Negotiating a Salary. Precision vs. Games.

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal had an article written by Lauren Weber about negotiating salary.  It encouraged people to be more precise when negotiating a salary.  In short, it said to ask for “$63,500” to entice an offer of “$62,000” instead of “$65,000” which will likely generate an offer of “60,000”.  The premise is that the hiring authority will assume that a round number is an estimate of what someone needs and a more precise number better contemplates the candidate’s actual salary requirement.  It equated salary negotiations to a game.

While interesting, I think that this concept is not entirely accurate.  Precision is important when negotiating salary.  It’s imperative that you can justify the salary you are asking for (by switching firms, your health care expenses are going up, you now need to pay for parking, you are assuming management duties, etc.) but trying to “play games with the system” by asking for an odd number seems silly.  Get the salary you want by justifying the request!  Assume that your new firm is sophisticated and won’t be tricked by gamesmanship and creative accounting.  Throwing out an accurate salary request with the ability to justify the request is always the best plan.  Remember, you can always justify an increased salary by showing the value you are adding to the new position, so spend some time thinking about what you bring to the table.

What has worked for you when negotiating a salary?

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Your brain is playing tricks on you.

Your brain is playing tricks on you in a legal job search

One of my favorite authors is business guru Seth Godin.  In several of his books he outlines how fear of the unknown and aversion to change causes inaction and maintains the status quo.  Read The Linchpin for more details, but he argues it’s because of how our brain developed through evolution from a largely “lizard” brain (the amygdala) that tells us to go slow, be careful, compromise and be complacent. The lizard brain compels us to avoid risk and not put ourselves in an situation where we could be hurt/wrong/stand out.  The theory is that, when we were just beginning our evolutionary journey, that not standing out led to survival; standing out and taking risks rarely led to good things.  That may have served our ancestors well, but it’s not a great trait in the business world.  The urge to preserve the status quo gets stronger as we get closer to making an important decision – like taking a job.

So let’s say that, for a myriad of reasons, you’re frustrated at your current firm and start looking for a new job.  You land an interview at another firm and soon have an offer in hand.  Congratulations!  But now the emotional gymnastics start.  You think of all of the people you will be leaving behind, the good work you’ve done, the comfort-level that comes with knowing the partners at your firm and maybe even thoughts of future bonuses creep into your head.  STOP.

Stop torturing yourself now. Applying Godin’s theory, this is just your brain’s way of avoiding risk and keeping you “safe.”  There was obviously a reason that you started looking for a job in the first place.  Something isn’t right.  If the new opportunity is clearly not going to be a better platform for your practice, then by all means turn it down; but if you are failing to take (or consider) the job now that it’s being offered because you just now are remembering that your firm ordered you a chair with better lumbar support, then that’s just silly.

A job search is a two-way street.  The potential employer is evaluating you and you should be evaluating them.  It is likely that one (or both) of the parties will decide it’s not a good fit.  It’s just not fair to either side if the reason for breaking off the talks is based on something that should have been considered well before the resume was sent.

So how do you avoid your brain playing this trick on you?  The bad news is that you can’t avoid it.  What you can do is remind yourself WHY you started the job search in the first place.  Think about why you are leaving your current job and write it down (preferably at the beginning of your job search).  As you jot some notes, put down everything that you like about your job, too.  Refer to this list often and update it as needed.  This written list will serve as a tangible reminder of the things you are looking to avoid in the new position and will help you get over the mental hurdles of switching positions.  It will help you avoid the “perceived” danger of switching jobs, trumping your mind’s desire to preserve the status quo.

Being trepidatious about a job change is normal.  Not progressing in your career because out of fear is something that should be avoided.

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SPRING CLEANING (A Career Checklist)

It’s springtime (finally) and that means spring cleaning is upon us.  Clean the house, box up the winter clothes and donate what you are never going to wear again (remember that lime green jacket you have – you’re never going to wear it again, trust me).  So while you are dusting, organizing and thinking about the future, why not take a moment to think about your resume and your career?

Dust off the resume

You can’t really think about where you want to go before you can say where you’ve been.  Find that old resume and take some time to thoughtfully update it.  Use your LinkedIn profile (you’ve been keeping that us, right?) as a guide, but remember that the reader of your resume will want to know more about what you do than the brief summary you have online.  Don’t underestimate the persuasive power of a good resume or the ability to turn an employer away with a poorly-crafted resume.  Spend some time really working on the document.  If you are unclear about how your resume should look, seek help from a resume expert.  At the very least, have several people review your resume for readability, grammar and spelling.

