The arc of a career path is not always predictable. Getting from A to B may be the ultimate goal, but rarely is there but one way to do that. And there is a certain amount of serendipity in anyone’s working life. Perhaps the right assignment came your way because the “star” in the office was out of town; perhaps the right job came your way via a friend of a friend of a cousin; perhaps you met that big new client at the opera or the dog fancier’s convention. You cannot always predict opportunity, but that doesn’t mean it’s left to pure chance.
There’s a science to serendipity. Woody Allen once quipped that 90% of success is just showing up. While there’s something to be said for attendance, I suspect he was getting as much at tenacity and “staying in the game” as he was at “putting in an appearance.” I tend to also think of it as being present effectively enough to make the right connections.
Networking is more than a key component in your job search. It is an essential tool in your overall career. More than just a way that you find your next job, networking is a way that you help ensure the right opportunities are in your sight-line as you look to move your career ahead. Most of us know this at some intuitive level and are aware that networking produces more jobs than classified ads or blind inquiries.
Most people think too narrowly about networking. They think it’s about who you know. While that is of course a component, networking is first and foremost a state of mind. It’s something you consciously cultivate and spend some measure of every day developing. Some of that will come naturally. In the course of your working day you meet people and, at some level, they all become part of a network. But if we relied on that happenstance alone, our network might not ever prove effective.
The most important thing to understand about a network is your own aspiration. Unless you are clear with yourself about where you want to go, it is unlikely you can put that message out there in an effective way. So the first rule of networking is to have a clear and succinct story. One of America’s great Broadway producers once said, “If you can’t put your idea on the back of my business card, you haven’t thought it out.” The same applies to the idea of what you want from your career. If it can’t be clearly stated in a sentence or two, it probably hasn’t been thought through enough.
In today’s “connected” world, networking is more powerful than ever. Email and the Internet open up an infinite number of possibilities for professional connections that heretofore may have meant a myriad of meetings at the local bar association. So now networking isn’t just for the ones most comfortable at the cocktail party. Anyone can learn the right skills and habits. Next month we’ll look at the tools and rules of networking and see how you can make a “lucky” connection a more predictable event.
Career Issues in the News
Student Loan Debt Influencing Career Choices
University of Texas law students graduate with an average debt of $66,500. This, a recent study by the Daily Texan has found, prompts more students to gravitate towards private sector jobs. The average starting salary for UT Law School graduates who go into private practice was $106,200 last year. Meanwhile, the average salary for UT grads entering the public interest field is just $30,000 a year. Only about five percent of the 466 graduates of UT’s class of 2004 entered public interest law. Over two-thirds of recent law school graduates surveyed owe more than $50,000 in student loan debt. About 25% of the class owes $75,000 or more. When asked about their career plans, more than two in three report that their current debt is a factor in what type of job they seek after graduation.
Efforts Underway to Ease Debt Burden on Public Interest Attornist
Fortunately for the majority of the graduating class at the University of Texas Law School, there is some help on the way. The Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care has recommended instituting a national loan forgiveness program that would provide financial assistance in repaying student loans to child welfare lawyers. The Pew Commission’s proposal would also benefit other professionals who choose careers in child welfare. On a bigger scale, legislation is pending in Congress that will support loan forgiveness programs for those working with children in foster care. At another level, the law schools at the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia and others are offering loan forgiveness programs for public-interest attorneys.
More Reality TV Attornist.
Just when you thought it was safe to turn the TV on after work, they are back. We’re talking about reality television lawyers. Despite the flops of a reality law firm series and an Apprentice-type show featuring young lawyers trying to impress the senior partner, producers have gone back to the attorney well. Court TV has announced that it plans to air a new half-hour series about true-crime domestic murder mysteries. The series, called Til Death Do Us Part, starts each episode by focusing on a murder case where the spouse is the prime suspect. Just for fun, each episode will start with a reenactment of the wedding between the accused and the deceased.
Career Counselor’s Corner
I do have a concrete suggestion, which I describe below.
I also have some observations, which might or might not be accurate. The first is that the lay off must have been very hard on you; it would be very surprising if it didn’t engender strong and possibly contradictory feelings for you. On the one hand, you know you need to get a job for financial and other reasons. On the other hand, it isn’t surprising that you might not be enthusiastic about looking for another job, especially if looking for a job reminds you of the lay off and all that went with it.
