International Alumni Share Tips on Breaking into the U.S. Job Market

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The basics of job hunting—doing your research, polishing your resume, and perfecting your pitch—are critical for any law student embarking on a career search, but international law students often face additional challenges breaking into the American legal profession.

Throughout the year, Fordham Law School provides a wide range of services and support to help international students enrolled in the LL.M. program prepare to enter the workforce. To help students acclimate to the job hunting process in the United States, Fordham Law recently hosted its 4th Annual International Affinity Group Mock Interview Program and Reception on January 27, 2020. At the workshop,  LL.M. students network and take part in three rounds of mock interviews with Fordham Law alumni and leaders in the legal community.

“This particular event is really valuable because it’s often the students’ first U.S. interview, if not their first interview ever,” said Anthony Agolia, Director of International & Non-J.D. Programs at Fordham Law.

Later this week, Fordham LL.M. students will also participate in the International Student Interview Program (ISIP), a job fair for foreign-trained LL.M. students that annually attracts over 160 employers from top law firms worldwide. ISIP will be hosted by NYU School of Law on January 31, 2020.

We spoke with five international LL.M. alumni, as well as a current LL.M. student, who shared their best advice for capturing the attention of hiring managers and partners and landing that first job.

 

Who: Diego Fagundes ’20

From: Brazil

Job: Wealth Advisor, JPMorgan Chase Bank

Be transparent about visa status: “A lot of people who apply for jobs don’t upfront their immigration status until the end, and then there’s an issue. It’s a good idea—if you’re a non-U.S. candidate for a U.S. job—to be very upfront at the beginning about your immigration status [with potential employers and hiring managers].”

Consider internships: “Usually, you’re going to get offers for internships or other unpaid positions, and I think if you can and have the means to support yourself, you should take them. You should take those positions because then you start having experience in the U.S. that you can market for your next step.”

 

Who: Elena Rizzo ’15

From: Italy

Job: Associate, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP

Stay positive: “I went for an interview at a very big firm, which didn’t have an opening but they called me for an interview anyway. They sent me an email saying ‘We’re impressed with you,’ but they couldn’t hire an extra person. It left a sort of bitter taste, but on the other hand, I thought, ‘Ok, if they liked me, then maybe other firms might like my profile.’ I didn’t give up and I kept doing it.”

Good grades matter:I saw a lot of people work really hard to find a job, but not focus enough on classes because they thought an A+ was not going to get them a job. I thought I was falling behind in the job search because they were networking, while I was studying a lot. I know it’s hard to do both, but, in my case, it was really important to keep up with school, have good grades, and to show a very good transcript because I had to make up for lack of experience.”

 

Who: Roberto Gonzalez ’16 

From: Guatemala

Job: Senior Legal Associate, Human Rights Foundation

Tighten your resume: “Adapt your resume to the traditional U.S. format, and, when doing so, be detail oriented (maybe painstakingly so). One of the things that really throws off a potential employer are typos and grammar errors from a candidate whose command of English might already be in doubt. Then, review your resume—and ask people to review it for youuntil you feel comfortable that there are zero errors in it.”

Edge out the competition: “Broadly speaking, the market prefers domestically educated J.D.s over foreign trained attorneys with LL.M. degrees. This means you’ll be required to do more work, go to more events, and talk to more people in order to land a job interview. Look into summer positions open to LL.M.s at big law firms (e.g., diversity fellowships) or offer yourself to intern at a nonprofit. Very importantly, your ‘edge’ as compared to other candidates will very likely rest on language skills and being trained in a different legal tradition (like the civil law system)—highlight this in your applications.”

 

Who: Melissa Rodriguez ’13

From: Dominican Republic

Job: Associate, PilieroMazza PLLC

Don’t rely on headhunters: “After you pass the bar, get sworn in, and become formally registered as an attorney admitted to practice, you will receive a lot of emails/calls from headhunters everywhere. I don’t want to say don’t get excited, but definitely do not rely only on these connections to make things happen and get things moving. Work on yourself and how you want to be perceived out there in the professional world.”

Network, network, network: “It is so important to network, not only to land your dream job, but also as a business/career development tool at any point in your life. It also serves as great practice. Take this from an introvertyes, it is uncomfortable. However, the more you ‘mingle,’ the more secure you will feel about your English level, professional skills, and yourself in general, and the more comfortable you’ll become talking about yourself and exposing your expertise/skill set and professional interests.”

 

Who: Philipp Lengeling ’18

From: Germany

Job: Counsel, RafterMarsh US

Show off your home country connection and global network: “It helps a lot to be able to interpret not only U.S. law, but also your home country’s law and language. This is one of the skills which makes you unique. I found that both U.S. and foreign clients are usually very interested in understanding the differences between each jurisdiction’s legal concepts, even though I was hired to provide guidance only on U.S. law. Understanding foreign cultures and legal concepts helps because we live in a globalized world—often times your client will need to have you think beyond U.S. borders. Your international network of professionals will also be able to help you out in this context when needed.”

Be authentic, unique, and creative: Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Know what you know, but also know what you don’t know. Highlight your international network and what makes you unique. Highlight even skills and experiences of yours, which at first sight don’t seem to be relevant for practicing law. These are the things that may help potential employers to remember you—and could be far more relevant as you may think at first (for example, when dealing with certain clients). Be creative and have fun when it comes to developing your path to success and happiness!

Keep your options open: “Never say never—don’t say no to everything if it may first not seem perfect to you. Great opportunities may hide behind a job that you, at first sight, don’t think is your dream job (and the initial dream for why you came here in the first place). Even if the job does not turn out to be what you wanted, it may provide you with valuable working experience, lead to additional contacts and opportunities, and additional time to get the legal status of working in the U.S. (if this applies to you).”

 

Who: Lucy Onyeforo ’17

From: England

Job: Associate, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

Highlight accomplishments: “Include achievements that in some way can be linked to the profession. It doesn’t have to be directly, but even if it’s something that’s completely unrelated but shows the skills that a lawyer needs [i.e. attention to detail, drive, hardworking]. This will show that you have what it takes and that you are also multifaceted. If you’ve done great things in your career, in your life, make them abundantly clear in your cover letter and your resumedon’t undersell them, don’t use language that downplays them. It’s more a part of U.S. culture to speak proudly of your achievements, particularly when pursuing job opportunities. Speaking for myself from the U.K., it’s completely not the thing to do. People don’t speak highly of themselves in that way; it would be seen as boastful or maybe even arrogant. It’s something that I really had to learn coming here because it just felt uncomfortable for me.”

Be yourself: “Ultimately, you want to work somewhere where you’re happy. If you weren’t who you really are at an interview, maybe you’re not going to fit into the firm culture because you feel like you have to be someone else during the interview process. Be true to who you are, in terms of your personality and what is important to you in life.”

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