This usually doesn’t apply to firms in cities like New York City, but if you are applying to a firm in a smaller city or town, so-called “local connection” is often very important. Also, note that even if you are looking for a job in larger cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, having a local connection would give you a leg up.
In other words, these firms would insist on knowing what is your connection to their city or town. Why? They want to be assured that if they invest time and money in training a young associate, he or she would not take off after a couple of years. Of course, that could happen to any attorney or firm, but these firms are trying to reduce the “flight risk” and local connection is used as a proxy. They figure that, if you grew up there or still have family there, you would be more likely to stick around over the long-term.
This is very serious. It’s a lot more than a simple tie-breaker with another candidate in our experience.
Let’s say your fiancé will be starting her Masters program in Albany, NY in September. You will likely be looking for a job in Albany to be close to each other (i.e., horror, living in a sin as 25 year-olds). Attorneys at firms in Albany that you are going to interview at will surely ask you why you are applying in that city when you have nothing on your resume that suggests the reason.
Being truthful, you tell them about your fiancé’s pursuit of a Masters degree. The attorneys will instantly recoil in their seat – they are thinking, “holy smokes, a one-year-and-out.” Not good.
So, how do you finesse this situation without BS’ing (too much)? Some possibilities are:
- “We never visited Albany until my fiancé got into her program, but we really like it here and think that this would be an ideal place to raise a family!”
- “We both grew up in medium-sized cities, kind of like Albany, and this place is the type of environment that we feel most comfortable with.”
- “As the capitol of New York State, we feel that Albany presents great post-graduate opportunities for my fiancé and her degree in political science, statistical analysis and corruption.”
- “She may very well continue her education and pursue a Ph.D. at the same university.”
- “Cost of living is so crazy in places like NYC and LA, such that we want to settle down somewhere we can buy a house with a backyard right away.”
- “We both love nature, and I am an avid hunter and fisherman” (make sure they are no PETA bumper stickers in the interviewer’s office first.)
That kind of explanation actually works if you are a strong enough candidate (you don’t even have to be a superstar), but the explanation has to pass a straight-face test, obviously.
If you do in fact have a pre-existing connection to the city or town in question, consider whether (and how) you should mention it on your cover letter or, preferably, the resume.
Truthfully, this issue basically arises from the insecurities held by people living in smaller cities or towns. They automatically assume (to be fair, however, probably backed up by their prior experiences) that people would take off elsewhere as soon as possible, unless they are chained to the city or town by something – You can almost hear them think, “Why would anyone want to live here otherwise?”
Contrast that with firms in NYC and LA, etc. They don’t care about your local connection, because they figure, “Hey, why wouldn’t you want to live here? Doesn’t everybody?” On the other hand, large firms in places like Chicago and Miami sometimes consider the existing and strength of local connection.
Your takeaway: So, at this type of interviews, feel free to (tastefully) bash big-city living, crowdedness, safety issues, cost of living, congestion, weather, culture and so on until they are convinced (at least somewhat) that you hate the city-slickers just as much as they do. And emphasize how you are really a farmer/hunter/lumber jack at heart by wearing gorgeous plaid.