Ross C. on June 8, 2016
I graduated in the top 35% in my class from a (low) tier 1 law school in 2012 without a job. As you may know, the legal market was abysmal in 2012, and it really hasn't recovered. Within three months of graduation, at age 26, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and I received a stem cell transplant in November of 2012. Complications related to the transplant made it impossible to work as a full time associate in a law firm for nearly three years after. For the last year or so, I have been able to work, but I have not been able to find a full time associate position at a law firm. Here are some of the issues that I'm having:
1. I have no experience despite being out of law school for four years. Therefore, I need an entry level associate position, but employers think I should be a fourth year associate. While I have done document review projects during periods of relative health, taking those projects is viewed negatively in the industry and they aren't considered relevant experience. That means that I don't technically have much of a resume gap, which is good I suppose. Still, potential employers see my resume and view me as a red flag candidate because after four years I have no relevant experience and no explanation.
2. If I share what I've really been doing/dealing with for the last four years, they run for the hill. Of course they aren't legally allowed to do that, but it has happens every time. I assume they see me as a liability that they don't want to assume, and honestly I can understand their point. There are tons of similarly situated candidates who don't have serious health issue which makes them the easy choice over me.
3. Going along with 2., the legal market is still very tight meaning there is little room for "odd" or "red flag" resume issues.
4. I am very uncomfortable/lacking confidence in networking situations because generally conversation involves people asking what I'm doing, and where I've worked over the last few years. Unfortunately I don't have a strong answer since launching into a story about my personal cancer treatment is an instant conversation killer. Being vague or avoiding the topic makes it seem like I'm being dishonest or am unemployable since I haven't been able to secure a law firm job in four years. So I generate little interest from potential employers at networking events. I also still look a bit sickly, since for some unexplainable reason my hair didn't grow back after the transplant, and I've dealt with prolonged anemia (pale).
Honestly, I would prefer to tell people what has happened. I've been through hell and back and the idea of anyone thinking that I'm unemployable, lack ambition or haven't taken my career seriously is maddening. I also believe that my battle has given me intangible assets, and perspective that other candidates don't have, but I can't find away to convey that to potential employers.
At this point I'm really feeling stuck and pretty hopeless. I've always vowed not to let cancer define my life, but I feel like it's doing just that. And with every passing day, my experience gap grows larger, making my job search that much harder.
Any suggestions are much appreciate.