Key Tips If Your Resume Already Has A Few Job Changes

May 22, 2024

by:

Albert Tawil, Founder & CEO of Lateral Hub

Something that has become more common on lateral associate resumes is having a few job changes within the first few years.  According to data published by the NALP Foundation in early 2024 based on a survey, 70% of law firm associates from the JD Class of 2020 have already had 2 or more jobs, and 28% have already had 3 or more jobs (caveat, this likely includes clerkships, although it is unclear).  
When this data was presented at a legal recruiting conference I attended in March 2023, the audience of law firm recruiting professionals and hiring partners, many were surprised.
But it makes sense to me.  2021 was the busiest lateral market in our lifetime, and many associates took the opportunity to make a move, for an increase in prestige, pay (usually in the form of a signing bonus), a chance to retool, or for another reason.  (And in 2022 and 2023, many associates made moves involuntarily..) And in general, career goals are not the same as they were decades ago – most junior associates are not looking to join a firm and become “lifers.”  Instead, they are looking for a place to get good experience, and then figure it out – whether that means in-house, another firm, or something totally different.
However, for many firms, seeing a lateral resume with a few moves in just a few years can be a red flag.  They may fear the associate will not be committed to their firm, or assume there was a negative reason the associate moved around so much (for example, they were asked to leave).
But, the reality is, the associate often has a strong story as to why they moved.  Maybe they were looking to find a firm that provided them better training and experience.  Maybe they were in an environment that was toxic.  Maybe they left with a partner who lateraled to grow a practice at a new firm.  Maybe they had a personal or family issue they needed to take care of.
Here are a few considerations and practical tips if you are applying to lateral openings with a few moves already on your resume:
1/ Use Your Cover Letter to Tell the Story, So the Firm Doesn’t Make Up Their Own
If you have multiple moves on your resume as a junior/mid-level candidate, or three or more moves on your resume as a senior candidate, it is critical that you include a cover letter with your application.
We’ve written before on the Lateral Hub Blog about when you should include a cover letter.  This is definitely one of those times.  Even if a firm doesn’t require a cover letter, use the cover letter to your advantage to tell your story and preempt any questions the firm might have.  If you lateraled as a junior associate to get more substantive experience and focus your practice on specific types of matters, include that in your cover letter.  If you took a break to focus on a personal or medical issue for you or your family, include a sentence to that effect.  If you went in-house and decided it wasn’t for you, include that.  Your cover letter should also clearly and effectively explain how your experience is strong and the various types of matters you’ve worked on make you a valuable candidate for the firm.
Now, don’t just your cover letter to explain your job changes and the types of matters.  You should also emphasize that you are looking for a role and culture where you can grow and make an impact long-term – to help cast any doubts the firm might have on your commitment or why you’re applying.
 
2/ If You Moved as Part of a Group, Include That on Your Resume
This one is more straightforward.  If one of your moves was part of a larger group lateraling to another firm, and you just went along with everyone, then that should be on your resume.  You can use a parenthetical next to the firm you moved to, along the lines of “(Lateraled with entire Debt Finance team as part of group lateral move)” or “(Lateraled alongside Partners ___________ as part of group lateral move).”
Firms don’t view group lateral moves the same, for obvious reasons (in essence, you were staying with the same team, and often, following a partner is a good thing as it shows you were well liked).  So you should note that right there up-front on the resume.
 
3/ You Are Not Alone
As you can see from the stats above, it is becoming very common for associates to have multiple lateral moves early in their careers.  And across the workforce, not just in law, it is becoming increasingly common for workers to switch jobs every few years.
As we move into the future, at a certain point, if firms ignore all candidates who have multiple moves, they will do themselves a disservice and miss out on too many good candidates.  So, take solace in the fact that you are not alone — but at the same time, use the tips above to put your best foot forward and rise above the other candidates who are NOT telling their story to the firm.
 
4/ Boost Your Application with Networking
If you are particularly interested in a firm and apply, you can also add some personal touch through networking.  If you know a member of the firm, you can ask if they would be open to connecting you with a certain person in the practice group you’re applying to, to learn more – then, when you speak with them, you can indicate you already applied but curious to learn more about the group, etc.  If you don’t know anyone at the firm, you can reach out to an attorney in the group and ask if they would be open to connecting (perhaps someone who went to the same law school as you).  It will help show you a real person genuinely interested in the firm, not just someone who jumps around a lot.  If the attorney enjoyed speaking with you, they may put in a good word to the Recruiting team, and they may be more likely to give you a chance with a screener interview.
You can also consider reaching out to the recruiting manager (from their contact info online) to personally introduce yourself and provide some additional context as to your interest in the firm.
 
5/ Be Cautious Applying Through Recruiters
One of the main reasons I started the Lateral Hub Job Board was because of how much money firms spend on recruiters – for mid-level/senior candidates, this is often $70K-$100K per hire.  It is often in the candidate’s benefit to apply directly (for example, through Lateral Hub) without a recruiter, as your application is much less expensive for the firm.
For a candidate that has already made a few job changes, the firm may be even less likely to want to pay a huge sum to a recruiter – the ROI for the large recruiter fee goes down if the firm feels (even if it’s not accurate) that you won’t stick around.
You might say: well won’t the recruiter help tell my story for me?  It’s a good question, but my answer is: nobody can tell your story better but you.  If you want a certain narrative to be put forth, better to keep that in your control, not in the control of a third-party recruiter.  The other answer is that third-party recruiters are working with multiple candidates, and you are not privy to how the recruiter is pushing the other candidate… and if that other candidate is an easier “sell” as someone with a more straightforward resume, some recruiters will prioritize that candidate for higher likelihood of success.  We’ve heard this firsthand from candidates and firms.
Instead, you can put your best foot forward with a killer application that includes a strong cover letter, polished resume, deal sheet (where applicable), and some networking.
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As frequent moves become more common, hopefully these tips and considerations are helpful as you consider your next lateral move.

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