Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My New Career Goal

OK, this one is really simple and for once doesn't involve anything like getting a Ph.D. or breaking into a highly competitive field or finding a position that lets me pay off all my loans in a year. It isn't even really geared towards "getting a job," but more towards building a network so that I can eventually, well, get a job. My new goal is to do something--anything--to enhance my professional development and build my network every single day. I left it purposely open-ended, but the idea is to keep me from getting the "tunnel vision" that so often plagues law students, where they either are not focused on the future at all, or where they only have one career-related goal and think that it's the end of the world if they don't achieve it.

So, what does that mean for me? It could include:
  • handing out a business card
  • going to a career lecture or attorney panel (checked this one off for today--went to a great public interest career panel discussion)
  • sending emails to speakers at said panels to thank them for the advice they gave
  • polishing my resume
  • polishing some writing samples
  • doing some small things to enhance my resume, like getting research-certified in legal databases and joining the American Bar Association
  • doing a mock interview
  • applying for a position
  • maintaining strong relationships with people who know me and my work product and could recommend me to employers
Do any of you have lists like this? If so, what's on your list?

I've noticed that a lot of my fellow students don't seem to recognize that the "rules of engagement" for finding jobs has completely changed from what it was even 10 years ago. Or they seem to be aware of it, but to not know how it should affect their job search. Here are two things I've learned about it:

Here is what I think is by far the most important one: In this economy, you don't "choose" your job or career path; it, in many ways, chooses you. Some students "choose" to work in, for a random example, labor and employment law. But let's say those students graduate and there are no jobs to be found in labor and employment law. Are they going to do nothing for 5 years while they wait for positions in their "chosen" field to open up? Of course not. They will take whatever jobs are offered to them. Maybe a position in a D.A.'s office. Or in a small personal injury firm. Or doing legal consulting for a business. And those first opportunities may eventually lead them into their "choice" of labor and employment law, but more likely than not, a whole new career path they could never have envisioned on their own, but that is deeply satisfying, opens up. I am not "choosing" what I'm going to do next summer or after I graduate law school--not in terms of what it is or where it is. I don't say this to be negative, but the economy is too bad to be doing that and it's a set-up for disappointment. Of course I am going to more strongly pursue opportunities in fields I think I would really enjoy, like family law and public interest work. And I'm also not saying we have no autonomy in the job search or that we're all going to have to just take jobs we hate--not at all. But in a generation that's grown up with choices that even our parents never could have imagined when they were young, we need to learn to relinquish some of our ability to choose, accepting that holding on to our "choice" with clenched fists is a hindrance and not a help. This job market is not about choices; it's about making the most of whatever opportunities are offered to us.

And finally, I've learned that the first few years of work after law school (or after college or any grad school) are about being willing to do the dirty work and "pay your dues." My friend aptly compared it to doing a residency after medical school. It means you need to be ok with not working in your dream job, in your dream city, right away. It means you're willing to work the crazy-long hours, knowing that it won't last forever and is a way to get established and get valuable experience. It means you might take the clients or cases or even the office cubicle that nobody else wants. It means that the words "work-life balance" probably shouldn't come out of your mouth for the first year or so. It means you realize that your first job doesn't have to be your last, and while it may be hard at first, it gets better.

And I'll be perfectly honest--these career lessons can be tough pills to swallow, but I think being aware of them will help me in the long run. And I also know that whatever job I end up in has every bit as much potential as any other job to be part of a career I really love.

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