Career Navigation: You are Successful and You've Just Been Let Go, Now What?

The job market for lawyers is hot right now, yet we are still in an era of job elimination and the reality is that change is a constant, and for career success you must be prepared for change at all times. If your job circumstances change, what are some immediate steps can you take?

1. Handle yourself professionally and express your appreciation for the opportunity your employer gave you.

Your termination may be unexpected or unfair, but the old maxim of “never burn a bridge” is one rule with no exception. After you have gathered yourself, express appreciation for the opportunity given to you. Showing business and professional maturity will serve you in your job search and your career.

2. Obtain letters of recommendation with your colleagues.

Letters of recommendation still go a long way in catching the attention of prospective employers. If, for whatever reason, you are unable to obtain a letter from your direct supervisor, consider asking others within your organizations. This could include other partners with whom you have worked, colleagues, adversaries, judges, business leads and if appropriate and within ethical bounds, clients.

3. Request Outplacement Assistance.

Outplacement is an employer-funded personalized service that addresses the need of an individual moving into a new position. Working with an outplacement provider is radically different than working with a recruiter. In short, you are the client, not the employer. Outplacement provides educational assistance and various types of support into new employment. It is commonplace amidst law firms in the Minnesota market to provide outplacement assistance; just make sure the outplacement provider has substantial experience working with attorneys and legal personnel versus the general public. A job search for a legal position requires additional tactics than the typical job search.

4. Network.

Sometimes human nature causes us to overlook tapping into our network as one begins a job search. We suddenly feel “funny” about talking with our network, or we panic because we think we have no network at all. Recognize that in today’s world everyone you know has been or has someone in his/her life who has been let go. It does not have to be a mark on your career; it is all in how you handle it. Our experience has also been that one’s existing employer (partners, associates, clients, outside counsel, co-counsel and staff) can be a surprisingly great starting point.

5. Don’t be discouraged by the job boards.  

For many individuals, reading and relying on the job boards can be a negative experience. “Ads” are only one way employers staff positions. The “hidden job market” is alive and well, and part of your learning process will be learning how to tap into that market.

6. Meet with a well-respected, experienced legal recruiter.

One such resource for the hidden job market is a recruiter. If you are unaware of a reputable recruiter, ask the management in your organization if they know of a well-regarded recruiter. Such a recruiter will have a consulting relationship with various organizations, which can help you move beyond being one of a pile of resumes on someone’s desk. In short, a recruiter can be your advocate, a direct voice to the employer. A knowledgeable recruiter can also shed light on matters like compensation systems, adaptability to laterals, support strengths and management philosophies.

7. Be judicious about sending out your resume.

Many of us are tempted to “paper the town” once we begin a job search. While this can be effective for a certain segment of the candidate marketplace, it can also backfire. This is particularly true if your objective involves a shift in career direction. Also, on many occasions you must be wanting just to network with your contact and may set yourself up for a rejection letter. Use your good judgment. The key is not allowing your letters and resumes to become more junk mail on someone’s desk or inbox.

Too often people just take a position that is the “same” as what they exited because they can’t stand being uncomfortable or being in the unknown.  There is a bright side in an “unchosen” career shift. It is an opportunity to reevaluate what is important to you, what you want to be doing and what skills you want to hone as you move forward.  Take advantage of the time and go through self-exploration. You are successful and that is not lost because of a career shift. Your success will carry you forward into your next opportunity – it is to your benefit if you are eyes open and know why you are choosing what you are choosing.