The last time I looked for a job, I was in my 20’s. Gas cost less than $1.50 a gallon; George W. Bush was president; and no one binge-watched anything other than old Seinfeld episodes. I finished law school and had three job offers waiting for me. Being a bit adventurous, I decided to take the risky path and not practice law. I joined a tech company helping lawyers use software to find a needle in a haystack.
And that was 16 years ago – 16 challenging, fulfilling, and wonderful years in the e-discovery industry. In those years, I solved complex problems, built amazing tools, and helped clients navigate sticky situations. As career trajectories often go, now I find myself in transition, leaving my former employer and figuring out what’s next.
I know I am not alone in this transition. The e-discovery industry is anything but constant, and that includes the job landscape. Many of you have found yourselves in a similar place, voluntarily or involuntarily seeking your next career move.
As I look to the future, I have learned that my most valuable asset from the last two decades is all of you. Those of you reading this blog; those of you I used to work with; and those of you at the conferences and tradeshows. The e-discovery community is just that – a community. I want to share what I have learned in this transition period, along with the wisdom of others who have travelled this same journey.
My hope is that these experiences help you pursue a new job now or in the future.
Six Tips for E-Discovery Career Changes
1. Hunt like it’s your job, but take time to smell the roses. Job hunting is my new job, so I treat it like a job. That means every single day I spend time in pursuit of my future. My new office is the kitchen table, and the dog is my new co-worker. I check email, reach out to people, troll LinkedIn, go out for lunch, make “to do” lists. Phil Favro, a Consultant at Driven, recommends, “Keep your name out there, diversify your skill set, pursue new certifications, and most importantly, keep your reputation intact.”
However, as many of you know, working in the e-discovery industry is fully immersive, leaving little time for outside interests. If you are in transition from one job to the next, now is the time to do something meaningful. Volunteering, freelancing, hobbies, travel, friends. From personal experience, elementary school teachers and pro bono lawyer networks are thrilled to hear you have some extra time on your hands, and without even asking, you will find yourself with a fulfilling volunteer role.
2. Become a story-teller. To find that next opportunity, you need to share your story. What you did previously, why you left (or are thinking about leaving), where you want to go next. In this transition phase, I have come to value the multitudes of people who have been willing to talk to me. It means the world to hear from people in your network. They will help you refine your story, brainstorm networking avenues, and build your confidence.
Further, I have learned to be systematic about expanding my network. I keep a spreadsheet of everyone I talk to, what was said, who they refer me to, and the action items. Sometimes this means reaching out to people I have not talked to in 10+ years, asking a LinkedIn contact to make a referral for me, or cold-calling people I have never met. “As long as I have been networking, it still surprises me how truly small this world can be. When you are seeking a new opportunity, it is imperative that you talk to as many contacts as possible to leverage those relationships because you never know where those conversations will lead you. And, just as importantly, be helpful to those that are looking. Being able to connect a viable candidate to a company that needs a particular skill set will cement your relationships on both ends,” noted Denise B. Bach, CEDS, Vice President of Enterprise Sales, Stroz Friedberg, an Aon company.
3. Add letters behind your name. During your career transition, whether you are still employed or seeking work, there is no better way to propel your career than to attain a certification. Most of these certifications require passing an examination, which will help validate your experiences. Also, the process of preparing for and taking an examination will help you stay relevant in a changing industry. In the e-discovery industry, this could mean achieving an association-based e-discovery certification, adding a platform or tool certification, or extending into an adjacent space with a privacy or security certification. “Initials after your name validate specific, usually technical, experience. You will share the initials and what it took to earn them with others, who become part of your community,” said Mary Mack, CEDS, CISSP, CAIM, Esq., Executive Director, ACEDS. “I found, as a woman (and an attorney) that questions about my technical competence stopped after earning my CISSP. The CEDS community is very generous with its members in transition, ready to make introductions, help with resumes, and generally support our job seekers.”
4. Embrace headhunters. Staffing professionals are here to help you, but do your diligence. Ask people in your network which staffing companies they have used and ask for them to introduce you. “Having the right representation is more important than having just any representation,” says TRU founder and CEO, Jared Coseglia. “Something many candidates actively looking for a job do not realize is that once an agency sends your resume to a client, only they can represent you there for the next six to twelve months typically. So, choose your representation wisely, and make sure no one sends your resume anywhere without your express permission first.” Coseglia recommends asking these questions of any staffing agency:
- What do you specialize in?
- How often do you successfully place professionals with my profile? In my geography? In my industry vertical?
- What separates your agency from others?
- Are you reaching out to me for just a specific opportunity or will you have others like this?
- Have you staffed for the company you are searching for in the past?
5. Look outside e-discovery. A former law school colleague said to me, “Stop being so timid in submitting applications.” He went on to enlighten me of a study showing that women only apply for jobs if they are 100% qualified, while men apply if they meet 60% of the criteria. I have learned to be bold in touting my experience, including looking for jobs outside of the e-discovery industry. “To become good at e-discovery, [it] requires a core level of knowledge, or even expertise, in many things, including computers, mobile devices, removable media, server systems, networking devices, cyber security, as well as organizational structures, business process and workflow and project management,” notes Eric P. Mandel, Vice President of Information Governance & Cyber Security Strategy at Ricoh USA. “All of this knowledge, and the skill sets that you develop while doing the job, are transferable into other roles in other areas.”
6. Get comfortable with uncomfort. Suppress your inner “type A” persona that tends to flock the e-discovery profession and learn to accept the present uncertainty. You will hear “no” a lot. Get okay with that and learn to move on quickly. “Use your situation as a chance to try something new. You may be rejected one, two, or even twenty times before the right opportunity comes along. Ask for feedback to help you better prepare for the next one,” says Jackie Rosborough, Independent Consultant and Executive Director of Women in E-Discovery.