Category Archives: Job Search

New is always better.

A month ago I made a big decision, and I took a new job.  Change is always scary, especially the kind of change that takes you far away from what you know and will challenge you in all kinds of ways.  I’m…leaving legal services.  I’m leaving direct client services. I’m leaving nonprofit life.

I’m going to the government.  People who don’t know legal services act like going to the government is the same. Government/public interest attorneys are lumped together by bar associations and BigLaw attorneys. I don’t know if they think we’re all the same because we make less money or because we have regular hours or what.  But public interest attorneys don’t think that government attorneys are the same as us.  So to myself, and my colleagues, I’m making a big career change.

But then I read articles like this. And I think, “that’s why I’m done.”  Because my opposing counsels, while sometimes lovely, are sometimes people that make me think, “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.” Some apartment managers want to bankrupt people over a $400 carpet replacement. Some debt collectors want a confessed judgment when a client was 3 days short of sending their lease termination notice and the lease automatically renewed.  I am so tired of explaining to rich lawyers why poor people need a break. I am so tired of hearing story after story of property managers who just want to wield power over people in public housing.  This work burns you out not because you are emptying an ocean with a teacup, but because you lose your faith in humanity.  Because the people in this who look like you, were raised like you, went to law school to do good, stand there in court and argue with you that because your client was hospitalized and didn’t earn money for a month, they should be evicted.

I don’t know whether I’ll come back to direct service. I don’t know if I’ll find more humanity in government work. But hope springs eternal, and new is always better.  And if new isn’t always better, the new job is also about 28 miles closer to my house. Which is, for sure, always better.

 

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2016 – Goals

I do believe in new year’s resolutions.  A new year’s resolution in 2007 started me running and down the path to losing 30lbs.  It led to me discovering all kinds of wonderful things about myself.  A resolution in 2011 to Get a Job led me to two fantastic opportunities that paved the way to better things later.  In 2012 my resolution was to Get A Better Job.  In 2014 my resolution was to Have a Baby and Do an Olympic Distance Triathlon.

So, right now I’m still stubbornly at around the weight I was post-delivery.  So my goal is to kick the baby weight, now that I’m done nursing. I’m signed up for another session of Fit 4 Mom’s Body Back boot camp, which is awesome and includes a meal plan and journaling and feedback on your food journal.

I signed up for a half marathon and a sprint distance triathlon. I signed up for a training plan for the half marathon and I have high hopes of doing the local Masters swim class this summer.

My other main goal is to simply my life. To spend more weekends at home.  To say no more.  We have a toddler now, and our life needs to be more about making sure she is enjoying herself and getting to do things that suit her and challenge her.  None of us is at our best when she is running around a brewery and getting stuck to the floor and my husband is trying to chug a flight of samplers and I’m chasing down the waitress with my credit card to get the check paid ASAP.  We have a few big trips planned, but we have a lot of weekends at home.  We built a deck. We joined our local science museum.  The good thing is, it becomes easier to say no when your child is less portable.  Our daughter has needs.  She wants our attention.  She does not want to linger at a bar for cocktails.  She isn’t happy to sleep in her carrier or nurse at the table anymore.  And people don’t invite you out as much after they see an epic meltdown.  (My in-laws had asked if we’d like to go out to dinner tonight, and we passed, and once they saw our kid have an epic meltdown over the mere existence of her Ikea play tent, they understood why we had opted for takeout.)

Anyone else make goals? Setting limits for themselves this year? What are you going to make happen?

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Big Changes

So, we’re going through some really big changes.  In 2010, we moved, got married, and I graduated and passed the bar.  Last year, my husband changed jobs and then we bought a house. It seems impossible to simply make one big life change every year, so this year we are having a baby, and on Wednesday, I start a new job.

I stopped writing about work here pretty much when I started my last job, mostly because it made me so uncomfortable for privacy reasons.  I don’t know whether I will write more about it with the new position.  I’m going from a family law to general civil practice, although I’ll be staying in the public interest sphere.

There are some things that happened to me during this job negotiation that I handled incorrectly, and that others thoroughly bungled.  I’m not going to talk about it publicly, but feel free to send me an email or leave a comment with your email address if you have specific questions about interviewing for and changing jobs during pregnancy – it’s very difficult to navigate.  All I will say is that I wish I had put my own needs first, instead of trying to make things convenient or easier for other people.  Negotiate hard for what you want, and when that is in writing, give your notice.  If that process takes longer than you had hoped, that’s not your problem.

I’m making a lot of sacrifices for this job – I’m giving up a great commute, fantastic coworkers, a boss who lets me run my own office, a lot of independence, and paid maternity leave.  Like any decision, you have to hope really, really hard, that what you are giving up is worth what you are getting.  With my longer commute comes a much bigger office, a support staff, a boss who is in the office, a higher salary and chance for promotion, training, and a very large organization, fancy things like a client database on the computer , and a broader practice area.