You should have a current resume at all times – even if you are not looking for a job.  When that dream job suddenly appears, you want to be ready, don’t you?  It’s not polite to tell opportunity to come back later when you are ready.

Think about your current job

Before you can think about changing jobs, you need to assess what you like and don’t like about your current job.  Do you like the flexibility?  Is there too much/too little depth in a particular practice area?  Is the compensation fair?  Is there something about your firm that makes it harder or easier to market to clients when compared to other firms?  Take some time to carefully examine your situation.  It may not be as bad as you think.  If, however, you make the determination that your current firm isn’t a fit for you, then it’s time to move on in the checklist.

Think about what you need in a new job and talk to people about where you can find it.

Too many attorneys fail to take this step.  They make the determination that their current firm isn’t a fit and seek another position without spending time thinking about what they are looking for in a new firm.  Hoping that another firm is simply the opposite of your current firm is a bad game plan.  This is where you need to rely on industry experts.  Talk to friends, colleagues and legal recruiters.  They may know more about the various firms that interest you than you can glean from your internet research.

Far too often we hear of people taking positions and landing at firms that are not a good fit when the mistake could have been avoided by picking up the phone and contacting someone.  Most legal recruiters will speak to you (confidentially, of course) and they know the firms in their market.  Call them, even if you think that you have no need to use their services.  Recruiters worth their salt will speak to you out of professional courtesy and may even offer some suggestions of firms you hadn’t considered!

Take the first step.

Occasionally the phone will ring and a recruiter will be on the other line to discuss a fantastic opportunity that is perfect for you.  More often, however, YOU have to take the first step.  Committing to the job search requires you to set aside some time each week to do the research, talk to people and refine your resume.  Successful attorneys are busy and often lack time.  Some attorneys can rely on friends, family and recruiters to do some of the heavy lifting for them (identifying target firms, reaching out to contacts, etc.) but more often attorneys must set aside time each week to send out resumes and connect with potential employers.   Take the first step and plan your job search.  Don’t leave it to chance.  Put it on your calendar and stick to it.  Make reasonable goals that can be clearly articulated (like ‘this week I will explore firms A, B & C’) instead of just putting ‘research firms” in your calendar.  You are far more likely to stick to the plan if you have specific tasks listed in your calendar.

Keep going!

Now that you have a job search plan in place, keep going!  If you run out of steam, schedule a coffee with a trusted friend and ask for advice.  Reaching out to your network is a great way to increase your “reach” and stay motivated.  Remember, when someone knows that you are looking for a job, they are looking for you, too.  They may hear of an opportunity that your research didn’t uncover.  The more people that you speak to, the more opportunities you are going to hear about!
Spring is a great time to look for a new position.  The current job market is rebounding and both firms and in-house legal departments are busy.  Follow these basic steps to the job you’ve been dreaming about all winter!

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The job search isn’t working. Could you have made one of these mistakes?

You’ve been at the job search for a while and it doesn’t seem to be going as well as you’d hoped.  Certainly a soft market can be a partial explanation, but is it possible that you are contributing to your own failure?  Here are some common blunders that many attorneys make during their job search.

I want to be a litigator….or a corporate attorney.  Not knowing what you want to be when you grow up is okay in college, but now that you’re practicing, not having a laser-like focus on what you are looking for in your next job makes it hard to hire you.  The problem is that a law degree allows you to do a lot of different things, but you need to focus on one to find a job.  Telling a potential employer that you have great experience in securities compliance, but now want to practice family law is confusing for an employer.  It makes it easier for them to pass on you and toss your resume.  If you truly want to change practice areas, you need to find a way to demonstrate that you are serious about the career change and not indecisive.

Big firm by day, barfly at night.   Chances are good that you or your friend have a Facebook account.  I’m also betting that your phone has a camera in it.  If these things are true, then your barfly antics are probably floating around on the internet somewhere.  Know what’s online and do your best to keep damaging photos (or anything unprofessional) off the internet.  At the very least, assume that whatever you put on social media during your job search will be read by the hiring manager of every firm where you are sending a resume.

I’ve got a great ‘rezume’.  You can be the best candidate in the world, but a spelling or grammar error can torpedo your candidacy before you ever get to an interview.  Proofread.  Hire someone to proofread.  Then proofread again.

You’re too negative.  Nobody likes that guy who is constantly trashing his old employer (or the one who is looking for pity talking about how awful the job/employer/boss was).  It stands to reason that they don’t want to hire that guy, either.

