The Sign Employers are Looking For

Say What You Can Do For Them

Not How Great You Are

Back in the day, women lawyers needed help - a lot of it - figuring out how to sell themselves as go-to attorneys for corporate America. So the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles (WLALA) invited Occidental Petroleum’s General Counsel to a discussion about landing clients of Occidental’s calibre.

The GC opened with what now seems obvious but was startling then.

“I Don’t Care About the Law”

“I’m not interested in the law,” he said. “I throw away your legal updates as soon as I see them.” He paused. “What I’m interested in is my business and you should be too.”

I know you don’t have a lot of time either so I’ll bullet point the rest.

  • if you meet with me, ask me questions about the business problems the company faces and the business opportunities we’re pursuing

  • if you think the law can help solve the problem or seize the opportunity, by all means mention it

  • but don’t expect me to spend my time teaching you my business

  • read about my business in the business pages of a major national newspaper

  • when you read the local and national news, ask yourself how current events might be affecting my primary challenges and opportunities

  • if you HAVE to send me legal updates, tailor them to my business. If you land my business, it will more than justify the time you’ve spent tailoring your newsletter to suit my needs.

Making the Suit Fit

If You MUST Use a Resume, Tailor It to Their Business

If you already fit the posted job requirements, you don’t have to spend much time saying so. You can quickly bullet point them at the bottom of your single page vitae.

What you want to lead with is what you can do for your prospective employer, not what you can do for just any old employer in your field.

Are they facing competition from a new entry in the field? Are they missing an opportunity that would solve one of their most significant challenges? Would your specific experience, education and skills help them seize an opportunity that their cookie-cutter job description overlooks?

Addressing those issues in your resume makes you stand out from the crowd. Your interview should follow form.

Lessons Learned While Failing Up

Back in the ‘90s, I had an interview with the head of the environmental insurance coverage practice at a major Los Angeles law firm. I didn’t know squat about insurance or environmental law. I’d scored the interview not because I sent the firm my resume, but because one of my colleagues was dating a woman who was the best friend of the department head’s wife.

You see, women’s networks have always brought opportunity our way; we just still don’t use them often enough.

After my interlocutor regaled me with stories of his most recent trial, I said, I don’t really know anything about insurance. I don’t even read my own policies.

In a just world, I would have been promptly thrown on the reject pile. But I’m lucky, I guess. Or maybe he was the rare person who appreciated candor, even when it’s so obviously self-destructive.

His response?

I have a dozen lawyers who can read insurance policies. I need someone who could try a case!

Having just finished trying a three-month federal trial, I said, I can do that.

When I got home there was a message on my answering machine offering me the job.

Had I bothered to ASK someone what the head of this law firm’s environmental coverage practice needed, I could have avoided the gaffe that should have sunk my candidacy.

But don’t count on luck. Learn about the business before you send anyone a resume. And learn it more deeply before you interview.

Focus on what you can do, not on what your own qualifications are unless those qualifications are necessary to prove you can do what they need you to do. It won’t be in the job description because that’s written by HR, not by the man or woman who needs your services the most.

Go get ‘em champ.

Victoria PynchonComment