I think I need to leave my JD off my resume to get a job. Please help.
December 18, 2015 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I've seen a lot of similar questions, but they don't quite get at my particular issue. I got a JD in 2010 and an MS in Social Policy in 2012. If I only had the MS, I'd be able to find work. The JD is holding me back. The most common feedback I get is "you're a flight risk" or "we can't afford you." I get it, but it's not true, and I can't convince them otherwise.

I've just been laid off from a 2.5 year job in academia due to lack of continued funds (a blended legal/health policy job, but much more health policy than law -- I have not been a practicing attorney since 2012, and I graduated law school in 2010). I need work. I am passionate about social justice, policy work in almost any arena, and I can easily tailor my resume to any gig so I can play up/down any of my skills. There are a few issues, but I'll start with the biggest:

1) Employers are terrified of my JD. They think I expect a high salary and ignore that a) I have made a career change (I have an MS in Social Policy that I got during the recession after I realized nobody would hire a lawyer to be anything but a lawyer after 2008; I was happy to be a paralegal for crying out loud), and b) I was doing legal aid, which pays VERY little.

2) Taking the JD off my resume would leave me with a 6 year experience gap between college and starting my MS. I can't just lie and say all of my lawyering jobs were paralegal jobs, or that my education was in something else. I desperately wish I could take it off my resume, but what can I do?

3) I have built up a tremendous amount of skills over the years and am happy to pursue careers in any of them: grant writing/development, project management, policy analysis (health is my specialty but anything that advances social justice is near and dear), event planning... heck, I'll make a kick ass executive assistant, I kind of don't care! I'm sharp, I'm well organized, I'm witty, I'm creative, I'm reliable, and I need somebody to take a chance on me.

4) I have no aspirations to be in upper management. I want a comfortable work/life balance. I am happy to work hard, and understand that there are times when 80 hour work weeks are necessary. But in general, I do not want to be the head honcho. Also, these are the jobs I'm *underqualified* for because my education is extensive but my work experience is not (thanks, recession!).

Having a massively interdisciplinary background has never hurt me in the past. I am now able to cherry pick my skills to suit any job application. I am a charmer in interviews, I write great cover letters, and (as I've said) my resumes are tailored and often dumbed down.

I get interviews. A lot of them. People are floored by my resume (any version of it). I'm tired of hearing how amazing I am and then not getting the job. There is no shortage of work in my area (Philadelphia). I am hustling my connections like crazy. I am happy to take a lower salary (but trust me, mine has never been high, despite what hiring managers may think -- legal aid and academia are not high paying).

In addition to spending my unemployment networking and continuing to apply to jobs, I am volunteering in my community and building my skills (data analysis? IRB certification? grant writing? arts fundraising? event planning? anything to get more exposure and references, and things I can leave off tailored resumes if need be). I understand that I sound scattered, but the bottom line is that I would truly be happy in a wide variety of jobs, and my main goal is to find stable work in my city (Philadelphia) in an environment that allows me to do something I care about (which is quite a lot of things!).

The leads I have currently are for jobs that would make me miserable (4 hour/day commutes + 10 hour work days + expected work at home). I would rather cobble together freelance work. This is a bit of a tangent, but I want to say that on top of the stress of unemployment, I do have concerns about taking the first offer I get just out of desperation.

I would appreciate advice, and I am happy to clarify any issues. If anybody is willing to look at an example of a tailored resume/cover letter, that would be incredible, but I don't expect it. I will mention that I am generally quite good at it; I've mentored many of my subordinates (graduate students mostly) in the past and all of them have gotten jobs as a result of my help. Kind of stings a little now that I can't find work to save my life, but it's gratifying, too.

