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Feature Article

August 2014 Issue

Five Tips to Help Build a Personal Brand

by Charles Volkert, Esq.

A personal brand may seem like a concept more appropriate for writers, artists and performers — rather than someone with a legal career. But developing one is a fast-growing trend in many professions, including law, as a way to stand out in a crowded and competitive field.

So, what exactly is a personal brand? For one, it’s not a logo or tagline. Rather, it is the blueprint for how you present yourself, from the elevator pitch to professional persona. You probably already have developed one, whether purposefully or unconsciously. The trick lies in knowing what yours says about you and enhancing it to leverage an advantage in your legal career.

Here are five tips for discovering your personal brand and learning how to make it work for you.

1. Know thyself. Self-awareness and authenticity are foundational to building a successful personal brand. Honestly assess where your strengths lie and focus on what sets you apart from the crowd. Make a list of your skills and analyze what it says about you. As examples, are you immaculately organized in managing caseloads? Got a certain way with cantankerous clients? Do colleagues go to you whenever they have a question about legal and office software? Write down some bullet points of what you consider to be your best assets and soft skills.

2. See how you’re seen. Now take a look at how others perceive you. Besides just your job responsibilities, what would fellow employees miss if you weren’t around? Make a note of what they repeatedly entrust you to do. Look at past performance reviews to see if certain attributes stand out. If you’re bold enough, ask a few friendly colleagues to coffee or lunch and ask them to describe you. Focus on the positive.

If there’s a lot of daylight between your self-perception and how others see you, you’ll need to decide what aspects of your personal brand to tweak, hone and emphasize in order to better control the way you come across.

3. Align goals with personal brand. Where do you see yourself in 12 months? Five years? Ready for a legal career move? Defining your goals will provide the roadmap for crafting your personal brand. What does this mean? Let’s say you’re a legal secretary with ambitions of becoming a litigator. Your personal brand should therefore be one that radiates leadership, excellent communication skills, an ability to persuade and negotiate, and a calm demeanor in tough situations.

A personal brand is especially beneficial to have during a job search. Whether you’re an entry-level paralegal or a seasoned legal professional, you can tailor your application materials and interviews using what you know about your strengths. The more you can shape how others perceive you, the more control you’ll have over your legal career.

4. Boost your online persona. These days, managing your online presence is as important as how you present yourself in person. Google yourself regularly and check out what potential employers, managers or clients can read about you. Social media is a particularly powerful platform for reinforcing — or eroding — your personal brand, so be sure to pay close attention to your online reputation and brush up on your digital etiquette.

But don’t rely on just LinkedIn or legal social networking sites, particularly if you’re a consultant or freelancer. A personal website or blog is an excellent way to further cultivate and promote your brand. Both platforms accelerate your brand message by highlighting professional achievements, unique skills, specialized knowledge and personal values.

5. Own it! How you dress, the tone of your voice, your confidence level, the firmness of your handshake, your body language — they are all part of your branding. Aim to align these tangibles and intangibles with the professional message you want to convey. And don’t forget to go outside of the self: Look at all the ways you broadcast yourself — resume, cover letter, elevator pitch, business card, email signatures, online presence — and make sure they sync with your brand.

If you don’t define yourself, someone else will do it for you — and they may come away with a different sense than the one you wanted to or wished you could convey. Take charge of your legal career by being the one who crafts your own personal brand.

Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal®, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also provides managed review and e-discovery services. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major North American and international markets.

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Question & Answer

August 2014 Issue

Q:

I’d like to take advantage of informational interviews as part of my legal job search. What’s the best way to go about contacting people in the legal field? What questions should I ask?

A:

First of all, you’re smart to want to purse informational interviews. Whether you’re a recent law grad or a seasoned pro contemplating a career change, they are a great way to gain valuable advice, learn about current employment trends, expand your legal network and get job-search tips from industry veterans. Another plus: Though you’re not yet interviewing for a legal job, you are getting your foot in the door by letting practitioners get to know you.

But it can be daunting to contact busy professionals and ask probing questions. Here are some things to keep in mind as you go about setting up and conducting informational interviews.

Know whom to contact
Know which practice area you want to focus on, and then reach out to connections in that particular field. If you’re deciding among several types of law practices (e.g., firm, corporate, government, non-profit, academia), you’ll want to interview professionals working in each area.

How to find them?

  • Search your social media connections and make inquiries.
  • Contact the career center at your alma mater for a list of alumni willing to be interviewed.
  • Ask family, friends and acquaintances whether they know of anyone working in those fields, and see if they’d make an introduction.

When compiling your contact list, consider mid- or even early-career lawyers as well as seasoned professionals. It’s good to get a diversity of opinions when seeking information. It also wouldn’t hurt your legal job prospects to interview people who work in organizations that you would like to join.

Contact your list
The best way to reach out to potential interviewees is by personalized email. Compose a message that concisely lays out your intentions. Make sure to mention any acquaintances and/or professional associations you two have in common. You may want to attach your resume and any recent publications as a way to share your background and credentials. Do this for each individual contact. If you don’t hear back after a week, you could send a follow-up email or reach out by phone.

Prepare for the interview
Rule number one of an informational interview: Do your research. You don’t want to waste valuable time — and come across as a lightweight — by asking questions to which the answers are easily found online. Make the most of your short time together.

Other tips: Prepare an elevator speech that neatly sums up your background, experience and interest in the practice area. This is a good way to kick off an informational interview. And be sure to dress the part: Even though it’s not a formal legal job interview, business attire is still the most appropriate.

Perfect your interviewing strategy
As the one who asked for the meeting, you’re the one who drives the interview. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • Can you describe your typical day?
  • What technical and interpersonal skills do I need to succeed in this field?
  • What are the industry trends to keep an eye on?
  • How would you rate the work-life balance of this job/industry?
  • Do you have any advice that you wish you’d received before you started out?

What to do afterward
Soon after the interview, find a quiet place where you can review your notes and add other details while the meeting is still fresh in your mind. Within a day, send a written or emailed thank-you note personalized with some key points you learned from that person.

Conducting an informational interview is a great job search strategy. You get an insider’s perspective, helpful advice, another person in your professional network and possibly even leads for positions not yet advertised. To get the most out it, treat this experience as seriously as you would any legal job interview. Good luck.

Submit a career-related question to Charles A. Volkert, Esq., executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Charles will answer one question each month!

 
 
 
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