fearing the risk of rejection – or not knowing what’s appropriate to keep or omit, these lawyers include the kitchen sink in order to hedge their bets. This results in a resume that is Overkill and will quickly turn off a reader as his/her eyes quickly glaze. The best resumes fall somewhere in between not too short and not too long. For those seeking detailed guidance on crafting the perfect resume, please read my expanded article on resumes here: The Lawyer Whisperer’s Current Trends for Resume Detail and Length.

Too Much Thank You Note.

You had a good interview and are following the right professional protocol by expressing thanks to your interviewer(s). So far, so good. But some lawyers regard the thank you note as another opportunity to display their vast knowledge and/or make their continued case as to why they are perfect for the job. These long, blathering emails can tank an otherwise viable candidacy because it is Overkill. If your thank you is a treatise, an employer will wonder: What kind of lawyer are you? Will you be succinct? Get to the point? Use good judgment in your communications? Employers view an excessively long thank you email as a foreshadowing of not-so-great things to come. So button up your thank you and finish your interview process as strongly as you started.

The modern day legal profession is as competitive as it’s ever been. And in the drive to secure every advantage, lawyers are pushing increasingly harder to leverage every angle to get ahead. While this approach can have numerous career benefits, if left unchecked, it can have devastating consequences. So as you move forward to advance your career, be mindful of how far you push the envelope and remember: that despite one’s noble intentions…it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

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