The timing, as with everything, was not spectacular.  I have a friend in the office I’m going to, and I’ve wanted to work there for awhile, and she sent me the job posting a week after I found out I was pregnant.  I interviewed when I was 8 weeks.  At 16 weeks, they called me for a second interview.  At 19 weeks, I went on the second interview. At 20 weeks, I was offered the position.  (If you are counting, yes, it’s been 8 weeks from when I was offered the position to when I’m starting at this job.)  I am pleased with how smooth the transition has been for my current office – I was able to give adequate notice and they were able to hire my replacement, and I was able to train her as best as I could.  This eased my anxiety about leaving a mess of files and notes that my replacement would not understand.

This change is terrifying for me.  I am about to take a job, work there for 11 weeks, and then  go out on maternity leave at some point.  I’ve been incredibly emotional the last few weeks, and every decision I have made has been second guessed and discussed to death, and then I’ve cried over it.  But, I remember the post I wrote two years and four months ago.  Success is scary, change is huge. My mantra for this week is, ships are safe at harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.

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5 Years

We accidentally started house hunting recently.  I say accidentally, but it was sort-of intentional, and mostly, we fell into it.  It feels like the natural next step, interest rates are low, our apartment is starting to chafe a bit.

But house hunting means admitting that neither of us plan to be at our jobs for more than another year.  So does buying a house based on these jobs make a lot of sense?  And do we decide where we want to live, and build a life around that, or do we decide what we want to do, and build a life around that?

I do not know the answer.  But it seems to make sense to ask myself that age-old job interview question: where do you see yourself in five years?  And for the first time in my career, I have a real answer.

I see myself working in either public interest, or at a small firm (fewer than 10 attorneys) – but a bigger office than my current one.  I see myself working collaboratively with others.  I see myself having a strong relationship with my coworkers.  I see myself going to court no more than once a week.  I see myself doing some legislative lobbying work, some outreach work, and some academic work.  I see myself doing work that is challenging but not exhausting; well-paced and well-managed.  I see myself with more support than I currently have.  I see myself working at a place that has secure-ish funding, so that every year, I am not at the mercy of a single grant being renewed.  I see myself working the hours that I want to work (and I think that I want those hours to be something more like 7am-3pm) and being able to have the spare time after work that I need to stay in shape, stay healthy, and have a good relationship with my family.  I see myself being able to sleep at night.  I see myself being able to talk about my job at parties without bringing the room down.  I see myself having a commute that doesn’t make me feel miserable about my work or my house.

If I expand that, to where do I see myself living in 5 years, I still don’t see the answer.  Do I have small children who I’m preparing to send to an inner city elementary school?  Do we have a backyard and an adorable corgi?  Do we have a back patio and an adorable beagle? Do we have a garden or a garden plot?  Do I have small children who we load into the rear trailer behind our tandem and pedal around the local trail on the weekend?  Do we have no children and a life filled with travel and adventure?  Do we have children and a life filled with travel and adventure?

Home ownership, it seems, is maybe something that you should do when you feel ready to settle down, when you are at a place that you are happy with, in your career and everything else.  My friends who bought houses when they were in a state of flux seem to have regretted it, or at least wound up with lousy commutes.  And I remember the lease we signed five years ago two weeks before my then-boyfriend got laid off.  How stuck I felt.  That was a one-year lease!  This is a HOUSE!

But then I consider how terribly happy we are here.  How we committed to building a life here even though I didn’t have a job.  That committing to that for the future doesn’t seem impossible.  I have job options here and I like practicing here.  So…why not commit to living here?  Why not continue to be terribly happy?  (The property taxes are insane in this city, that’s why.)

Has anyone else faced these issues?  What did you do?

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Interview Questions, Part III

Do you have a family?

When asked this question on an interview last year, I nearly choked.  This is a question that is not only illegal, there is no good answer.  Saying “yes” says that “I will be leaving work early to go to piano recitals” and saying no says, “yes, but I might in the future.”

Several people asked if when a lawyer asks this question, is it some kind of test as to whether or not you know this is an illegal question.  Several people have suggested that I take the interviewer to task over this question.  Those people clearly do not understand the market, in which applicants are a dime a dozen and employers have the upper hand.

So how have I handled this question?  The last time, I simply said, “yes.”  Because well, everyone has a family.  I said yes in a halting way, as if I found the question offensive and the interviewer had better clarify why he/she had asked it.  Which he/she did, or tried to.  But I walked away from the interview wondering if a job that asked me about a family was somewhere I wanted to work, so the question really hurts both people.

