For a whole year, Sandy Gifford kept saying: I just want a job.
Gifford has an impressive resume, but in this recession, it was hard to rebound. After she lost her position as director of administration at San Francisco firm Brydon Hugo & Parker, Gifford took on the job hunt the way people are advised to: like it’s full-time work. She says she cast her net wide, and kept her expectations realistic. She even told interviewers she’d be willing to work for less than she’d been paid before.
An occasional look at how laid-off legal professionals cope with a crisis economy.
Still, it took far longer to find employment in her line of work — legal management — than she’d ever imagined. At times, she felt her level of experience worked against her; Gifford managed the administrative side of Brobeck’s San Francisco office before the firm dissolved in 2003. Interviewers at small firms would say: “You were at Brobeck, and before that at Foley & Lardner. This job would be boring for you.”
Sometimes, she even wondered if her age — she’s 68 — played a role. “I was sensitive about it.”
The yearlong route back into the workforce: Big interviews, lots of networking, lowered expectations, after the jump.
She interviewed with Twitter and Genentech. She made it into the final round with Stanford University, only to have the school change the job description at the last minute, making her unqualified to fill it.
She networked like mad: recruiters, online professional networks, job boards. She lunched with people she knew well and some she only knew peripherally. “You never know where you’re going to get your job,” Gifford said. “I didn’t rule out anything.”
After a full year, the right opportunity came from an unexpected place. Gifford said the woman in charge of the job database at the Association of Legal Administrators called to say she had a firm from Denver looking for an office manager in San Francisco. Did Gifford want her resume sent in? You bet.
Holme Roberts & Owen hired her as office manager in San Francisco on Nov. 3. She took a pay cut, but she’s happy as a clam.
Salary issues were a real headache. Gifford cringed when compensation came up in her interviews. “I hated to explain that I would take a lower salary because I understood the marketplace,” she said.
Brobeck had paid well —$175,000, plus bonuses, by the end. “After Brobeck, I had to adjust,” she said. “I could see that that was kind of an anomaly.”
Brydon Hugo paid her $120,000 when she started. By the time she left five years later, her salary was $145,000. “I thought what I was paid was fair,” she said.
But during her interview with HRO, she knew the salary range for her position at non-New York firms on the West Coast was $90,000 to $110,000. “They gave me the top of the range,” she said.
“There were lots of starts and stops during that year,” she said. “But now I’m happily employed again, and it feels so good to be needed again!”
— Petra Pasternak