Overcoming Unfocused Resumes

Q: HELP!! I seem to be stuck in a quagmire. The jobs I want least I seem to get, and I am continually excluded from those jobs that I want most. Most recently, I worked as an attorney-developer for a small legal publishing company. Prior to that, I worked in government service as a human rights attorney and as an attorney for abused and neglected children. I am really interested in a career in the financial or estate planning areas. I just moved to a new state and I haven't worked in about three months. I have no idea what I am doing wrong. Do you have any advice for me?

OR

Q #2: I am an entry-level lawyer, licensed in both New York and Florida. I worked for a year in medical malpractice civil litigation in Florida, but was recently let go for economic reasons. I graduated from a mid-tier NY law school in the top five percent of my class. I also have an education in dental surgery and biology, with an MBA in health administration. Previously I worked as a dentist in clinical practice, but got bored and looked to law for a more "intellectually challenging" career and "greener pastures." Now I'm not sure if I want to leave legal practice to get into health care or corporate executive administration, or whether I ought to switch into biotech patent IP and move back to New York. I am single, age 34 and completely mobile. Where can I best "fit" my legal, scientific and health knowledge for the greatest career advancement potential?

A: These two lawyers may be too talented for their own good. They both have the knack of learning new things easily and adapting to environments without difficulty. As a result, they've shifted jobs and careers with abandon in the past. After so many easy moves, however, their employment histories have caught up with them. Their resumes now look like unfocused hodgepodges.

Lawyers are smart, intellectually curious people. Those with more extroverted taste find almost any subject matter compelling. But unfettered intellectual curiosity can backfire in today's economy. Employers want specialists, or at least people who look like they'll stick to a subject matter and job long enough to have an investment in their employment pay off.

Look for Job with a Connection to Last Employment

At this point, both lawyers ought to take a thread from their last employment: computer development for the first; medical malpractice for the second, and find a job or consulting position they will stick to for several years at least.

In order to move closer to her stated goal, the first lawyer could transfer her computer development background to a publisher of software or web-based estate planning or financial products. She could also seek print publishers in the estate planning/financial area. Law Books & Serials in Print, published by R.R. Bowker, and Legal Researchers Desk Reference, published by Infosources, provide contact information for hundreds of newsletter, book and journal publishers throughout the United States.

The second lawyer has an easier task than the first. If he wants intellectual challenge and greener pastures, he'll find them in medical malpractice, as long as he sticks around long enough to get more challenging assignments and a higher salary. Rather than rethinking his entire career because one employer ran into financial difficulties, he'll be better off if he looks for another associate position. Insurance defense firms will welcome his application; they are vigorously competing for committed, experienced young lawyers with subject-matter knowledge bases as extensive as his.