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After an eight-month search: You're hired!

Jessica Pfeiffer, 35, Detroit

By Joan Caplin
Last Updated: February 4, 2009: 12:08 PM ET

(Fortune Magazine) -- This is a story with a happy ending, but the conclusion is not the most important point. It's how Jessica Pfeiffer, who job hunted for eight months, decided to spend her time.

There's not much that she didn't try. The attorney offered pro bono services, taught a law-school class, served as a board member for two nonprofits, was a guest blogger, a tutor, and a babysitter. In between she called employers, submitted résumés, and handed out business cards by the hundreds. "I viewed my search as a job," she says.

It wasn't an easy one. She heard every kind of rejection, including a novel variation on the "you're overqualified" rebuff: "Your experience is too sophisticated for this marketplace."

It was demoralizing, but she plowed ahead. "You have to be willing to excuse rudeness," she says. "When you're calling someone and they're not responding, you are probably not in the top 100 most important things on their mind."

By night Pfeiffer made the rounds of professional gatherings. "Sometimes I had to gear myself up," she admits, "especially for the ones I had to pay for. I'd think, Do I really want to drive 45 minutes and pay $25 to drink with lawyers? It's not easy when everyone knows you're not working."

A Duke Law School grad, Pfeiffer worked for three companies in nine years with postings as diverse as London and Dallas. Then, in 2006, a recruiter called about a position at Comerica Bank in Detroit. Pfeiffer jumped at the offer to work in her hometown. But just nine months later Comerica announced it was relocating - to Dallas. She decided she couldn't go back. So she went in a new direction, running a Labor Department grant program to promote entrepreneurship. At the end of a year, she figured the program could survive without her. "They could get someone a lot less expensive than me," she says.

In her job search, Pfeiffer's most successful connection came through volunteer work. She had already interviewed at the Clark Hill law firm when, while working on the Obama campaign, she met an attorney who was training poll watchers. He turned out to be a senior member of the Clark Hill executive committee that would vote on her new position. The two worked together again answering phones on Election Day. "I don't think I was as nervous about the idea that every minute is a job interview as I was about winning the election," says Pfeiffer. "But clearly I wanted to make a good impression."

Evidently she did. On Jan. 7, she joined the Clark Hill law firm as manager of professional development, where she'll help young attorneys shape their careers. "I finally have business cards I didn't make myself. And I've already been on my first business trip," she says, as if her trek to Grand Rapids was the sweetest assignment of all. "It feels so good to be back in the working world."

JOAN CAPLIN and BETH KOWITT contributed to this article.  To top of page

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