Crickets.  Congrats!  You got the interview and it went well.  At the end of the interview the firm asks if you have any questions for them and you say…nothing.  You have to have something to ask.  No questions = no job.  Ask about the culture.  Ask about the firm financials (if appropriate).  Ask about their growth plans.  You can’t be silent.

Ask Emily Post (or my Mom).  When I was a child, my mother had a rule: I couldn’t play with a gift until I wrote a thank you note.  No exceptions.    The same rule should go for interviews and sending a thank you note.  Once you are done with the interview, write the thank you note.  Putting it off for a week because you are ‘sure it won’t be noticed’ is a miscalculation that you can’t afford.

 

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THE ART OF RESIGNING

Tendering your resignation is awkward at best and can get downright ugly in some situations.  Whether you are leaving for money, career advancement or personality differences – offering a polite, professional resignation is always the best course of action.

So you have gone through the long process of applying for jobs, interviewing, perhaps facing rejection multiple times along the way, and you finally have landed your dream job.  Now you are faced with the inevitable task of telling your boss that you are leaving.  There is no “right” way to give notice because it will often depend on the circumstances.  If you have a close, personal relationship with your boss then an in-person meeting is probably the best way to break the news.  In such a situation, it is also advisable to have a written letter prepared so the employer can actually have a notice of resignation for your employment file.  If you have a poor relationship with your boss and cannot stomach the idea of confronting that person directly then simply providing a letter of resignation (whether by person, mail or email attachment) is probably the best route in order to avoid any heated personal encounters.

Even in situations where bad-blood is virtually unavoidable (taking business from your firm to a competitor), you should act with civility and professionalism.  If your employer accuses you of being a cheat, traitor, etc. – just do what you came to do and make a quick exit.  Not only will it help down the road if you encounter that person (legal markets can be fairly small) but it also can work to your advantage if you still need something from your former employer (client file transfers, personal items, etc).

Just remember, you cannot lose by taking the high road when resigning but it is very easy to torch some bridges if you treat it as an opportunity to speak your mind.  So. as Ron Burgundy would say – “you stay classy”.

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Attorney Unhappiness Is Common. Action Is Rare.

“Happiness is not ready made.  It comes from your own actions.”
– Dalai Lama

“Don’t just sit there and complain – do something about it!”
– My Grandmother

If you’re unhappy in your legal job, you’re not alone.  A recent survey by Forbes magazine ranked being an associate attorney as the “Unhappiest Job In America” (rounding out the top-5 were customer service associates, clerks, registered nurses and teachers).

Being an attorney is tough, but happiness with your job is something you can change.  Just because you are unhappy at your firm or legal department, doesn’t mean that you should leave the practice of law – maybe another firm would be a better fit for you?

The job market has become much more fluid in the past few months.  Opportunities are plentiful in some areas and improving in others.  Now is the time to dust off the resume and start testing the legal job waters if you are unhappy in your current position.  My grandmother wouldn’t tolerate inaction in the face of unhappiness.  She’d remind you that you have the power to change things.  If she were your grandmother, I believe that she’d put a plate of cookies on the table along with a pen and notepad (she’s old school) and tell you to start working on your resume.  That’s good advice, Na-Na!  If you are unhappy now, how much worse could it be if you moved?

To make sure that a new firm would be a better fit, use your network of friends and acquaintances.  Learn as much about a firm/company as you can BEFORE you make the move will allow you to land in a place that is a good fit for your skills and practice style.

If the thought of moving is simply too daunting, take the job search in smaller, more manageable steps.  Start by putting together a resume and making sure it accurately represents your skills.  Once that’s completed, reach out to some friends to let them know you are interested in hearing about opportunities.  Then move to reviewing job postings in your spare time, talking to recruiters and affirmatively speaking to potential firms.  Before you know it, the job search will be in full-swing and the end result can be a new job….and some happiness.

*Just FYI, the “Happiest Job” in the Forbes survey was a real estate agent.  Seriously. http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/03/22/the-happiest-and-unhappiest-jobs-in-america/

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The Only Interview Question That Matters: Why Should We Hire You?

 

Maybe more than the innocuous “tell me about yourself” question, the most important question in an interview is “why should we hire you”.  It boils down the entire hiring process into one answer – and there is only one answer: because I solve your problem(s).

Ultimately, someone is hiring you as a lawyer (at a firm, a company or other organization) to solve a problem.  That problem may be excess work, to boost profits with your portable business or for your subject matter expertise.  You MUST have an articulable answer to the question of why they should hire you before you enter the front door to interview.  Think about it.  Practice the answer.  Believe it.

There might be a room full of other candidates in the lobby when you interview or you might be the only candidate they are meeting, but there is always another alternative (and that’s hiring no one). If you can’t sell them on why they should hire you, why would they extend an offer to you?

