A proven guide to landing that first side gig

 January 22, 2013

By  Casey Berman

[EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is another guest post by a current criminal defense attorney, and frequent guest blogger on Leave Law Behind, as he details his ongoing experience in leaving law behind.  Last time, he talked about identifying those skills and strengths at which he excels and enjoys, what we call one’s Unique Genius.  This time, he tells us how landed an awesome side gig.]

It’s been about four months since I had a breakthrough in my quest to change careers: I landed a part-time, freelance writing gig with a legal information website.  Yes, I still have the same full-time job, and no, I don’t know what the next one will entail.  But, bearing in mind that a career transition is often a gradual process, I’m grateful to have gained some traction.  Here’s how it happened.

Thinking about my Interests

Though I haven’t necessarily found my “one true calling”—if there really is such a thing—I’ve long known that I like to write. I especially like it when I’m not responding to a sharply worded letter or burning the midnight oil to finish an opposition brief. So, a while ago I decided that, whatever I do next, I’d like it to involve writing.

Reworking and Posting my Résumé

At the beginning of my sincere efforts to transition careers (as distinguished from the occasional job site perusing and daydreaming that so many of us know), I reworked my résumé. I compared it to samples, ran it by a career adviser, and bounced it off people I respect. I ended up restructuring it substantially, creating a template that can be tweaked to fit its given purpose.  As an example, when I wanted to contact someone about a writing position, I could shuffle some of my general “Experience” into a “Writing and Editing Experience” section and rephrase it to fit the job at hand.

I then posted my résumé on job sites I’d heard of through word-of-mouth, though to little fanfare.  I hadn’t targeted specific employers or even particular areas of employment; I just figured it’d be a good step to get my résumé out there.  I thought I would come back to those sites and try new ones once I had a better idea of what I wanted to do.  I didn’t expect an immediate return, nor did I get one.

A couple months later I received an email from a recruiter with a legal information site.  He was looking to fill a full-time position.  Unfortunately, the job required experience in an area of law that I knew next to nothing about.  We exchanged cordial emails and had a nice phone conversation, but that was the extent of it.

Using my Network

Everyone emphasizes networking. I don’t need to tell you why.  So, both before and after I posted my résumé online, I tried to meet people.  I asked friends and colleagues if they had any contacts in fields they thought I’d enjoy.  I obtained a copy of an alumni database from my law school and began emailing and calling graduates with jobs that piqued my interest.  I always made it clear that I wasn’t asking for a job, that I just wanted to learn a little about what they did and how they got there.  This tactic led to several informational interviews and promising contacts, but nothing concrete.

Then I had an experience that taught me the value of informal networking.  A few friends and I got together to watch a football game.  In the course of the usual banter, I asked one of my buddies how his brother’s job as a lawyer was going.  (Not surprisingly, his brother had previously told me that it was grating.)  My friend told me that his brother had recently changed jobs and was now working for a legal information company.  I eventually connected the dots to realize that his brother got the job I had been contacted about.

With my friend’s blessing, I emailed his brother to congratulate him on the job and ask if I could talk to him about it sometime.  He was more than accommodating, and we set up a phone appointment.  When we talked and I had told him about my interests, he mentioned that the company might have some part-time work for people with my experience.  He asked for my résumé, forwarded it to someone at the company, and before I knew it I was on an informal phone screen.  Shortly thereafter I began writing for the company as an independent contractor.

The Gig

As for the new gig, I really like it.  Believe it or not, I was initially hesitant about pursuing it.  My thinking was this: I’m really busy with my current job and can barely find time to research, network, browse listings, etc., so how will I find at least five spare hours each week?  I soon realized that all my legwork had gotten me to this—a legitimate point of progress.  Even if that progress meant reallocating my free time, it sure as heck had to be worth it.

I considered that many of the people I’ve known to change careers took a small step before the ultimate plunge.  After all, that’s why career counselors (wisely) recommend that you intern or volunteer, that you try something to garner experience that you can market.  If your financial situation allows, you might wait until you’re between jobs to gain that experience.  Or your current job might already provide you with the background you’ll need.  But, if you’re like most of us, you should consider the resources at your disposal to get not only your next job, but also the intermediate training that will help you get there.

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