When you interviewed for a job in September, and your resum? end date read 2009, no one cared that you had been out of work for six months. Sure, the interviewer wanted to know why you were out of work, but the dates didn’t matter. Recently laid off inside counsel from troubled or bankrupt companies are desirable, and my firm placed such individuals in 2009. We have been able to present some “freshly” unemployed candidates as being uniquely available through no fault of their own. We can even convey a sense of urgency–snap up this talented person before he or she says yes to Company XYZ.
As the calendar flips, however, you will discover that dates start to matter a lot. If your resum? end date is 2008 or earlier, you know this already. You have probably already faced a version of this question: “What have you been doing lately?” The answer is irrelevant, as the interviewer has already exposed his or her bias. The perception is that you are stale or somehow damaged goods. A soft economy can’t shield you from that. The cruel truth remains that resum?s age quickly.
Some resum?s age gracefully and some age ungracefully. Let me articulate the difference and help you develop a resum? that ages gracefully.
Fairly or not, employers dislike time vacuums. Once the calendar ages your resum?, the worst entry for 2009/2010 is no entry at all. You want to add a current entry that tells the reader that you are professionally engaged. But here’s the critical piece–it must be an entry that maintains the appropriate imprimatur of your overall resum?.
If you have been a senior counsel for a Fortune 500 company, for example, you hurt your image with an entry that says you have been doing low level, low paying document review work through a temporary agency. Instead of getting credit for working hard and staying fresh, you risk the negative connotation that you are desperate and damaged goods. I know that’s harsh and unfair, but it’s true.
Another example of an ungraceful entry is the solo practice. When unemployed inside counsel add a solo practice entry, most recruiters and employers become skeptical. We usually conclude that it’s a not-so-clever way to simply fill a resum? hole. Worse, some readers will conclude that you are engaged in typical solo work: real estate house closings, wills and trusts, etc. This does not help your candidacy.
In my opinion, there are three graceful ways to keep your resum? current. The best is an of counsel or special counsel title with a name brand law firm. You want to go to a previous firm employer or a firm to which you have given a lot of business over the years, and cut a deal. You need a bio profile on their Web site. You do not need a salary. Agree on an hourly arrangement for work you may perform while you are associated with the firm. If necessary, offer to reimburse the firm for the cost of adding you to its malpractice policy. Make this an easy decision for them, and be honest about your main objective. You will continue your search for an appropriate inside counsel position. If you are able to generate some business for the firm along the way, you will. And while you cannot promise work from a future employer, there is no ethical prohibition against expressing obvious goodwill.
Recruiters and general counsel will look at this resum? entry quite favorably. Name brand law firms won’t put just anyone on their web sites, so this speaks well to the quality of your credentials and ability to maintain relationships. Employers will assume that you are doing at least some work while you are affiliated with the firm and, most importantly, that the nature of such work is sophisticated. If you cannot get a name brand firm to say yes to this arrangement, then shoot for a smaller or lesser known firm. This is still a better outcome versus the solo practice entry. It still delivers the positive message that other lawyers want to be in business with you.
The second graceful resum? option is project work with a legal department. This can be as an independent contractor or through a staffing firm. If through a staffing firm, make sure you are permitted to use the corporate client name on your resum?. For example: “Microsoft. Working on-site intellectual property project reporting to Assistant General Counsel via staffing firm.” Make sure the entry cannot be mistaken for low level document review work.
My third suggestion for keeping a resum? current, especially among senior level candidates, is high level non-legal work. A volunteer leadership position with a U.S. Senate campaign is activity worthy of a general counsel candidate. So is volunteer work for recognizable non-profits like the United Way or Red Cross. It’s graceful, positive and in keeping with the imprimatur level of your career path. The entry is even better if you can do some legal work for the political or non-profit entity.
Whatever direction you choose, I encourage you to do something. Stubbornly sticking to the job search as your full-time job will grow old quickly. Literally.