The second observation is that your situation potentially raises issues that are above my pay grade and competence. I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, and you might want to consider talking to a mental health professional. Layoffs and other employment-related events can stir up very strong feelings such as anger and betrayal, and many people find it helpful to talk to a professional about such issues.
Setting these general observations aside, here is a specific job search technique you should consider–you might benefit from looking for a job with someone else.
Research has shown that people who look for jobs with others have a higher success rate in finding a job that those go it alone. Most people don’t enjoy the process of looking for a job, and setting aside regularly scheduled meetings to discuss the job search can make it more effective and productive.
Looking for a job with someone else can take many forms. It might involve cooperating with someone else who is also looking for a job, and helping that person with their search as they help you with yours. This works particularly well if you aren’t competing for a job with the other person.
You might also find it helpful to set up regularly scheduled meetings with a friend or family member to discuss your job search. This technique works best when the person looking for a job commits in writing to performing certain job-related activities by a particular date. Specifically, identify some job-related activity�no matter how small�that you can complete in the next 48 hours. Follow up by identifying additional tasks that can be completed in a relatively short timeframe, preferably two weeks or less. Use these small steps to begin your search. Follow up by meeting with your job search “Buddy” to see how many tasks you completed. Lawyers are trained to meet deadlines; setting up such a system takes advantage of this trait that you are likely to already possess.
Working with others to find a job is a tool, not a panacea. Thomas, whether or not you choose to look for a job with someone else, you will be more effective if you narrow your job search and focus on finding jobs in which you are most interested. Likewise, you will increase the effectiveness of your job search when you use a combination of job search techniques that maximize your personal contact with the person who has the power to hire you. You can find more detailed discussions of these and related issues in prior columns.
hope you find this advice helpful. I wish you all the best with your job search, and thank you for taking the time to write.
Dont’t do This
Many new lawyers try hard to impress when they join a law firm out of law school. Some try a bit too hard. Young lawyers should keep in mind that senior lawyers were once in their shoes. They know what it’s like, they know what’s realistic and they know all the tricks. Catch yourself when you get ready to say something that is designed to show partners how smart you are or how hard you work. Truth is, they will make that determination themselves, based on your performance. Give yourself time to prove yourself and for others to know your work. That will speak for you.
Bar Results: Don’t Let Them Be the End Result
Whereas many states are gracious enough to get back to bar exam takers quickly, others like to make you wait. Sometimes the wait continues into November but hopefully not so late in the month as to ruin your Thanksgiving dinner.
Many who take the bar exam think the waiting is the hardest part. The people who say that are people who actually pass the exam. Those who fail the exam have a different perspective on what really is the hardest part. Failing makes the waiting look easy.
Perhaps worse than failing the bar exam itself is that, unlike other academic and career setbacks you may experience, this one is public. Your family, your friends, your enemies, they can all find out whether you passed the exam or not. There is therefore no place to hide. This is especially true if you have already started working at a law firm and your colleagues have, on a regular basis, asked you how many more days you have left to wait until you get your results.
If you do get bad news from the State Bar, there are several important things to remember. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that other people have failed the bar exam and gone on to live healthy, normal lives.
We make light about the idea of survival but it is important to know that failing the bar exam does not kill your career � it just delays it for about six months. The best advice you can get upon failing the bar exam is to take it again. That may seem obvious but it’s really the only thing to do. Regretting your past performance and feeling bad about it aren’t going to help you pass next time.
Do whatever you need to prepare for the exam again, even if this means leaving your job for a month or two to study. Focus on that, not your work. While you certainly care about your new job and will feel bad about having to take a leave of absence so early in your career, the firm probably won’t care about you if you fail a second or third time.
There are a few other things to keep in mind that may prove helpful. Start by doing the math. Look at the passage rates. Then look at the percentage of people that pass the bar the next time it’s offered. The odds look pretty good. You can make them better by adding into the equation a certain percentage of people who take the exam but have no real shot at passing.
Speaking of odds, the reason people fail the bar exam often comes down to which particular questions are asked on the exam. You may have failed just by the bad luck of the draw.
Finally, and most importantly, make sure you have the right attitude about facing the exam again. It’s easy to get in a funk, to get angry, to get impatient about having to study again. Change all of that as much as possible and put yourself in the right state of mind. When you do pass, this will all be in your past.
Zeshan S. Ghumman is a Tech Enthusiast and motivational tech writer advocating for fair tech policies and covering all news related to the mobile industry and more.