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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

December 22, 2016
Question

When applying for a job, is it appropriate to contact attorneys at the company/firm who went to my law school or undergrad in order to get a good sense of the place?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

Being a successful job seeker requires a legal professional to possess a high Candidate IQ. Whether it’s what you wear, how you prepare, knowing when to hold your tongue, negotiating salary or leveraging your relationships, the ability to effectively read the tea leaves of a professional situation…and use logic and good judgment to act accordingly…is paramount to securing interviews and landing jobs. The stakes are high and careers are often on the line when mistakes are made. So how intelligently a lawyer approaches his/her job search can make a material difference for a career as well as a reputation.

Many job searches are compromised when candidates seeks to secure competitive advantages in a job application process. A common piece of advice that has been dolled out over the years to secure a professional leg up is to seek those who attended the same law school or undergrad…and leverage the mutual alma mater spirit. However, in today’s legal market, the academic institution bond does not provide the relationship glue that it may have 50+ years ago. While there are some circumstances where it might remain advantageous (i.e. you and another were members of Skull and Bones at Yale), without a stronger connection, this approach has become less effective and quickly outdated.

In your situation, you have applied for a job and want to contact select employees who attended your law school and/or college in order to gather more information about their employer. Good idea?

No.

And there are a few reasons why doing so would not be the wisest choice:

  1. People are busy and without an existing relationship, they will not be invested or interested to assist you. So your request for information will be a tall order – and the overture will come off as entitled, aggressive and borderline jaw dropping. Result: Candidacy Rejected. Reputation tainted.
  2. What if the current search is confidential? Perhaps this is a replacement search and the person being replaced does not know it yet? Perhaps one department does not want the other to know about its new headcount? Candidates are sensitive to confidentiality – and employers can be as well. If you are the source of a confidentiality breach, not only will your candidacy be history…your reputation will as well.
  3. At this stage of the process, you have only applied for the job. You haven’t received a response or secured an interview. So why would you contact the organization’s employees? They will view your outreach as premature, confusing and presumptuous.

So if going the common school route is ill advised, what can you do instead to get what you need? If you are seeking information about an employer, the Internet provides a treasure trove of information. And with websites like Glassdoor.com that provide employee reviews, comments and ratings about employers, you can get a decent glimpse into what life is like on the inside. You can also ask colleagues and friends who may be familiar with the employer to provide their thoughts. If you are bent on connecting with someone inside the organization, determine whether any of your strong contacts/relationships are close with an employee at the company/firm. Then inquire about an introduction. This approach will be more virtuous and provide more credibility for your ask than an NCAA secret handshake. Finally, if you do secure an interview, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and learn valuable information about the organization from the interviewers themselves.

When applying for a job, it’s natural to want to leverage as many resources as you can to learn about an employer. But contacting employees (you don’t know) who went to your college or law school to get a better sense of the organization is not a wise decision – and will create unnecessary risks that could hurt your career. Instead, pursue the alternatives suggested above to secure the information you need at this early juncture of your job search. It’s the safest…and most intelligent path.

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