When you answer this question, you need to sound confident, capable and enthusiastic.   Explain how your experience has prepared you for the job. Even if you have no work experience, you can highlight the qualities you do have that you know the employer is looking for: outstanding work ethic, your ability to conduct legal research or your ability to think on your feet.

You can add value to any organization as an attorney even if you have no experience, so give some real thought to what you bring to the table and focus on selling that to the interviewer.  You’ll stand out from the crowd and you make the interviewer’s job easier.  So….why should we hire you?

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Spring Cleaning – Be Sure to Dust-off Your Resume Too!

Spring is in the air – at least in some parts of the country.  It is a good time to clean the house, replace the batteries in the smoke detectors, and update your resume.  Okay, that last part may not be in the spring handbook but this really is a perfect time to make some necessary changes to your resume and supporting documents (addendum, deal sheet, case list, etc – collectively “Resume”).

Your Resume should not be static.  No matter what your practice or job, there have to be at least a few matters that took place over the past year that are worthy of noting in your Resume.  Some people do this on continual basis, which is fantastic.  Those in the active job market have likely kept up as well.  It is those that are not necessarily looking but who might consider the right opportunity that can really benefit from a periodic update. This is especially the case in relatively robust legal market (compared to the last five or six years anyway).

There are good jobs to be had and, just because you never know when the right one will cross your desk, it always helps to be prepared.  Preparation should include reflection of accomplishments over the past year, considering any stylistic updates, and making sure your overall Resume flows well.  It is easy to a get piecemeal feel when just adding a sentence or bullet point without considering the document as a whole.

Although the market is picking up, there are still a lot of people looking for jobs.  Not only is it necessary to put your best foot forward with a quality Resume, but it is also helps to submit your Resume on a timely basis or it could get overlooked.  So make sure you Resume is ready to go when that perfect opportunity comes up.

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More Is More When Working With A Recruiter

There are few phrases that are as over-used as “less is more.”  It ranks right up there with “take that to the bank” and “thinking outside of the box.”  In some instances, less might be more, but when working with a recruiter, less is definitely NOT more – at least when it comes to the information given to the recruiter.

The more information that a recruiter has, the more effective s/he can be.  Think of a recruiter as a financial advisor or doctor – you can answer their questions with minimal information, but the more you keep them in the dark, the less effective they will be.  Speaking honestly with a recruiter about who you are and what kind of “culture” will be a fit will help the recruiter weed out opportunities that simply don’t make sense.

When working with a recruiter, it’s best to expose the recruiter to as much information as possible.  This is true for candidates who are using a recruiter to find a job and firms/in-house legal departments who are using a recruiter to find an attorney.  Too often candidates shield blemishes on their resume from a recruiter and answer questions about those problems inaccurately or incompletely.  For example, if you aren’t interested in working at a firm that expects high billable hours, be up-front with the recruiter so you aren’t wasting time or effort on positions that are a poor fit.  On the client side, sometimes firms aren’t honest with the recruiter (or themselves) when they describe the type of work environment they offer.  Not every firm is excellent at cross-marketing their practices, but nearly every firm markets themselves as having excellent ability to build someone’s practice.  An honest self-evaluation of the firm prior to talking to a recruiter will help them find candidates who will be the best fit and stay after being placed.

And you can take that to the bank.

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Resurgence of the Business Law Attorney

It is no secret that the past five or six years have been particularly challenging for business law attorneys as deals dried up, businesses went under, and a general lack of work permeated the legal market.  Fortunately for everyone, the market is coming back but this especially true for business law attorneys.

Businesses ranging from start-up technology companies to Fortune 500 companies seem to be making up for lost time, which has created demand for business attorneys in the market.  The good and bad is that there appears to be a shortage in supply of such attorneys – particularly in the associate and junior-partner level ranks.  This is a challenge for those potential employers looking for qualified candidates, but is good for those relatively few who possess the desired skills and experience.

We saw a similar event take place after the dot-com bust and could have predicted the same thing following the recent economic downturn. The fact is there is a void in the legal market for attorneys with m&a, securities and general business experience.  There is also an increased demand for commercial real estate attorneys as that market continues to rebound.

Firms and companies are starting to cast wider nets both in terms of geographic region for finding qualified candidates but also in their consideration of candidates who might not otherwise be an absolute perfect fit.  Likewise, if you are a business law attorney now is the perfect time to consider other opportunities because your stock is likely higher than it has ever been (for those who have been practicing less than six years) or quite some time for more experienced attorneys.

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