The tips I found on the internet for avoiding illegal questions are to say things like, “I can meet the demanding requirements of this job, if that is what you are asking.”  I’m not quite that slick yet, but I’ve been practicing.  I think another easy “don’t-you-know-that-question-is-illegal” answer is, “what exactly are you asking?”  The problem is, they might clarify by saying, “do you have children?” And a don’t-ask-don’t-tell, “it is my understanding that you are not allowed to ask me these types of questions” is probably not the right response, but will do if you’ve already decided you don’t want the job.

I’ve actually been asked this, or if I am married, quite a lot.  So I need to have a better response in my back pocket that says, “MYOB.”  Any suggestions?  Has anyone else faced this?

 

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Good Things About 2011 (And Better Things To Come in 2012)

2011 was, for the most part, for me, clouded by one thing, and one thing only – the loss of a very dear friend.  As my parents health starts to fail and they get older, that pain is compounded by the fact that we no longer have our dear friend, the one my sister and I could always turn to and who we thought would be there for us as our own parents aged, is no longer here.  Instead, we struggle with being there for his family as they need us, and we struggle to accept his death as anything more than a completely senseless tragedy that did not need to happen.

So that was the downside of 2011.  But, in keeping with the spirit of Petite Chablis and her post, I’m now going to say the things that happened in 2011 that didn’t completely suck.  In 2011, I:

-Got a job!!! Two, actually.  I got my first attorney job, where I learned how to be an attorney, and then I got my law clerk job, where I have learned to be a private-practice attorney.  I’ve been very lucky to have wonderfully supportive bosses in both cases who are committed to helping me be the best attorney I can be.

-Ran a ten miler and a half marathon!  I didn’t meet my time goals for either race, but I’m happy that I’m not injured and I’m doing really well with my marathon training.

-Lost 14lbs!  I finally shed the pesky post-wedding weight and the five pounds that showed up my third year of law school and wouldn’t leave.

-Decided to keep my name!  I am really proud that I finally came to a decision, and also really happy that it’s the decision that involved the least amount of work.

-Went on a bike trip through Wales!  Without fighting with my husband AT ALL.  It was really amazing.  We also did several long bike rides leading up to it, which was awesome.

-Went camping, twice.  Goal is to go 4 times in 2012.

-Read a LOT of books.  Thinking about it, I think I read somewhere between 15 and 20 books in 2011.  Thank goodness for libraries and library lending on Kindle!

-Made new friends.  I made new friends on the internet, in the city where I live, and within the legal community.  I also kept in touch with old friends in a meaningful way, which takes a lot of totally-worth-it effort.

2012 will hopefully bring me a finished marathon, a finished half-ironman (or at least Olympic Distance triathlon!), a PR for my half-marathon, a permanent, salaried, lawyer job, and a solid relationship with my spouse, my family, and my friends.

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Inappropriate?

There is a certain state agency that I would really like to work for.  I happen to have a fair number of dealings with a particular office of their’s, and last week, during conversation with a paralegal there, she mentioned that she would be leaving soon so she had been swamped lately since she was getting ready to transition out at the end of the month.

At which point I wondered if there is a polite way to ask an almost-total stranger if you can have their job.

Probably not, right?

Especially not when you’ve been calling them with all kinds of dumb questions and generally sounding like a moron who doesn’t know anything about anything?

But you better believe that I’m stalking the agency website, waiting for her job to be listed.  Even if it is a paralegal position, it’s probably a really good way to get a foot in the door of the agency.  Or at least get that fancypants health insurance stuff.

Any other suggestions on how to get inside information or a foot through the door?

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No lateral moves

Somewhere along the way, I made a promise to myself: no lateral moves.  No moving from my job to a slightly-better-job.  I want a salary, I want benefits, I want personal fulfillment.  Does this make me sound entitled?  Maybe, except I have a job that I like very much that does not have a salary or benefits (but is more personally fulfilling than I ever expected.)

So there is this other job, that was listed yesterday.  It’s at an organization I used to work for, doing work I swore I was finished with, but it has a salary and benefits and personal fulfillment.  I would be working in an office with a very good friend of mine and I would be doing good, important, meaningful work.  It would be a lot of litigation, which isn’t something I have any experience with (and experience I probably need), and it would offer me a route back into the public interest job sector.  It has reasonable, flexible hours, and reasonable expectations of it’s entry-level opportunities, so it seems like a no-brainer.

What doesn’t it have? An avenue for advancement.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I would eventually end up back in public interest elder law (an area that just doesn’t hire enough.)  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I could eventually transition to a future in legislative advocacy work.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I would be good at it.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, we would have everything we’ve been talking about for a year and therefore Everything Would Be Okay, like we’ve been talking about for a year.

