Written by Susan Pincus, Careers Advisor, The College of Law Victoria
The reality is that most of us receive knockbacks from time to time when we are going through the job application process. It is hard not to take it personally as in most cases, significant time, effort and emotional energy is put into a demanding and rigorous recruitment process. This can include a number of stages – not just submitting a job application (cover letter, cv, key selection criteria) but in addition, participating in a video and/or phone interview, psychometric testing, an assessment centre to a panel interview and/or final interview.
When you receive the news that your application has been unsuccessful after careful consideration due to the high calibre of applications, it feels very pointed and personal. Without even knowing where you went wrong, it adds to the frustration. Sometimes, asking for feedback and framing it around what can I improve on and do better next time, can be useful. This may not always be an option however, as recruiters often don’t have the time and means to provide this information.
So it actually becomes a perfect time to step back and realise that the attributes of tenacity and resilience will serve you well moving forward. It is nothing personal, it is the reality of the job market. In the majority of cases, the hiring manager has not even met you. If you can switch your mindset into a place of learning and being open, it is a great place to start. You need GRIT and a positive growth mindset understanding that there are numerous stepping stones you can skip over to reach your goals. If you have a fixed mindset, you face the risk of becoming closed to new approaches and strategies.
If we look at the theory of happenstance, in order for individuals to move ahead and optimize their chances of success, they need the following attributes –
Curiosity: to want to learn new things regardless of where they might lead.
Persistence: to keep trying, even when faced with rejection or silence.
Flexibility: to respond to change positively by adapting yourself or your aims. If things don’t go according to plan, then find a different path and look for new opportunities as they crop up.
Optimism: to believe that opportunities are within reach and that you can benefit from every experience. Reality could be offering you better options than you dreamed of.
Risk-taking: to take action and pursue an opportunity without knowing everything about it.
In speaking to a number of lawyers that did not go down the traditional pathway of finding jobs through graduate programs, they exhibited many of the above characteristics. They stepped back, broadened their strategy and changed their game plan. They focused for example on the hidden market rather than relying on advertised search. I recall one law student telling me he searched up all the suburban law firms within a 10 km radius of his home, jumped in his car and dropped into every one. Whilst initially he did get knockbacks, it only took a short time before his luck changed. He is still with this firm today.
Another common theme was the importance on constantly revisiting contacts, picking up the phone, meeting face to face with people and asking them for their insights, ideas and potential contacts. Don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting – most professionals are happy to help as they were once where you are now. Stay away from “I need a job, can you help me?” to “I am seeking your advice and would love your perspective, can I have 20 minutes of your time” as it changes the dynamic of the conversation. People can sniff out desperation and panic which is never a good look. Approaching conversations from a stance of curiousity, humility and learning is a much better way to go.
Try different approaches and keep building on your legal volunteering experience, join committees of interest through your local law society and stay active and involved. Look for a mentor in the profession through your local law society, Bar Association, or through a contact. Rather than losing momentum and feeling despondent, you will often find that taking one small step, has a snowball effect that opens up other options. Whilst you may receive a lot of no’s, it only takes one yes, for things to change quickly.