Overqualified is Not Out of Luck

by Vault Law Editors | January 03, 2013

How Overqualified Attorneys Can Market Themselves Competitively

by Diane Rifkin, Rifkin Consulting

We didn’t fall over the fiscal cliff, but our economy is still not on solid ground. As the economy still struggles forward, the legal community has seen some high profile law firm collapses that sent shockwaves through the industry.  The legal industry is struggling and attorneys are struggling to find their place within the industry. When the only jobs you can find are new Associate positions, how does a seasoned attorney find a job?

To many seasoned attorneys, junior positions are starting to look good when it means you can put food on the table for your children. But how does an overqualified attorney go about marketing themselves for a junior position? As an experienced legal recruiter, I often hear the laments of overqualified attorneys. In my 25 years of experience, I have found that nothing is impossible if you create the right plan of action and know how to effectively market yourself. The key is to understand your limitations, know the bumpy road that lies ahead, and realistically prepare yourself for a fight to prove you shouldn’t be overlooked. Yes, you’re going to have to learn how to assess the landscape and market yourself for the position accordingly.

Understand a Hiring Manager’s Challenges to Hiring an Overqualified Attorney

Things are rough in the legal industry. With more attorneys on the market than there are available positions, it can feel like a battle to get your foot in the door. Often, responses to your applications are few and far in between, if only to tell you that you’re overqualified for the job. The whole process can seem maddening. But you need to understand law firm hiring managers’ challenges in order to effectively be able to counter them.

  • Hiring an overqualified attorney may muddle a clear track to partner. Law firms often pigeon hole attorneys into certain categories- Associate, Junior Partner, Partner. When an attorney makes a lateral move, this is often based upon 1 to 2 years of experience in a law firm. However, if you have years of extra experience and assume that Associate position, you may disrupt a once clear track to partner. Firms may simply be unwilling to make adjustments for your experience that might put you ahead of your peers, many who have been at the firm for longer.
  • Hiring managers fear you may come to resent your job. As an experienced attorney, you want to be recognized for your skill set and challenged. If you are in a junior position, you may become bored or resent your lower pay despite possessing significant experience. You may ultimately come to hate the firm. Hiring managers are sensitive to these feelings and often seek to minimize this kind of negativity.

Despite these challenges, there are law firms who recognize your years of experience and would value the opportunity to gain a seasoned attorney at a lower cost. There are also hiring managers who are willing to see what you have to say. In these instances, you have one shot to market yourself strategically as the answer to their problems.

How to Market Yourself Strategically

When it comes down to securing an attorney position, it’s all about marketing. When a law firm is already resistant to the idea, you need to be able to market yourself effectively to overcome the presumption that you wouldn’t work out. Keep the following techniques in mind:

  • Focus on small to mid- size firms that may greatly value your skills. Often, smaller law firms do not have the benefit of attracting top tier candidates with years of experience. These candidates often want to target large law firms instead. Try positioning yourself as a seasoned attorney seeking to contribute more to a law firm that could benefit from the years of experience. Often, small to mid- size law firms can appreciate this desire and are happy to accommodate attorneys seeking the support of a law firm and the opportunity to help open up new avenues of business with them.
  • Market yourself as an attorney candidate making a career transition. Often, after years of time off to raise children, women are faced with transitioning back into a law firm environment. And hiring managers are sensitive to this transition. Similarly, hiring managers can appreciate that after years of corporate law, attorneys often want the support of a law firm. In each instance, the key is to sell the hiring manager on the fact that despite years of experience outside of the firm environment, you are seeking to rejoin the firm and are looking to get in on the ground floor and work your way back up.
  • Sell your unique set of skills. In today’s environment, there are many attorneys who are unable to operate new technology, or who lack the experience to put together a comprehensive litigation strategy. If you’ve got these skills, sell the hiring manager on how your skill set will add value to the firm and enhance their clients’ experience.
  • Seek out an experienced and skilled legal recruiter. Often, legal recruiters are your ace in the hole. Privy to private postings that the rest of the general public does not see, a legal recruiter can often push you in the right direction. They can also offer you resume reviews, edits, and interview preparation that may provide just the boost you needed. Legal recruiters’ close relationships with law firm hiring managers make them a strong advocate for you. Let your legal recruiter go to bat for you and sell your value to the law firm.

When you’re overqualified, you are not out of luck. With some persistence and patience, you can get noticed, get interviews, and convince hiring managers that it’s a smart bet to bet on you. The key is to be realistic, know your value, and don’t give up.

Diane Rifkin is an attorney and CEO of Rifkin Consulting, a premiere Orange County attorney recruiting firm. The Rifkin difference is an international network with hands on boutique style personal attention. You can find Diane Rifkin Esq. here at http://www.rifkinconsulting.com

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Law | Networking | Resumes & Cover Letters


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