Making Work, Work

At Obelisk Support, we receive CVs of returning lawyers regularly, most of them accompanied by notes explaining why they took a career break. Whether it’s to have a family, to join family postings overseas or for health reasons, these lawyers come back to the law with a fresh perspective on their professional career and a desire to succeed. Our recruiting team reads all of them and after reviewing them, arranges individual interviews to learn about applicants who want to become legal consultants with us. Based on our recruiting team’s experience, the CV tips below are guidelines to help returning lawyers show future employers that they are the right person for the job.

#1 Proofread your CV for typos and jargon

This may sound obvious, but basic mistakes can prevent you getting to interview stage. Fine tuning a CV starts with checking it for spelling mistakes, including typos in company names.

  • Avoid shortcuts: acronyms or shortened names are not always obvious to everybody and might even cast a negative light on your CV if the reader needs to research their meaning. Use full names for companies, diplomas and professional accreditations.
  • Get to the point: when looking for lawyers to fill a particular position, our recruiting team likes to spot their expertise and skills clearly on a CV. Reading through paragraphs of waffly, flowery language or corporate jargon is time-consuming and confusing. Make sure your CV is honest and factual.

#2 Explain your career break

Life happens and career breaks are quite common. They are nothing to be ashamed of. No matter what you have been doing, explain the reasons for your career break and most importantly, what you have learnt during your time away from the law.

  • What have you learnt? During your career break, you’re bound to have picked up useful transferable skills without even realising it. Brought up a family? You’ll have great budgeting and timekeeping skills, as well as be able to handle responsibility. Gone travelling? You’ll have learnt about other cultures and maybe even picked up a new language. Taken over your family business? You’ll have learnt a lot about running a company and how legal fits into the grand scheme of things.

  • Explain any gaps. The following are good examples.
    • A career break for childcare and for a posting to Singapore with my husband.
    • Management role in my family’s entrepreneurial manufacturing company.
    • Brought up my two children, lived in America for my husband’s job.
    • Set up a business in Ecuador, teaching legal English.
    • Traveled in South East Asia volunteering for nature conservation programmes.

#3 Sell yourself

It’s not easy to sell yourself with confidence when you’ve been out of the workforce for an extended period. However, you need to learn to sell yourself so you can win that role and get back to the law.

  • Be a peacock! But be an honest peacock. Make sure that you can back any claim you make on paper with facts. Even if you don’t meet all the criteria of the job advert, you should feel confident that you can learn new skills on the job and still apply. Go ahead and be daring. Nobody can blame you for not knowing everything. With your solid training, you are able to look up answers to any questions once you get started. Let’s say it one more time: don’t under-value yourself.
  • Tailor your CV. When applying for any role, the employer will be looking for a specific set of skills. If you can tailor your CV to the role you’re applying for, you are increasing your chances to succeed. It helps to be creative too. If an experience is relevant to the future job, prospective employers want to hear about it. An award you’ve won for volunteering or an online certificate you’ve just completed can say a lot on your ability to fit with the company’s culture.

#4 First impressions matter

Quite literally, the first look at your CV will decide whether or not the reader carries on. On average, recruiters spend six seconds reviewing individual CVs. If the company you are applying for uses machine-reading tools for CVs, review time will be even shorter. Hence the importance of placing the right words in the right places.

  • Top is best. The top of your CV, like the top of your LinkedIn profile, is prime real estate to sell yourself. More specifically, it is where employers will look first (sometimes the only place they’ll look) so make sure the keywords and phrases from their job advert jump out at them from the top of the page.
  • Learn about keywords. In a nutshell, keywords are magic keys that can unlock any recruitment or matching process. Keywords let the employer know that you are qualified for the job. If you are not sure what keywords should be on your CV, look at the job description. If a company is looking for a finance lawyer with capital markets experience, these very words need to feature high on your CV. A simple LinkedIn search for the position you are applying for can yield all the necessary keywords you need on your resume. Obviously and as pointed out earlier, make sure you can back any claims you make on paper. If you apply for a commercial role at a FinTech company, expect to explain your expertise on financial regulations and e-commerce during the interview.

