Q & A with USD Career Services: Working on Getting You Work

By: Cara Mitnick, Esq. Assistant Dean for Career Services and Scott Morris, Esq., Assistant Director, Employer Outreach & Communication


While the legal job market is improving, students understandably ask what Career Services is doing to help them.  Below are the answers to some pressing questions faced by students.

What is going on in the job market?

The good news is that we are increasingly seeing jobs coming back and hiring inquiries pick up.  Interestingly, however, this new hiring is often outside the traditional on-campus interview framework that used to be a dominant hiring model.  Despite a nearly 20% increase in fall on-campus interview (“OCI”) participation in 2012 compared to 2011, the overall OCI numbers are still lower than they were before the recession.

Employers frequently tell us they are more likely to use our online Job Board or their own internal referral procedure to fill positionsIn fact, our online Job Board yielded nearly 40% more listed positions from 2011 to 2012.[1]  Part of the reason for this is that employers no longer believe they have expendable resources to send employees to campus for a day of interviewing.  Perhaps more importantly, employers do not enjoy the predicable hiring cycles they did in the past.  It is no longer feasible for many employers to project in August the number of summer associates they will need the following summer.  Instead, they are taking a “wait and see” approach and filling positions on an as-needed basis.

What type of employer outreach do you conduct?

Each semester, Career Services reaches out to over 5,000 employers across all sectors, including small, medium and large law firms, government agencies, public interest organizations, judges, and corporations to encourage them to recruit USD students and graduates.  Three times per year, we call every federal judge in Southern California to capitalize on all judicial externship opportunities, and each spring we call every public defender, city attorney, and district attorney’s office in California, Arizona, and Nevada to identify potential hiring opportunities.

In conjunction with Dean Ferruolo and the faculty, we recently began a series of roundtable discussions with leading San Diego practitioners and corporate counsel to highlight expanding academic initiatives and to solicit feedback as to how we can better train students to make them more marketable in the changing hiring landscape.  To support our corporate counsel internship program, we called, emailed and met with over 200 corporate counsel attorneys in the past year to discuss our program and encourage participation.  Recent successes in recruiting for the corporate counsel program include partnerships with exciting companies such as Jack in the Box, Upper Deck, BioMed Realty, Sony, Verizon, and Qualcomm, to name a few.

What are you doing to locate opportunities in markets other than San Diego? 

Career Services works hard to retain and expand our presence in markets outside San Diego.  For example, on August 31st our office hosted the inaugural “USD in the Bay” program in Palo Alto.  Employers from law and accounting firms, government agencies, and public interest organizations conducted over fifty interviews of dozens of students who made the trip to Northern California.  Employers and students alike gave us enthusiastic feedback on the success of the event and we are expecting it will yield many great jobs.

We also look beyond California for employment opportunities.  With limited resources, we try to stay abreast of internships and hiring needs in cities popular with graduates including Washington, D.C. (through our new DC externship program, for example), New York, Denver, and Las Vegas.  If you have particular questions about how you can break into cities outside of California, we are happy to talk to you about networking and research strategies.

What does Career Services do to help prepare students for their job searches?

Career Services is always available to help students in their job search.  We review and edit nearly a thousand resumes and cover letters every year and conduct hundreds of mock interviews with students.  We encourage students to use our expertise; interviewing and resume and cover letter drafting are skills that need to be practiced and we have decades of combined experience with these critical aspects of job searching.  Our career advisors not only practiced law in the areas of litigation, real estate, corporate, tax, and public interest sectors, they were also involved in the hiring processes at their past employers and have great insight into what will make you a successful candidate.

We also run two mock interview programs every year in which over 150 students interview with practicing attorneys and judges to refine their critical interview skills.  In addition, specialized workshops to help prepare for both law firm and criminal interviews (which are very different) are routinely held.

Equally important to interview prep and submission material drafting, we strongly encourage students to cultivate networking skills and put those skills to use throughout their time at USD.  Approximately 80% of all legal jobs are not publicly posted and over 40% of our recent graduating classes secured their post-graduate employment through a self-initiated contact or referral.  There is no greater job search tool than effective networking.  To that end, we provide recurring networking and social media programs including LinkedIn workshops and professional networking etiquette and advice forums.  If you are anxious about networking or need advice on how to get started and be effective at it, our advisors can give you excellent tips on that as well.

What should I be doing now to position myself to find a job later?

As the recent popularity of our Job Board with employers indicates, things are improving in the job market and we anticipate they will steadily continue to do so.  However, the typical path to employment might be different than it was even a few years ago.  If you are a 2L or a 3L, working during the school year to gain practical experience is one of the most valuable things you can do to secure future employment.  Make sure you are prepared to apply to part-time semester or summer opportunities now and check the Job Board frequently for openings that interest you.  If you have not had your resume and cover letters reviewed by a Career Services advisor (or have not had them reviewed recently), send them to us at lawcareers@sandiego.eduso you can be ready to apply quickly.  Often, the first few applicants to a Job Board position are the ones that get an interview.  Finally, make an appointment with a Career Services advisor to discuss your employment strategy.  We are here to help!

[1] These numbers reflect the total Job Board listings from August through August of the years referenced.

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