I come down to wondering if I’m just scared.  I’m scared, genuinely scared, to get a real job.  I have always worked at jobs that were below my experience level, that didn’t pay, that offered rewards in their nonmonetary compensation.  When I have been paid, it’s almost a token of appreciation, enough to pay gas and parking and maybe for groceries.  I make money at this job now, but not a salary.  And I wonder if there is a reason for that besides the crummy economy – if I’m letting The Fear hold me back.  If they pay me a salary, they will expect me to show up and work hard, and while academically, I know I do not have a problem with hard work, I have always worked hard, and I will continue to do so, what if what if what if it isn’t good enough for the real world?

At the same time, I’m itching, as my friend C. said, to get out there, to lawyer, to put my name on my work and have it be mine and to own who I am and what I do and stand up and say, “I’m your lawyer, b*tches.”  But on the other shoulder is the little scardy cat scales of justice telling me that if I continue to go for jobs that aren’t what I really want, I’m selling out for the money and the health insurance and in twenty years I’ll look back on my life and say, “well, how did I end up here?”

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How to apply for jobs

I know a lot of people are on the market these days, so I thought I’d put together a quick post on how I apply for jobs, and keep the application process straight.  The most important thing to have is probably the spreadsheet of jobs applied for, interview dates, and/or responses.  Just a google doc with the position applied for, firm/organization, date applied, follow-up, and response will do.  Try to keep it up-to-date – it’s helpful to know when you sent in applications and when you should make follow up calls.

Next step: create a document folder for job hunting.  Then, create sub-folders.  I create a sub-folder for each individual organization if they request multiple materials other than a cover letter and resume.  If they want a writing sample or have a specific application, they get a sub-folder.  In the main “Job Hunt” folder, I keep my up-to-date resume (labeled name_date), because in the past I accidentally submitted an old resume.  I like to have one master resume and avoid multiple copies, but sometimes experience needs to be tailored, in which case I create a sub-folder and the resume goes in that.  Other than specific organizations, I create sub-folders for types of jobs – e.g. “firm jobs”; “family law non-profit jobs”; “other non-profits”.   Generally, everything stays pretty organized.

The other thing that I think is extremely important is to make sure that you print all application materials to a .pdf.  If you are working in Open Office, there is a built in .pdf exporter under the file tab.  Otherwise I use CutePDF, which is a free program I’ve been using for several years.  I sent a copy of my cover letter to a friend yesterday for edits and she responded with, “the spacing is seriously messed up and your header looks weird”.  Your resume and cover letter need to always open and print onto one neat, professional page.  I also firmly believe in consistent file names – saving a document as Vado_Porro_Resume and Vado_Porro_Cover_Letter is helpful for employers who might be putting all the files in one place and don’t want to figure out whose resume is whose.

I also have a “job search” email.  It forwards from my gmail, but it is more professional sounding, and helps me keep my job applications and responses separate from emails from Ann Taylor suggesting I need another suit.

How do you keep your job search organized? Any tips for applicants?

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“oh”

I was at a party recently and talking to a fellow attorney.  Who, when I said that I was working as a law clerk, responded with, “oh! so you’re not like, working as an attorney at all?”  With a “that is just so sad for you” look on her face.

My response should have been, “go screw yourself” but instead I yammered politely about how I felt that I needed life experience and private practice experience and I wasn’t really interested in starting my own firm straight out of law school, especially when I went K-JD.  I also pointed out that I don’t have debt, which is the number one thing that changes the tone of the conversations I have about my job search.  As soon as people find out that I don’t have debt, they go from asking why I’m not taking just any job available to me to why I’m not volunteering somewhere until I can get my dream job.  (Because even if I don’t have debt, I still don’t have a money tree in my backyard. I would like to have children and a house and a retirement account, people.)

So I just wanted to go over a few things you should not say to under or unemployed lawyers.

1) “Oh! So you’re not like, working as an attorney at all?”  No, I’m not, lady, and it bothers me way more than it bothers you, so why would you bring it up at a party?

2) “Have you heard of Idealist.org?” You mean the job search engine that’s gotten me half of my internships since I started college?  No, what is that?

3) “Have you thought about starting your own firm?” I can guarantee you that there is not a lawyer in this economy that hasn’t thought about starting their own firm.  If the one you are talking to hasn’t yet, don’t push the issue.  Also, maybe we shouldn’t encourage brand-spankin’-new attorneys to go into private practice and risk their licenses quite so much?

4) “So is your husband supporting you?” Seriously, why the eff do you care how my family puts food on the table and shoes on our feet?

5) “Is the market really that bad?” I graduated magna cum laude and am working as a law clerk.  Yes, it’s that bad.

6) “You would have made a great law clerk.  Why didn’t you do that?”  I dunno.  Why don’t you go ask the judges that didn’t hire me?

What have you heard?  Any other things I should avoid saying to people who are on the market?

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