Enough from me. Thanks for your help!
posted by timory to Work & Money (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Put your salary expectations front and center on your cover letter, and if you really have trouble, your resume. When you are trying to negotiate outside the norm, you need to be the first one to discuss compensation. You'll generally find this advice useful when you are trying to set your compensation high, but it applies equally well when you want to set it low. I've found the phrasing, "I'll accept an offer at $x" to be as unambiguous as possible.
posted by saeculorum at 12:13 PM on December 18, 2015

So you are not looking for, nor do you want, a job that directly uses your JD? Because the first thing I thought of was in-house council at a non-profit in the social justice/policy area. Larger non-profits are generally in desperate need of lawyers, but have a hard time affording them. You might be able to leverage a position through demonstrating your commitment to social justice via your MS and volunteer work, and telling them upfront you would be happy with a lower salary they could afford because this is your passion. Throw in grant writing expertise and non-profits will be falling over themselves to hire you.

If that doesn't appeal, saeculorum is correct. Just be completely transparent about your salary requirements.

Mefi has a group of resume reviewers if you want to try that.
posted by ananci at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I would certainly not be opposed to in-house work at non-profits. However, these jobs are notoriously hard to come by (the Philly legal aid sector is tight knit and only does lateral hiring), I have been out of the scene for about 5 years, and essentially know nothing of lawyering (not to say that I'm not a fantastically quick study!). If I were a brand new law school grad, no problem. I am also not saying that I won't apply if I find leads -- it never hurts to apply.
posted by timory at 12:29 PM on December 18, 2015

If you find the secret, let me know. I have a PhD in English and I scoffed when colleagues (who found work outside of academia--because there are no jobs in the humanities in academia) told me to bury my PhD. I've moved it from the cover letter to the very bottom of my resume under education, and hope that no one notices it.

For what it's worth - I'm barely getting interviews. When I do, my degree always comes up. I haven't come up with a satisfactory answer other than: "I find it more meaningful and rewarding to be working in the public sector" but it hasn't worked out very well. The jobs end up going to people with actual working experience outside of the ivory tower.

I think it's a symptom of the time: there is a generation of academics that were under the impression that although they wouldn't end up being rich, they'd find secure work in teaching if they wanted to move across the country. This is turning out NOT to be the case. Now we have to transfer our skills, which is great in an economy where there are many jobs, but not super helpful when EVERYONE is having a hard time finding work.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you leave the actual degree off your resume, the six-year gap is easily explained by studying for your JD but making a course correction towards the MS in Social Policy.
posted by erst at 12:32 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Leaving off the degree also means that all of my jobs after getting the degree (so 2 years after law school) also have to be left off. That leaves me with maybe 3 jobs on my resume. A few between 2002 and 2006, and then nothing until 2012.
posted by timory at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2015

Could it be as simple as eliminating specific dates from your resume and replacing them with length of position so there is no gap when you don't mention JD? So instead of:

Awesome Corp - Sr. Awesome Creator 2010-2012
* blah blah blah
Super Cool NGO - Coolness Facilitator III 2008-2010
* blah blah blah
MS Social Policy, Great School, 2012

it becomes

Awesome Corp - Sr. Awesome Creator (2 years)
Super Cool NGO - Coolness Facilitator III (2 years, 4 months)
MS Social Policy, Great School.

Alternatively, perhaps you just call out the career change

MS Social Policy, Great School
- Career Change
- Academic accolades and accomplishments.

JD, My Law School (No longer practicing)
- Academic highlight

Finally, if the JD on the resume' isn't preventing you from getting interviews, why do you need to change it at all? Perhaps you ought to be focusing on how to better communicate your expectations in your in-person interviews.
posted by lucasks at 12:40 PM on December 18, 2015 [10 favorites]

I also have a JD I don't use!

So I have some thoughts:

1. Reorganize your resume so it's not chronological. Functional resumes are in right now, anyway (or they were in 2013 when I was last unemployed). That will help hide any gaps you don't want to explain.

2. Emphasize the non-legal elements of your experience, which I assume you're doing already.

3. Bury the JD at the bottom, if you feel you need to include your academic credentials. Don't put it after your name.

4. Consider focusing on fields where having a JD is a benefit, even if you don't work as a lawyer. Any type of work where they have to deal with complex rules or regulations, like real estate or government or certain kinds of consulting -- they may not want another lawyer, but they could probably use the skills that you bring to the table. My JD shows that I can write, think, and research: these are not insignificant skills, and have been very helpful over the last 15 years.

