Don't wait to hit the job market

It’s one of the greatest times of the year: Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer, New York beaches officially opening, graduation ceremonies, and the beginning of bar prep.

But it’s also the time of the year when I am the busiest. I am a career consultant for international attorneys who seek to work in the U.S. and, naturally, I work with many LL.M. students and graduates. Over the last four years I’ve learned which months are the best for me to be on vacation, and which ones I should be checking my email regularly.

April and May, email time. Why is that?

Dear Desiree, I just graduated from XXX and my OPT is starting soon. I am now ready to hit the job market and wonder whether you can help me secure employment in the next couple of months (because of my OPT). I start studying for the bar soon so I won’t have much time to dedicate to my job search. Are you available to speak today or tomorrow?

Reading emails like this, every day during April and May, makes every part of my body scream. Why? Why, would you wait until now to “hit the job market”?

Starting your job search from square one hoping to find a job within two months is almost impossible. I generally am not a fan of the word impossible, because in my world, nothing is impossible. There are only more or less challenging goals. But starting the job search in May, with bar preparation on the horizon, seeking to start employment in August, is almost impossible. And before I get angry letters from those who have pulled this feat off, I said almost. As lawyers we know that there are always exceptions to the general rule.

But why hope to be an exception? If it is so important to stay in the U.S. and gain practical experience – as many say, “Desiree, I really, really want to stay in the U.S.” – why are we waiting for the very last minute to work towards this goal? It just does not make any sense.  

I know, I know. We have to study, we have exams and papers, and clinics, and then the family is coming to visit and then we have to fly home for the holidays and then we really want to travel across the U.S. while we are here, and then the apartment – we have to move, etc.

The truth is, we are never too busy. We just don’t set our priorities straight. I am always amazed to receive emails from CEOs and General Counsels within 24 hours (and sometimes much faster), whereas emails from students take two weeks, if they come at all.

If you really want to stay in the U.S., make it your priority. Having good grades is only part of it. Being busy is an excuse.

The job search will take longer than we may think. Employers rarely wrap up hiring processes in a few weeks. They are increasingly stretching out the interview process for four months or longer, thanks to the large pool of candidates. International employees often require additional steps in the hiring process, along with input from other decision-makers, including those in Human Resources involved in the visa process. The time from application to decision once interviews are over can be substantial.

We also have to add additional months to our timeline to identify the opportunities in the first place – real opportunities where getting hired is an actual possibility, not a dream. Sending job applications to who knows where hoping for a lottery win is not the hiring process we are talking about. Identifying actual opportunities can take months and months.

Jobs that my clients found in 2015 were NOT posted on job boards. Let me repeat: They were not posted on job boards. How do we identify these opportunities then? Through the grapevine, through word of mouth, through market research, through conversations, and again, through conversations. I’ll avoid saying through networking, because I know that for many of you, the brain shuts down the minute you hear this word.

This takes time. We cannot send an email to someone saying, “Do you know of any opportunities?” and expect this kind of response:

Absolutely, attached are five openings that suit your profile. Even though I have no clue who you are I am more than happy to put my hard earned reputation at jeopardy to recommend you for these jobs. Would today at 5 p.m. work for you? I will miss my son’s soccer game and cancel my doctor’s appointment, and my client can wait for his suit to be filed. I know that your OPT runs out soon, so let’s get this started.

What are we thinking? It leaves me to wonder how much we really want to stay in the U.S. and whether we intentionally sabotage our job search so we can go back home and say it just did not work out.

As you can see, I am emotionally charged when it comes to this topic. It’s because I care. I am only as successful as my clients. I want to help you find employment but you have to help me help you. If there were a magical way to find employment I would sell it and live at the beach drinking fruity cocktails.

The only way to find a job is through hard work: Dreadful work, full of conversations, dead ends and rejections. If we are willing to go through this though, it works. We can make the dream of working in the U.S. come true if we work hard and, most importantly, work hard over an extended period of time, persistently pursuing the goal despite setbacks.

If you are reading this and starting your LL.M. in August, please keep this in mind every single day.

But if this situation describes your own, we can try some emergency work, but you better get started TODAY.


Desiree Jaeger-Fine is principal of Jaeger-Fine Consulting, LLC, a career management firm for international attorneys in New York, and author of A Short & Happy Guide to Networking (West Academic Publishing) (forthcoming).