When I was a freshman in college, I was given one of the most valuable items a 19-year-old could ever receive: a fake ID.
My cousin had turned 21 already. He and I passed for each other—we both were average height and had brown hair and brown eyes.
I first tested it out at unassuming corner stores near campus. Things went off without a hitch. The owner would look at the ID, then look at me, and raise no objection. My cousin’s picture and my face seemed almost a perfect match—I even smiled half-cocked like he did in the photo.
With these tests in the bag, I confidently accepted an invitation to go with my then-girlfriend and another couple for a fancy dinner out. I think I wore a blazer. Double-breasted. With shoulder pads. Gold buttons.
When the time came for me to go to the bar to “grab a drink” for everyone, I was ready. Really, really ready. After I ordered my drinks (two lemon drops and two Amstel Lights) the bartender asked for my ID. I gave it to him, and while I was a bit nervous, I smiled confidently—until he asked me what county Valparaiso, Indiana, was in. I didn’t know. (It’s in Porter County.)
I’d relied so much on my likeness to the photo that I failed to also prepare and memorize the address. I ordered four Cokes instead.
Fast forward years later to second semester on-campus interviewing. My grades in law school were middle of the pack, so not many firms were knocking on my door. In fact, none were.
When one finally did request to meet with me, I jumped at the chance to prepare. I researched all about the firm. I knew the cases the firm’s lawyers had won. I read all about the partners in the small firm. I knew the ins and outs of their practice areas.
When the interview came, I was ready. Really, really ready—until the partner asked me how my skills and strengths would be a fit for the firm’s business requirements.
I had a tough time answering. I’d spent so much time familiarizing myself with the firm that I’d spent too little time understanding how I’d fit with it.
Preparation is key for any job search and interview process, and this includes not only learning about the job and the company we’re meeting with, but also about ourselves. We need to look inward to ensure that we can add value, that the job requirements align with our skill sets, and that we’ll find satisfaction in this role.
So when I think of how law students looking to break into the working world can excel at interviewing, especially for alternative careers, I recommend the following six steps to keep in mind when exploring a career path:
1. Know ourselves.
Begin to really explore and understand what it is we’re good at and what value we can sincerely bring. What I call our “unique genius” is made up of those skills and strengths that come so naturally to us and so effortlessly to us and that we enjoy so much that we don’t even think of them as skills.
It’s with these skills that we do so well that we’ll begin to base our life and career, one in the law or an alternative career. It’s with these strengths at which we excel that we’ll begin to create a life of confidence and self-worth.
In other words, we want to be conscious of incorporating those skills we’re good at, that we’re strong at, and that are in alignment with what we enjoy into any new job search and venture we pursue. Let’s find jobs that require what we do well. This pairing can make life and work easier and more enjoyable and us happier, satisfied, and more confident.
2. As we find our unique genius, let’s not be concerned about also finding our passion in life.
It can often stress us out when we try to find our passion or purpose or some other lofty goal. Because we just might not have one.
Let’s let what we’re good at and enjoy doing inform what we do next, not necessarily some passion. If we can find it, great. But if we can’t, that’s okay, too. We can still be happy, successful, and worthy.
3. Create a great solid network to find our next job.
Most really good jobs people find nowadays aren’t found by sending a blind resume to a hiring manager but through friends, contacts, and other warm leads (what’s also known as the informal job market, as reported by CNN, CBS, and NPR).
That’s why we need to create a solid network. Not tomorrow or down the road, but right now. Outreach and connecting with people and building bridges is essential for introverts and people-persons alike. It creates so many new opportunities for us and provides a diversity of channels beyond just the draft-resume-sent-to-thehiring- manager-and-cross-our-fingers dynamic.
One of the main goals of networking, job searching, unique genius exploring, and resume repositioning is to not pigeonhole ourselves too narrowly. Sometimes hiring managers or those in human resources have a bias against hiring attorneys who are looking to work outside or leave the law. We’re too smart or we’ll be too expensive. Whatever the case may be, we don’t want a hiring manager to be the sole gatekeeper to any job.
Instead, we need to have done the up-front legwork, to have done so much research about a job we like, to have made so many connections at a company we like through networking and informational interviews, and to feel really good about the work we’ve done on our unique genius that our skill set is transferable to this particular job.
4. If we choose an alternative career, we need to be able to answer the question: “Why don’t you want to practice law?”
Inevitably, we’ll be faced with a variation of the question, “So tell me why don’t you want to practice law?” Here’s a response we can use: “Ah, yes, thank you for asking that question. It’s a really good one. It’s one I’ve thought about a lot recently, and exploring the answer has really powered and energized my career search over the past few months. I feel it has contributed to why I’m in front of you now interviewing for this [non-legal] position.
I don’t want to practice law because after three years of law school, after working with many real-life lawyers, and after a thorough, patient, dedicated, and fairly comprehensive exercise exploring my professional skills and strengths and identifying what I’m really good at (what I call my unique genius), I feel very confident that my skill set isn’t in alignment with what’s called for to practice law. To put it simply, being a lawyer is just not a fit for me.
But in life it’s often as valuable to find out what you don’t want as much as it is to find out what you do want. In that spirit, my assessment has empowered me to feel very confident that what is a fit for me is this potential opportunity at your company. Let me tell you why. I’ve done a solid audit of my strengths and I’ve comprehensively detailed a large number of skills I possess that are transferable and a really good fit for this role. I’ve met over coffee with many professionals in this space from my network and picked their brains. I’ve learned about their day-to-day work, understood their best practices, and gained a deep understanding of what this job requires.
Through all this personal auditing and industry research, I feel very confident in not practicing law and rather pursuing this role in my career. Please let me know where I can elaborate any further.”
5. Remember that rejection is nothing more than an opportunity for something better to happen.
Or as Marilyn Monroe said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
6. Remember that sometimes the best way to interview and get the job we want is just to let go and see what happens.
I know this can be difficult for us control-obsessed attorneys. We have a solid idea of the job we want. We have a firm idea of the career path we have ahead of us. We have a set idea of the life we need to lead.
But as the acclaimed author E. M. Forster said, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”