5. Find a good way to mention your desire to focus on non-legal work in your cover letter, perhaps. Indicate a desire for stability (and thus show you're less likely to jump ship and run).

I don't recommend making your salary requirements explicit, but you may want to say that you want a salary that is appropriate for that position, which is what Ask A Manager tells us to do anyway. It's not your experience or degree that sets the salary, it's the work itself.
posted by suelac at 12:47 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know what to tell you, but this seems like a good question for Ask a Manager.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 12:47 PM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm just chiming in here to say that this is a very wise thing to worry about and I am currently a living example of what goes wrong when one takes the first offer they get out of desperation.

Currently I'm being courted by the 4hr/day commute place. They want me to come in but keep asking if the commute is "still an issue" (I had previously rejected them; they are crawling back. I said I would consider it again). It is an issue if the hours are obscene. Should I be candid? Do I owe them anything? I feel this is best discussed in an interview when I view the office culture. I feel that I don't owe them anything and should be able to say, after a REAL INTERVIEW, "thank you, but at this time I would like to pursue a different direction." My fear is burning bridges, and they are very pushy.

Do you have any friends or trusted former colleagues (from your academic job, not from your lawyering days) who could do a mock interview with you and give you feedback?

I have discussed this at length with friends, colleagues, career coaches, etc. They all say my interviewing technique is stellar, my elevator pitch phenomenal. Even places that have rejected me have said they've loved me but it's simple bad luck -- a candidate came in who literally had the same job previously, something like that. I am not cocky and I am absolutely willing and eager to improve even the tiniest minutiae, however!!

...Ask a Manager.

I haven't heard of this! I'll go exploring.
posted by timory at 1:01 PM on December 18, 2015

Background: I have a J.D. but I'm a software engineer. This is what I did when I was in your shoes back in 2008.

Leave off the J.D.

You are not required by law or convention to list every educational qualification you have for every job you apply for. If (and only if) you eventually have to fill out a job application that requires full disclosure of all education, then list it there. Your resume should be tailored to each job you apply for and if something doesn't apply (whether it's work experience or education) leave it off.

Don't be dishonest, just tailor your resume to highlight the things that are relevant to your employment.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've taken a similar approach to suelac. My law school education is on there because it's a legitimate accomplishment, but my inactive attorney's license is pretty much a fun fact, like having a pilot's license or speaking french.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 1:08 PM on December 18, 2015

I mistakenly got a BSN on the way to med school. No, it isn't quite as alarming as a JD, but RN work pays a lot more than the nonprofit program coordinator positions I was most recently looking for. (I had to support myself on the way to med school.)

So I left a huge hole there, filled in some of it with an honest line about freelance work, and THEN waited until a direct question came up in interviews. ("What were you doing between 2006-2008?") Then I honestly answered, I was in nursing school, big mistake, etc.

The only problem I can see for you is if any of your job titles include the word ATTORNEY.
posted by 8603 at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2015

Response by poster: I do have active attorney licensure in two states, which I leave off resumes.

Honestly, the only reason I leave the JD on there is because of the maaaaaaaaaaaaassive employment gap it would leave me with if I didn't put it there. What on earth was I doing between graduating college in 2006 and starting my MS in 2012? Partying on a trust fund?

All of my jobs between 2010 and 2012 include the word Attorney. I could fudge them and say "Independent Contractor" at Legal Aid Organization.

Right now I leverage my JD as as a policy analysis booster in a major way (somebody mentioned that it helps with all the regulations, contracts, etc. Hell yeah it does!). It gets my foot in the door, but ultimately I'm passed over for more junior-level candidates who can be molded. Sometimes I worry people think I'm angling for their jobs.
posted by timory at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2015

Seconding that if you're getting the interviews, I'm not sure the resume is the problem. A lot of people hiring don't know what happened to the legal market, so you may find yourself having to give a quick explanation to get that out of the way. Make sure that you explain that you are not looking for an attorney position and understand that pay for the job you are interviewing for isn't what [people think] an attorney makes.

