Overqualified and undervalued: enduring the legal job hunt in London

Overqualified and undervalued: enduring the legal job hunt in London

Aussie expats looking for law jobs in London can find themselves at the back of the pack in a crowded field.

Let me start by clarifying something: I’m smart. Really, I am. Perhaps not Oxford University smart. But smart enough to get a law degree from a good Australian University and graduate with a couple of prizes and an eyebrow raising GPA. Smart enough to land myself a post-grad job in Australia with a salary that allowed for the thoughtless indulgence in luxuries like weekly personal training, and upgrading my laptop to a MacBook Pro (which apparently has some pretty cool features if you’re a graphic designer).

With this record of adequate success and a legitimate expectation of its continuance, I set off for London assuming I would find a well-paid job in criminal law, a spacious share house in east London, and a modest disposable income. But that dream faded as fast as you can say “legal aid cuts” or “Heathrow injection”, both of which are terrifyingly real.

Not only had I arrived in London during a double dip recession, but it appeared that every Brit born in or around the mid 80s wanted to be lawyers too when they grew up, and the determined bastards had done it. As a result there were more out of work young lawyers in London than rats in the Underground, all of us competing for the same handful of jobs. And no, I do not intend to make a witty remark here about lawyers being analogous to rats.

I should have preserved my dignity and jumped ship on the idea of a London legal career when getting an appointment with a legal recruiter turned out to be more biting and dark than my first English winter. I sent my CV to possibly every legal recruiter in the United Kingdom. I made follow up calls to check it had been received. I even created a spreadsheet tracking the date and result of each contact, and when I should call again. This experience showed me not only the extent of my stalking (or ‘organizational’) abilities but that, just like the catchy R&B number by The Temptations, ‘I Ain’t Too Proud to Beg’.

I thought my prayers had been answered when I randomly met a senior lawyer from my dream organisation in an elevator (yes, this happened). After chatting about our mutual desire to protect the vulnerable and uphold justice, he admired my youthful enthusiasm, handed me his business card and offered to act as a sounding board for my career development. I swiftly arranged a ‘networking’ coffee the following week, during which I received my most ‘useful’ career advice to date:

“Put your photo on your CV. I’d look at that.”

Fortunately the London legal industry was spared my headshot after a friend referred me to a recruiter* and I found employment in a paralegal position for which I was overqualified and undervalued. Being paid by the hour on a rate that barely rivals what I earned pulling beers in the local pub as a student dramatically changed my vision of the London experience. I traded living in east London for south so I could afford the rent. I shopped at Poundland more frequently than I care to admit.

I submitted uncountable job applications and listed my ‘skills’ so many times I began to wonder whether I was sick for seeing the word ‘tit’ in ‘initiative’ after staring at it for too long. I used to see writing about my ‘interests’ in job applications as a shrewd opportunity to convey my passion for the field. I mean, who doesn’t love reading up on criminal law and the need for penal reform?

But, after a string of rejections and a deep internal questioning about who I am, I concluded that if potential employers aren’t baited by my interest in criminology, I needed to stand out as an individual – ‘humanise’ myself.  Rather like a victim might do when trapped by a serial killer in a bid to avoid a certain and gory murder.

I decided that in job applications I had to paint myself as an intelligent, lively, cultured being, with hobbies so detailed that I spring to life from the page in a flurry of magic and charisma. According to one application, I was an avid reader of the early works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a budding cook who characterised myself as an ‘everyday gourmet’. I was also, according to that application, a keen musician. And I shared this with the selection panel by writing:

“After hearing an acoustic rendition of Paulo Nutini’s song ‘Candy’ whilst travelling through Portugal last year, I was also inspired to take up learning the guitar. Fortunately the song only has four chords and amateur guitarists have covered the market on free Youtube lessons, so I achieved a quick victory in learning to play it. I am now very slowly expanding my musical repertoire and greatly enjoying learning new music.”

Oh yes, it happened.

*Anna’s special tip: If you are lucky enough to have contacts in London who are already candidates with recruitment companies, your referral by them is by far the best way to ensure your CV is considered. Have your contact email their recruiter your CV directly. It would be rude for them not to see you really.

TOP IMAGE: Via Pixabay