#5  Keep it short

Some CVs we receive at Obelisk Support can be as long as six or more pages long, including many paragraphs with bullet-point lists of skills, achievements and more. Information overload comes to mind. Keeping your CV short leaves room for in-person explanations during the interview and makes the interviewer’s job easier.

  • Two pages. The golden rule is you should keep your CV down to two pages, three pages tops. You don’t need to list all your professional career on a CV, as tempting as it is. Don’t waste precious space on jobs that are completely irrelevant to the post you’re applying for.
  • Include figures. While it may be tricky to quantify some of your earlier experiences, including figures in your CV definitely helps prospective employers appreciate your achievements. Here are a few examples:
    • Overseeing contract management for 100 companies.
    • Advising on and negotiating legal agreements, including sole legal responsibility for EUR 500 million for UK venture capitalist fund.
    • Leading a legal team of five in-house lawyers and external consultants with an annual budget of £800,000.
    • Advised client on its leveraged acquisition of a family entertainment provider (£450 million, 2012).

Now you are ready to apply and restart your legal career with new goals in mind. You may experience self-doubt at some point and job-hunting might not be all plain sailing, but remember the wise words of Lady Hale: “The main thing is that you simply cannot let it stop you doing what you actually know you really can do, or at least, think you can do. Or, assume you can do it until someone does find you out – why not?”

Indeed, why not? Good luck and believe in yourself!

 

 

Women in Law

“For all the moms out there, I was playing for you today.” Serena William’s on court interview after finishing runner up in the Wimbledon final on 14 July 2018 resonated with me. I have spent the past 8 years championing women back to work – when they believed they were ‘just a mum’, I believed they could be whatever they wanted to be.

Irrespective of their profession, I cannot think of a better role model for mothers to return to work than Serena – she acknowledged in the press conference that a couple of months before she didn’t know “how I was, how I would be, how I would do, how I would be able to come back; it was such a long way to see light at the end of the road.”  Do these questions sound familiar to new mums? Of course they do. But hearing the self-doubt that does not spare even a most accomplished athlete like Serena Williams is both familiar and refreshingly honest.

In a survey we carried out for Obelisk Support, all those we interviewed said they stopped work because when they became mothers they couldn’t juggle work and family and often they found employers not being open to flexibility.

Last week, Obelisk Support turned 8. I founded the business to change the way work was outsourced in the legal sector to be more inclusive and for sure, not to alienate a fantastic talent pool – mums. Our mission from the outset, was to empower lawyers to get back to work from home and thus to make sure that talent remained active in law.  About 80% of our 1,000+ consultants are women looking to balance personal responsibility and work, and many would not have thought working flexibly would be an opportunity available to them in their chosen profession. Since 2010, we have seen the stock of working mothers rise and rise and it is great that last week we had the most visible returner mum to date take to the global stage in Serena Williams, just 10 months after having her baby girl.

With a little help from Serena, here’s what I learnt in 8 years of championing lawyer mums back to work:

#1 Take the Opportunity

One of our first client jobs involved a mum of 3 coming all the way from Bristol to work for a couple of days in London. She needed to cut her teeth on a routine corporate due diligence transaction to able to measure her level as a lawyer; she had been out of work for 7 years and was keen to earn some of her money to spend on Christmas presents, as it was just around the corner. Taking the opportunity was the best decision she made – not only did she secure further assignments with Obelisk, while working from home, but with time she ‘graduated’ into a permanent role in a local firm.

#2 Take it One at a Time

Especially when returning on a freelance basis, taking it one job at a time is a great approach not just to understanding how clients work, but also how you want to work. There are new ways of working that allow you to test the water before committing to a full return. Sometimes the flexibility is offered after a settling in period, once the client gets comfortable with the lawyer skills set and communication style. Getting back to doing even an ad hoc piece of work can help pave the path for a higher volume of work.

