Beginning the Job Search with Self-Assessment
The process of career planning is primarily a search for information: about yourself, about career options, and about specific job markets. The first step in the process is to learn about yourself by conducting a detailed self-assessment, integrating your education, experience, skills, values, interests, and personal qualities.
Prepare a personal history that includes your educational background, leisure and volunteer activities, hobbies, work history, social history, and your accomplishments.
Figure out which are your transferable and substantive skills. Transferable skills are based on your aptitudes or are acquired through learning (research and writing abilities, organization, leadership, and public speaking). Substantive skills rely on your expertise in a particular subject matter (bankruptcy, tax, or CPR, for example). Think about your accomplishments to determine what skills you possess.
- What have you achieved that has given you a sense of personal satisfaction?
- Which achievements are most important to you?
- Which skills would you like to use and develop?
- Which skills do you wish to de-emphasize?
Think of the skills you use during leisure or volunteer activities; is there a way to incorporate those skills into your professional life? If you are a member of Toastmasters because of your love of public speaking, be on the lookout for a job that would use that skill.
What intrinsic and extrinsic rewards do you expect from your work? Money is only one of the rewards of work, but certainly not the most important one to every person.
- What other rewards are important to you? (Respect, status, challenge, the opportunity to be creative, the ability to change the existing social/political order, and the opportunity to serve are some examples.)
- How do you define success? Does your idea of success include working independently, leading others, making policy, being treated with respect, or exercising authority?
- Think of the people in your life whom you respect and admire. What is it about their lives which you would emulate?
Some options are closed to us, or are personally unappealing: Not everyone is capable of being a public defender; not everyone wants to be an entry-level associate in a big law firm. Some of the constraints are external—low grades could make it unlikely that a large firm will be interested in interviewing you. Some are more personal choices; your passion for snow skiing may make a Miami location undesirable.
In pursuing your passions, consider your goals in life. If that includes helping the oppressed, working on Capitol Hill, or being a leader in your community, determine what is necessary to achieve those goals. Consider the contributions you would like to make to society and to the legal profession.
- What is intrinsically fascinating to you?
- What are you drawn to?
- What makes you lose track of time? To the extent that you can incorporate your passions into your work, you will find increased joy and satisfaction in your life
- How would you like to be remembered? If you hope that people would praise your service to the community, leadership, commitment to social justice, or your commitment to your family, consider the kind of job that will enable you to accomplish those goals.
Work does not exist in a vacuum. You will work in a particular setting or organizational climate. More than just geography, the “where” of work will include your colleagues, the culture of the organization, the office building (size and layout), and the type of region (city/rural/suburban).
Consider your previous jobs.
- How did the “where” aspect affect your job satisfaction and success?
- Do you work best in a relaxed work culture, reflected in casual dress styles, informal chains of command, open door policies and collegial work projects?
- Do you prefer more structure and formality in the work environment? If you find the environment uncomfortable, it will be difficult for you to fit in, to succeed and to be satisfied with your work.
The Perfect Job
If the perfect job does not exist, why engage in this exercise? Simply this—if you cannot define your “ideal” position, you have nothing with which to compare real opportunities, and no way of making an accurate assessment of how well the real job suits your abilities and desires.
Make a list of the attributes your ideal job would have. Include all details: work hours, atmosphere (casual, formal), type of office and building, location (city, state, rural, urban, suburban, home), colleagues (age, education, working style, ethics), substantive work required, opportunities for advancement, access to others in firm/corporation/community—list everything which in the past or in your dreams has made you love (or hate) your job.
Keep this list handy. Compare each and every job opportunity to the perfect job. Know where you are willing to compromise, delay gratification, trade certain items for others, and where you cannot yield.
An Aside About Grades
You will be tempted to believe that nothing else about you matters except your grades in law school. Grades are important—they are the only objective standard by which employers can compare the relative merits of law students—but grades are not the only factor employers consider in making employment decisions.
At a recent National Association for Law Placement conference, hiring partners identified personal characteristics that indicate an applicant’s potential success as a lawyer:
- good communicator
- team player/consensus builder
- integrity/strength of character
- humble assertiveness
- common sense
- problem-solving skills
- ability to work under pressure
- good personality
- ability to think on one’s feet and “shoot from the hip”
- ability to relate to diverse individuals
If you are not in the top third of the class, you will have to distinguish yourself in other ways: activities, honors, entrepreneurial endeavors, achievements, personal triumphs—anything that separates you from others.