FWIW, I'm another 2010 law grad. I've had the best luck interviewing with other no-longer-practicing types who aren't too far out of school themselves. It requires a lot less embarrassing explanation.
posted by asperity at 1:20 PM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Are you sure it's the JD? I graduated in 2011 and it hasn't hindered me getting interviews and job offers in unrelated industries.

The key here is creating a story that explains your departure from the legal field while demonstrating how it's an advantage for the job you're applying for. Since you've built up an impressive set of skills and career successes since you graduated, that shouldn't be too difficult.
posted by gehenna_lion at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I think that's why I'm getting so many interviews (the story + skills). Could be a host of issues, some out of my control. I will certainly try to improve all of my approaches (and try different approaches based on each job) and maintain a positive attitude as best as I possibly can.
posted by timory at 1:53 PM on December 18, 2015

From what you've said, it does not sound like your resume is the problem -- since you are getting interviews. If you are really getting lots of interviews, that's the place I would target the changes you want to make, since that's the place you're having a hard time converting interest companies have in you into an actual job.

I think one thing that can help is having a very compelling personal narrative about why you made the career change you did, and why this job is really right for you and is somewhere you want to stay.

Finally, I am sort of mystified by your question about the 4-hour commute place. If you are unwilling to do a 4-hour commute (or move), then stop wasting everyone's time and let them know the commute is an issue for you and is not going to happen. If you would be willing depending on the details of the position, why not go to the interview and see?
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:54 PM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I mentioned later in the thread that I would be willing to do the commute depending on the details -- details I won't know until I go in to the interview. But since they are so pushy in all of their e-mails, I feel guilty straight up saying "yes, I'm comfortable with the commute" and then not taking the job if offered.

Also, I think I need to clarify about the interviews I'm getting:

About 3/4ths of those I end up getting rejected for because they decide not to hire anybody. They are new ventures in academia or non-profits where they decide they aren't ready to move ahead.

Another quarter I hear from my friends in the industry (more corporate gigs) that I get rejected because they only hire from within, but I'm screened out for entry level jobs.

The jobs I really want -- the stable, lower level, "I'm overqualified" jobs that I mentioned in my original post.... THOSE are the jobs I don't get interviews for at all!
posted by timory at 2:05 PM on December 18, 2015

I suspect any advice along the lines of "you're just doing it wrong" is coming from people who are not familiar with the career-change employment barriers for recovering lawyers. They are enormous and I 100% endorse leaving off the JD entirely.

Leaving off the degree also means that all of my jobs after getting the degree (so 2 years after law school) also have to be left off.

Not necessarily. You can umm obfuscate.

Biddle, Biddle & Banks, LLC
January 2011 - September 2012

"Counsellor" is just a way to say "of counsel" without saying "lawyer." If your CV includes job descriptions, the key word is "advised."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I might just start your resume from 2012. If the MS and subsequent jobs are truly the only education and experience that's relevant to the positions you're applying for now.

Beef your resume up with internships and volunteer work in your current field.

FWIW, We did this on Husbunny's resume when he changed careers from nursing to Actuarial Science. He got a job within 2 months.

As for the long commute job, just tell them no. The right job in the right place will come along. If they aren't telling you anything about mitigating circumstances in order to sway you now, it's pretty much just a test to see if you're desperate yet.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:05 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

In your cover letter and in each interview (especially the initial screening interview), are you making it VERY clear that you decided on a career change after being a lawyer for a few years, that you are interested in this specific position, and that your salary requirements are in line with their range? I think just getting in front of this and acknowledging it very frankly could help dispel any doubts they have that you are overqualified and will be itching to leave.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:09 PM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I could be reading incorrectly, but it sounds like you're applying for entry-ish level jobs requiring a master's degree. If that's the case, I think it could make sense to just list your post-MS jobs and not worry so much about "gaps" before you went back to school.
posted by jaguar at 6:17 PM on December 18, 2015

Best answer: Ask a Manager answered a similar question here
posted by saturdaymornings at 6:40 PM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