#3 Stay In the Game

There is no doubt that having a longer career gap makes clients ask more questions, and a lawyer can find it harder and harder to explain away the gap. Some businesses carry out ‘gap analysis’ of CVs that go as far as needing to prove the number of children by providing their birth certificates! If this doesn’t persuade you to stay in the game, however little, I don’t know what will. However, that’s not to say that we haven’t had returners such as Jane that show a long gap doesn’t make your return impossible.

#4 Work On Your Game to Get Better

Some clients refer to returning mums as “rusty.” Newspaper headlines welcomed Serena back in similar fashion earlier this year when she first competed after having her girl. But it didn’t take long before the ‘rust’ was shaken off and she made another Grand Slam Final.

If you have the will to work, then you can improve the skills and keep getting better. Excellent advice for those that think the law changes so quickly you can’t keep up and therefore it’s better to stay out. You’d be amazed how quickly the knowledge returns with a little positive focus on improving all the time.

#5  Continue On Your Own Path

Many mums don’t have their sights set on a career ambition when they first return. Whilst board positions or leadership roles could come, the pressure of achieving too quickly can also be a reason to drop work altogether. So take your time, as long as you stay on the ‘path’.

#6 Don’t Make Any Excuses

Once you decide to return, and businesses make decisions that rely on your presence and contribution, it is only fair that you take work on a ‘no excuse’ basis. Being professional is critical to success and your attitude at work can create the best or worst impression for a client. Once you commit, be reliable and understand that you are dependable at work and at home.

#7 Your Priority is Your Baby

I know of no parent that doesn’t agree with Serena in this respect. By being open, she has yet again given permission to working mothers to talk about their kids. We are no longer living in a time when kids need to be hidden out of sight but similarly, she said that she is disciplined in separating work from her time with the child. She has set a clear timetable to make time to train in the morning after which she spends the bulk of her time with her daughter.

#8 Be More Ready

Before starting a role, it is important to prepare –read about the client and the type of law, ask questions and be ready. Understand what you wish to achieve and how you need to fit in to do the best you can during an assignment.

Ultimately, The Choice is Yours

You can be whatever you want to be if you want to go back to work – and there’s no pressure to do that as having a child is a completely full time job. But to those that do want to go back to work, “you can do it, you can really do it.”

Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

Networking is a term that many people have an uneasy relationship with. Most of us want to seem enthusiastic and interested in the opportunity to schmooze with influential peers, but let’s be honest – for most of us, the idea of networking leaves us filled with a sense of dread. For lawyers, more comfortable in front of a screen than in a room full of strangers, networking is an essential business skill to master.

The problem lies in the idea we have of networking. The term has become somewhat tainted, but networking is still a valuable part of your personal development – and it doesn’t have to be an awkward bragging exchange. To truly gain value from networking, it’s important to think #humanfirst (like we do at Obelisk Support) – go in with genuine desire to learn, meet like-minded peers and be ready to talk about you, your life passions and goals. Here are some alternative networking tips from The Attic to help you learn to love the process…

Breaking the Ice – Introductions

Quite simply – don’t overthink it! A simple “Hello, I’m…” and smile goes a long way. If you are attending a talk or seminar as them what they thought of the discussion and take conversation from there. You don’t need to offload your career history; listen first: Ask them who they are, where they’ve travelled from, what brings them here and reciprocate with answers of your own.

Remember to say your full name! Why? Well first, so you can be distinguished from the two other Sophies in the room, and it also makes it more likely for people to commit your name to memory. When it comes to work talk, don’t just provide a job title and company name – briefly explain exactly what it is you do and why it interests you.

