Tag Archives: unemployed

Thankful.

Last week was the big fancy dinner that my job throws.  Unlike a lot of nonprofit functions, this one is usually not boring, and doesn’t involve a lot of big financial requests.  And it made me feel very inspired, but mostly it made me feel lucky and thankful.

You guys, I work for the best people in the world.  I truly and genuinely believe this.  I work for people that care about me as a person, about me as a lawyer, and about women in general.  I think this is awesome.  Our organization does good work, and I feel like I have all of the support in the world from my boss.

I point out a lot that I work regular hours.  And I brag about this not because it means I get home at 5pm, but because I truly believe that my office’s fierce protection of regular hours is more about them trying to improve work-life balance for Americans and trying to prevent staff burnout.  I don’t make a lot of money, but my office has my back.  Additionally, my company creates part-time positions designed to help stay-at-home parents re-enter the workforce, and positions like mine allow the idea of having children and a fulfilling career seem possible, and I think that is really important for organizations that are committed to improving the lives and status of women.

This year, it’s pretty easy to say what I’m thankful for, because it’s my job.  It’s my job that reminds me continually why I went to law school.  It’s my job that gave me a chance as a lawyer, that values me as a professional, and it’s my job that allows me to continue to serve person after person who is in desperate need.  It’s my job that makes me feel fulfilled, which has made me happier than I knew I could be.

Plus I get to walk to work.

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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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Retirement and Saving

I finally sat down and talked to my financial adviser yesterday (fancy speak for my best friend from high school who is a CFA), and he did not react well to the news that I’m not saving for retirement.  The conversation ended with me opening a Roth IRA at Fidelity, and a couple people asked me questions about it on Twitter, so I thought I’d explain my process a little bit.

Here’s the tricky thing about all financial guides directed to people in their twenties.  They tell you how to eliminate the credit card debt you inevitably piled up in college buying big macs and they teach you to start saving money towards a house.  They tell you to contribute whatever is left to your retirement account, preferably a 401(k) your employer matches.  (I have read this post on numerous personal finance blogs, but I’m open to reading other posts that say different things.)

I grew up in a relatively affluent area, and as such, I know a fair number of people in their twenties who are a) debt free and b) living comfortably.  Some of them have the luxury of living in a house their parent’s own, rent-free, some of them received an inheritance or a significant amount of money as a graduation present, some of them have simply been working since they were 16 and have saved a significant amount of money.  All of this is to say, there is very little advice for a person who is not currently in debt, and who either has a house, or has enough money to a house without needing to save for one, or has no interest in having a house.

There is a conception that has been promulgated recently among some of my friends that rich kids know what they are doing when it comes to money.  The truth is they don’t, because they’ve never really had to worry about it.  So let’s start with the very best advice I’ve received all year: retirement savings.

From what my high school friend tells me, there are basically three retirement options – an IRA, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k).  The difference between a Roth IRA and an IRA is that an IRA is taxed when you take the money out and a Roth IRA is that it is taxed when you put the money in.  So if you are in a lower tax bracket now than you plan to be when you retire, a Roth IRA is the way to go.  (This is how it was explained to me.  Please please please do your own research.  I am not giving you financial advice.)

A Roth IRA has income limits, which I am currently well below.  So a Roth IRA seemed like a no-brainer – so there are two remaining questions: where, and how much money do you put in?

There are a number of investment companies out there that do retirement accounts.  I went with Fidelity because my friend recommended it, based on the fact that I could invest with the S&P for free (I have zero understanding of what this actually means, expect a post on investment shortly once I’ve learned more about it).  I decided to go with Fidelity for the same reason that my parents both got iPhones.  It’s much easier to help somebody with a problem when you understand it, so since my friend invests with Fidelity, I can go to him for help in the future and he will understand it better than if I went with Vanguard (my second choice, as it’s where my husband’s accounts are.)

The second question – how much money do you put in?  My friend’s advice was that once I/we have a six-month emergency fund in savings, I should be maxing out my retirement funds.  You can put in $5,000 a year.  The minimum for Fidelity is $2,500.  The minimum for other companies is supposedly lower (one tweep said her minimum was $1,500 per year.)  The thing about retirement funds is it is incredibly hard to play catchup if say, you don’t start saving for retirement until you are 30 (this was the lecture I got today), but if you start saving now, even if it’s not very much, it will give you a boost for the future.  As a person who does not make much money currently, I know that I cannot count on having a large amount of social security earnings (if I can count on any), so saving for my future makes me feel better about it.