You might want to look into becoming an independent Title IX investigator for higher ed matters. Just a thought 🙂
posted by childofTethys at 8:33 PM on December 18, 2015

I've gotten people with MS degrees hired for technician-level jobs and one Ph.D. I'd totally hire a JD* if you had a good convincing reason why you wanted this job. You can't just say you aren't looking for the other thing, you have to have a pretty compelling reason why. Which you have, but are you communicating that it's because you don't like attorney work, or are you making it seem like you just can't find any right now? Even that might not be enough - tell me what you're running towards, not what you're running away from. That's what the Ph.D did, he told me how he hated the funding side of research but actually enjoyed stomping around in the field with instruments and really just wanted to do that.

* which now that I think about it would match this regulation-filled oversight role really well. Interested in moving?
posted by ctmf at 9:59 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

1) If you think that you're not getting interviews because shortlisters think that you're overqualified, I would address this up front in your cover letter. A statement about the fact that you decided to change careers, and why; explain how your experience is a great fit for the role; and a personal statement about your career goals and why this role is a good fit for you. That should address concerns up front and set you up for getting an interview.

2) I probably wouldn't take all of your lawyerly jobs off your resume, but do think about how detailed your job history needs to be for the law jobs. I'd suggest summarizing the law jobs to a couple of relevant bullet points and take more space on the page for the more recent non-law jobs, which means that you're still showing a solid work history, while focusing the shortlister's attention on the relevant stuff. It may be worth taking your JD off (it's not lying, it's just focusing your resume to the job).

Interviews - find a way to bring it up and address it. If you think that it's the elephant in the room, then call it out and have that conversation then and there. Even if you have to wait until the "and do you have any questions for us?" part of the interview. Something like "I'm aware that having a JD may make potential employers think that I'm not committed to a job in a non-law field, and I just want to put your minds at ease and explain why I chose to make a career change and move into the social policy field..." and even "my JD and law experience means that I can provide additional value in X and Y areas of this role".

Anecdata - I have an Australian law degree, and I keep it on my resume simply because my only other degree is a Liberal Arts degree in Philosophy. I work in IT. I have enough experience now that not having a computer science degree doesn't hurt me, but (rightly or wrongly) a law degree does carry more weight with recruiters than a degree in Philosophy...

Good luck with the job hunt!
posted by finding.perdita at 10:08 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm familiar with academic hiring. The cover letter is the place to address such concerns in academia. At times we've asked candidates to articulate their interest in the job as a way of gauging why person who might seem overqualified wants this job.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:17 AM on December 19, 2015

Leave it off your resume. From what you're saying, you're looking into all different sorts of entry-level work and you don't have much experience in any of these areas, right?

Prospective employers are taking one look at your lack of experience and then see you're also a lawyer. It makes no sense to talk to you about an entry level position when it's clear you're capable of leaving to use that JD.

Kind of similar: in public school hiring, advanced degrees cost districts money. Many teachers leave everything past their bachelor's off their resume and when they're in the final stages of being hired they show those MEd, CAGS, EdD, etc. Otherwise they can't get a foot in the door.
posted by kinetic at 3:40 AM on December 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

You have my sympathies. If I hear "We can't afford you" one more time, I think I'll go insane. Assuming that leaving your JD off is a good idea, my thought would be along the lines of your "Independent contractor" idea. Or would there be anyway to spin some of your law work under some sort of consultant or advisor heading? Obviously, if you were employed as "Manager of X at Company Y", there's no getting around that. But have you had any side freelance gigs, paid or unpaid, that could fill up that space a little? I worked as a self-employed technical consultant for 5 years, and I've found it comes in handy to list the clients and jobs that would be of interest to the people hiring. (I have enough varied stuff that I can skew things in different directions.) Anything like this? (Full disclosure: none of my resumes have worked for me for 2 years now, so you might want to disregard anything I have to say! One the plus side, I did a resume for my sister after she went back to work after having kids, and she got a job immediately.) Good luck.
posted by MacChimpman at 6:19 PM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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