If you have struck out on the on-campus interview process at your law school and your academic credentials are less than stellar, how should you approach law firms to stand out and increase your chances of getting noticed?
There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but here is one possibility. As you probably know or suspect, medium and large law firms get hundreds of unsolicited resumes outside of the on-campus interview process every year. If you did well at an elite law school and at an Ivy League undergraduate school, your chances of getting noticed are pretty good, even in that environment. But if your qualifications are much less impressive, your resume will most likely get lost in the sea. So, how to stand out?
Naturally, if you can leverage connections or your networking skills, by all means take advantage of that to make your resume stand out. That really is the best approach. But what if you don’t have any connections and you are terrible at networking?
One thing you can do is to go to a firm’s website and look for attorneys (preferably more experienced attorneys) who might have a reason to take notice of your resume and, possibly, put in some good words for you. For example, to take something obvious, find someone who went to your school at any level (the smaller and the more obscure, the better), grew up in or near your hometown, has similar backgrounds (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, immigrant, etc.), shares a cause or interest (fraternity or sorority, and charitable causes, in particular), etc. It is often helpful to look for someone who looks like a nice person from pictures (yes, seriously) and is involved in legitimate charitable causes (as opposed to somewhat frivolous, hoity toity ones like “Friends of Some Lame but Trendy Little Museum.”).
After you have identified your possible targets, you can obtain additional information concerning them from LinkedIn and other information found on the Internet and pick one attorney at the firm that you feel is the best match.
You can email your resume (without cover letter – no one reads that in this context) with a very brief note to highlight what you have in common.
Note that, in many cases, when an attorney receives an unsolicited resume from a total stranger, s/he would just forward it to the recruiting department with a note, “I don’t know this person, but here you go.“ So what’s the point of this exercise? When you target a specific attorney with your email, your resume would initially go through a different channel (not necessarily a better channel, but different). Even if it ultimately ends up in the same place in the huge resume pile, someone in the recruiting department would have looked at your resume individually and fairly carefully before it is tossed on the pile. As such, there is a better chance of getting noticed. And if the forwarding attorney can put in some good words for you, that can only help. Even if it’s like, “Don’t know who this dude is, but he’s got an interesting resume.”
Your takeaway: While it could be somewhat time-consuming, consider sending your resume to a specific target in the law firm who shares something material with you. If you know who are on the recruiting committee, obviously start there to seek an appropriate victim. Quite often, differentiating yourself in any way could mean whether or not someone would actually look at your resume for more than the usual split second.