Don’t ‘Work the Room’ – Work With People

Aggressive and obviously strategic tactics to get around to everyone you might think is of influence are an immediate turn off. As always in life, authenticity is key. Don’t try to be something you are not or what you think people want you to be. Whatever level you are at, you are in the process of building yourself up – just like everyone else in that room, whatever level they are at. So be open and honest, and focus on the quality of connection, rather than quantity.l If you are worried about coming across as insincere or if it all still seems too contrived, listen to these anti-faking networking tips from Marie Folero:

– Networking is lifelong practice, see it as a regular habit not just a performance at an event

– Be totally present with each person you are speaking to, it’s not about getting around to the next person

– Be honest about your availability and don’t make promises you can’t keep

– If you have discussed follow up contact/further introductions, take action right away instead of waiting

Providing Value and Gaining Value

You need to ask yourself not just what you are looking for but what you can offer. As previously mentioned, you shouldn’t have to promise the world or pretend to be what you are not – just show yourself to be genuinely interested and motivated by your work. You want to hear about what interests and motivates people and their passions, rather than a list of achievements or a job title. Others will feel the same. This is the foundation of real connections in work and life – the mutual sharing of ideas and inspirations and telling the story of what led us to where we are today.

This TED event talk on active networking talks about how most of us have the wrong idea and approach to networking. He provides some tongue in cheek observations on how we make snap judgements based on appearance, and explains how we often overlook the real value of meeting people and getting to know them, no matter how much ‘relevance’ we think they might have.

Cement Those Connections

Of course, it’s all very well having great, energising conversations at an event, but what should you take away from that? If you feel you have more to learn from and/or teach a person, you need to make sure you establish follow up contact. So ask outright: ‘Where can I find out more about you and your company? ‘Do you use Twitter?’ ‘Can I send you an email with more information?’ Some people don’t hand out business cards anymore. They just connect with you on LinkedIn on the spot.

If you do use business cards (and nice stationery is memorable in many ways) don’t consign those business cards to an elastic band and a dusty drawer, as Mark E. Sackett says! Track and log the contacts you meet – use an online address book, or Outlook, and be sure to add notes of interest that you learned about them while talking to them. This will help to prompt you to include conversational points in your follow up emails, and keep the rapport going.

Where to Network – Offline and Online

There is the question of how useful large events created especially for networking really are. For example, this article on abovethelaw.com advises against them, saying “Instead, go to things that matter. Go to talks and seminars and presentations that are actually about something (besides “networking”).” It all goes back to the question of why you are there; if it’s not going to be of real value to you as an individual it’s not worth doing. The best events to go to are the things that genuinely interest and excite you – as that will ensure you bring the best version of yourself to the occasion. It could be better, then, to make a pledge to regularly attend industry relevant talks and speaking events where the opportunities to network are the side product, not the focus aim. Consider more informal soft skill focused groups – eg Toastmasters, which have a relaxed atmosphere to help build confidence and public speaking skills. Offering yourself up to speak at events is another way of creating more opportunities for networking, so it’s something to consider if you haven’t done it so far!

Remember you can also network online – social media used to be more commonly referred to as social networks after all, so it is time to take it back to basics. Check out our article on managing your presence on LinkedIn for online networking tips.

The bottom line is it’s not just about broadcasting yourself. Think of social media as an ongoing networking event – as intimidating as that sounds it doesn’t mean you have to be posting and messaging people all day long (those are habits that will very quickly get you muted/unfollowed anyway!). It simply means your social media are an open channel which you need to use regularly and interactively to discover and nurture relationships.

Finally, if you can’t find the right group or event for you – create your own!

Sometimes, things simply won’t happen unless you create the opportunity for yourself, so if you see a lack of events or online groups that fit your current situation – be that as a freelance lawyer, someone who is returning to work or is in the middle of a career change – it’s time to make it happen. With online platforms such as Meetup it’s easy to set up a small monthly lawyers breakfast/lunch group in your local area.

Get out there, relax and happy schmoozing!

Women in Law

Obelisk Support consultant Alisha McKerron Heese provides some advice to women returners on coming back to the law after a career break, from her attendance at CMS’s two-week programme for women returning to work – the first programme of this kind to be organised by a UK law firm .

Coming back into the fold after a career break is by no means an easy thing to do. As women returners, often the barriers we face come not from the gap on our CV, but how we approach it in our own minds. The biggest obstacles we encounter in returning to work are, in fact, those that we create for ourselves by not putting ourselves forward correctly.