In case you are wondering whether you really need to save for your retirement, nursing homes cost about $7,000 a month.  Does anyone else have any tips or thoughts on investing and retirement funds?

 

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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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Cleared out

Yesterday, I went to my old office for The Last Time.  I turned in my keys.  I will be back, I’m sure, but at the same time, I’m not sorry to go.  I’ve been split between my volunteer work and my job for awhile now, and it will feel very good to really focus on my job and my job search for gainful, full-time, grownup employment.

There is something about clearing out of a job that is exhausting.  You have to go through countless clients, assess their cases, scan everything, file everything, shred anything unnecessary, and make sure that there are adequate notes in case you ever get sued.  Some clients are bound to fall through the cracks – the notes won’t be as thorough as they could be, a client who never called back to schedule their final appointment must be contacted, sometimes mistakes are found and must be corrected.

But nonetheless, I have turned in the files I was carting around in the trunk of my car, I have cleared out my desk, and I feel good.  I stayed at my old job longer than necessary, considering I stopped receiving a paycheck back in May, but I have easily fulfilled my pro bono hours for the year, I’ve gained a lot of really valuable experience, and most importantly, I’ve helped people who would otherwise not have gotten help.

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“Where will that be?”

Today, in talking to my old boss and telling him that I will be done volunteering with the organization the first week of August, I said that I would be looking to move to a full time job once I come back from vacation in August.

To which he said, “where will that be?”

As if I had any clue, or had gotten some kind of offer.  As if it was his business where I was applying.  Which I can see that he thinks that it is, but I don’t tell people where I apply, or where I want to work.  It’s my life, and I’m through discussing my job search with people, even the people who will be acting as my references. I don’t need judgment, I don’t need advice, I don’t even need encouragement. The only person who gets to care where I work is my husband, and that is within the reasonable limits.

So how do I answer this question?  Is a quick, “I’m done discussing my job search” too harsh? I think so.  I hemmed and hawed and said I was looking.  It’s a perfectly innocent question, but I’m touchy, and I’d like to nip the conversation in the bud rather than getting into anything too involved.

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Fundraising

I have some really bitter moments, and I’ll admit that one of them came right around when I lost my funding, and a number of friends were undertaking incredibly intense physical challenges – training for marathons, triathlons, and cross-country bike rides.  With these friends came the inevitable requests to donate to their causes.  Which, for certain organizations, also includes donating to their airfare and hotel stays – which to me, sounds like I’m being asked to fund their vacation in the name of cancer research.  I know this isn’t true, but remember, this was a low point for me.

So I very nearly sat down and wrote out an extremely pathetic request for donations to support my job, which would have read something like this:

“If you donate to me, I will not run a marathon or put myself through some kind of powerful physical challenge.  I will instead get up in the morning, put on a suit, and go to work.  Where I will work very hard, where I will see up to 7 clients a day, all low-income, inner city seniors, many of whom have had very hard lives and deserve a break, like free legal services and knowing that their assets will help support their children and grandchildren, freedom from creditors and debt collectors, and assistance navigating the legal and financial world.”

It strikes me as interesting that nobody has come up with a non-profit version of Kickstarter, in which the current class of over-educated and under-employed people solicits people they know directly for help with their salaries.  I think it could be called Grantstarter (although there seems to be already an organization with this name).  This might seem like a terrible idea, but I hear a lot of, “I wish there was something I could do to help you.”  Which I sometimes wish I could respond to with, “if you donate $10 to my Grant on Grantstarter, it will help.”  Not everybody can help me find a job.  Not everybody can give me a lot of money.  But it would give people like my parents an avenue to donate to my job, without just slipping me money whenever I see them, and they would know that the money went directly to my salary.

So the questions are: 1) does this service already exist? and 2) does this sound like a good idea? Would you donate to my Grantstarter page?

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Working for Free

Although I have a new job, I’m continuing at my former job for one to two days a week.  This is because I really like what I do there, and I like my clients, and my new job doesn’t actually technically let me “practice” law.

Here is the problem with working for free.  And I find that this is true of pretty much any place where I have worked for free.  You get taken advantage of.  I’m not sure whether this is because the type of people who work for free are generally nice people who want to help out, or if employers really think, “lets get whatever we can while she’s here”.  But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been seeing more clients, when I was supposed to be seeing less, and getting roped into more cases.

For some, being taken advantage of is par for the course, part of paying your dues as a young attorney.  But most of those people get paid for the work that they are doing, they are just being asked to do more.  And I’m not talking about going above and beyond, I’m talking about being asked to do things that are outside of your job description.

Lately, in addition to being taken advantage of, I have been feeling a bit…abandoned and ignored.  I think I established that I’m a bit needy.  Mostly, I need supervision.  I want to run all of the wills I draft past my boss, because two heads are better than one, he’s been doing this for longer, and I miss stuff.  Sometimes I don’t think of things that should go in, or I forget to take something out.  I can only catch so much on my own, or when I review them with clients.

Part of the reason for the abandonment is totally legitimate – we are in the middle of a huge case, that is incredibly intense and takes up most of my boss’ time.  So he was out all day today on discovery while I ran around the office like a chicken with my head cut off trying to draft a “quick” special needs trust (they do not exist.)  Nonetheless, part of the reason is because he can leave me to my own devices, and I’ll keep showing up and doing good work, since so far, I haven’t given him any reason to doubt that.  Last week, I made a pretty big mistake though, and unfortunately but fortunately, that has finally gotten me back on his radar, with promises to sit down and go over my open matters.  So hopefully that will happen so I can feel like I’m on solid ground.

So I need some lessons in getting what I want, without making a huge mistake to get it.  Any tips on how to approach this without rocking the boat so much that it falls over?  I would like to preserve a good relationship with the office and my boss, because I do genuinely like it and them.  I also want to keep working there, because every day that I work as a lawyer is another day closer to the “3-5 years experience” that most of my dream jobs require.

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Fashion Cents: Patent Leather Confidence

So a bunch of us were chatting on Twitter about how we don’t really know how to dress ourselves and we want to dress like adults who have Serious Jobs but not be boring or frumpy or make ourselves seem younger because we are not confident in how we dress.  And I was thinking about how over the past year, what with the unemployment and all of that, I haven’t bought a whole lot of stuff.  What I have bought is stuff that I know that I need, that is high quality (save for a few tide-me-over cheap items), and that I wear all the time.  But more importantly, I bought stuff that makes me feel good.  Not in a bad-retail-therapy kind of way, but in a, “I am excited to get dressed in the morning and go to work” kind of way.

May favorite of my new wardrobe additions is one that has been in the works for awhile.  In my first year of law school, I bought a pair of green Nine West flats which are super cute and I wear with my brown suit and green shell.  Or black suit and green shell.  I love them and they jazz up an outfit.  So at the time, I decided I would get more colorful/fun flats.  I bought a pair of zebra striped ones that are Dr. Scholls but they hurt my feet so badly I can’t wear them to work.  So when we were last at my in-laws and I hit the Ecco outlet, I had my eye on a pewter pair I knew I could wear to work.  Instead, I came home with these (which, since it’s the outlet, only set me back $40):

I love them.  They make me feel sassy and stylish, but the buckle says, “I’m still a lawyer.”  I love wearing them – although I still don’t know what to wear them with, besides black suits with white shirts.  Or gray suits with white shirts.  Suggestions welcome.

I had been wanting a pair of red shoes for awhile now, and so when I saw these, and the price was good (especially good for Ecco) and I knew I would like them because I like my other Eccos, I went for it.  They have breathed new life into some of the pieces in my wardrobe I was tired of, like my constant supply of black dress pants and white shirts.

A few other acquisitions have been a new gray plaid suit, which is a variation from my other suits, dress pants, and a few other pieces, like tank tops to wear with my skinny jeans.  I find that unemployment has been a bit of a blessing in disguise in a lot of ways, but a big one is that I have had time to sit back and reflect on what things I want to add to my wardrobe, I have to consider what I want to pay for those pieces, and I have to be sure before purchasing them that I will get enough use out of them.  I’m also much more likely to invest in a high-quality item now than I used to be.  I don’t want to have to shop for new work clothes in a year when everything is threadbare.

I’m still a long way from having a sense of “style”.  I know what I like – but I’m not quite sure how to put everything together and wear it to work.  I also don’t feel like I can pull certain things off – like I want a white summer suit jacket, but I’m not sure how to wear it.  (I get that one arm goes through one sleeve, etc.) I don’t know how to wear certain shapes and things like that.  So I still dress like my career center told me to for interviews for anything serious – interviews, court, etc.  In between, I work as I go.  How does everybody else go about developing their personal style?  Anyone else sort of in the dark going, “hmmm….this works….I think…”

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