Putting yourself forward after a career break requires considerable time and effort – more than you might think. It requires careful consideration of paperwork, including your CV, cover letter and online presence, and putting yourself across in the right way when networking and interviewing.  Allocating a mere half hour to the task is unlikely to yield good results.

1. Start With Your CV

Your CV needs to evolve beyond just a list of employers and experience, particularly when you have a career break to incorporate. Begin with a neat profile about what services you offer, and what you are looking for, so that potential clients can identify themselves as potential clients. Your summary lets you speak directly to your potential clients, and should be used to tell them why you’re their best choice. This should not be more than two or three lines.

Next, note down your previous work experience and education. Don’t just list the names of companies you worked for – it’s important to highlight your specific involvement in the companies, as well as the outcome of your work (example sentence: “Acme Corp: involved in X task, helped Y team complete merger Z”). This paints a more complete picture of your skills. Don’t be despondent that your work experience has dated: as a returner, it’s more about demonstrating the skills you have acquired than demonstrating being up to date. Spend some time thinking about the past – be sure to include anything relevant, no matter how many years ago it was.

Don’t try to hide your career break. Do disclose the length of your career break, but ‘sandwich it’ between past experience and what you are doing at the moment, e.g. any unpaid work that demonstrates recent skills acquired. Skills are transferable, which is why it’s so important to highlight them.

2. Consider Your Online Presence

LinkedIn is an ideal place to establish your online presence as a lawyer, as it is where head-hunters will look for candidates. For work use, other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook are not as vital, though you might see a use for them if you wish to establish a blog or a presence as a public commentator. Take the time to research how to use LinkedIn effectively so your profile really stands out from the crowd.

3. Network Effectively

Networking is less about trying to impress people, and more about gathering information in order to maximise the possibility of a win-win collaboration. It’s less about being interesting and more about being interested. It’s an opportunity to ask questions, to listen, to learn and to make a connection with someone.

Treat networking as an adventure and you may find that it is more pleasant than you might think. While you should not steer the conversation towards yourself, be ready with a synopsis of what you have to offer if asked. Don’t stress about having to talk to everyone – forming a closer connection to a few people can be as beneficial as talking to many. If you do want to talk to others, however, don’t be afraid to leave one person to talk to another. As long as you give a reason for doing so, and don’t leave the person on their own, that’s fine.

4. Prepare Your First Impression for Interviews

When preparing for an interview, it’s important to think about what impression you would like to make. Your first impression is perhaps more important than you might think! Even if the rest of the interview goes well, the first impression tends to dominate the interviewer’s overall impression of you (primacy bias). In fact, they will set about gathering information to confirm their initial assessment of you (confirmation bias).

Some of these biases can be harnessed for good, however: if you are able to match their behaviour – or, better still, pick up on something which you both have in common, you will make a better connection with the interviewer (affinity bias)! Give consideration to: your entrance and exit, what you wear, your deportment and volume, and pace of your speech. Turning up late to an interview should be avoided at all costs (an example of the primacy bias working against you).

5. Practice Your Success Stories

It’s also important to find out as much as you can about the interviewer, and to have a clear understanding of the job description. Think about what competencies the interviewer may be looking for. The work experience listed on your CV should help here.

Be ready to give “STAR stories”: examples of Situations you were involved in where you were given a Task that led to an Action you took, and the consequent Result. Prepare answers for likely questions that may arise. Ensure that you have a good organisational understanding of the company at which you are interviewing. Finally, take a moment to check the news on the morning of your interview, to show that you’re up to date with current affairs. 

A well-prepared CV, a good LinkedIn presence, and good networking skills put to regular use will, sooner or later, lead to an interview. Thorough pre-interview research and preparation will help turn that interview into a job offer.

You may think it’s much more complex than that, as I know I did before I attended the CMS programme. The preparation process helped me identify my skill set, which built up my self-esteem, which in turn built up my self-confidence. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.