Interview Preparation: Your Questions Matter, Too

This recent WSJ article, It Pays to Ask Smart Questions at a Job Interview by Dennis Nishi, rings true with my experience with lawyers and law students preparing for interviews.trivia 3

Many of the lawyers and students I’ve worked with have previously made their own questions an afterthought in their interview preparation.  In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to hear:  “I never know what to ask when the interviewer asks if I have any questions for him/her. What should I ask?  What are good questions?”

To me, disinterest in spending time researching and thinking about a potential employer to formulate questions beyond those which can be answered by its website almost guarantees that an interviewee won’t stand out from other candidates.  Fortunately, it’s usually not disinterest but rather a lack of understanding about the value of digging deeper and being more curious about the employer.

After it dawns on people how their questions are opportunities to distinguish themselves, we also talk about asking questions to elicit information to help shape their own answers.  And wouldn’t you like to have that insight sooner rather than later when the interviewer finally asks if you have any questions.  Better still, weaving your questions into the interview also makes it more conversational, thus more comfortable.  What a concept!  Try it.  I think you will like it.

Therefore, I couldn’t agree more:

“‘Don’t wait until the end of the interview to ask about the job and what the employer is looking for in a candidate…  If you ask them at the end of the interview, it’s too late. You already pitched yourself to the company without knowing what they want.’ Being more proactive with questions also allows you to weave them into the natural flow of the interview conversation.”

If you would like help preparing for interviews, including questions to ask, please contact me.

Time to “Repot” Your Career?

repottingThe end of a year is a perfect time to consider where you have been and where you want to go in your legal career.  For some experienced lawyers, it may even be time to “repot” yourself.

This January 2014 article from the Stanford Graduate School of Business revisits the idea of how changing your career trajectory every 10 years or so can lead to greater innovation, success and meaning in your work.  As Dean of Stanford GSB Ernie Arbuckle said about fifty years ago, “Repotting, that’s how you get new bloom . . . you should have a plan of accomplishment and when that is achieved you should be willing to start off again.” 

If you would like to explore what “repotting” in your career could look like, please contact me.

Legal Career Advancement: Business, Strategic & Financial Acumen May Be a Missing Ingredient

MH900030057MH900030058How well do you understand where your law firm, company, client or other organization is going, what its strategy is, what financial targets it has in place, and what your role as a lawyer and leader is or should be in moving the organization forward?  Consider whether you understand and regularly use the buzz words and phrases, the industry standards, trends and metrics, or even know what people mean when they talk about strategic alignment.

Leadership expert Susan Colantuono discusses in this Ted talk how a lack of advice on developing business, strategic and financial acumen as a skill set prevents many women leaders from rising above middle management.  In my opinion, regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, understanding the importance of this acumen for your career path and developing it would be time well spent.

What is the state of your business, strategic and financial acumen?  How might it be holding you back from greater leadership roles or other success in your legal career?  If it is, what will you do to develop it?  And who can advise and teach you how to develop this skill set?  Even greater still, how can you help this become an organic part of the cultivation of leaders within your law firm or company?

If you would like coaching on how to enhance your business, strategic and financial acumen, please contact me.

Career Development & the Art of Auto Mechanics

MH900310008Paul, the 20 year old technician who volunteered to shuttle me back from the dealership, was talking about how he fits in there. He credited being outgoing as the reason everyone seems to like him at the dealership, even as a fairly new employee. He wondered aloud how some seemingly less friendly types sell the most cars.

When I asked how he thought those salesmen did it, Paul said he had not seen them in action. I pressed and he was silent. As the light turned green, he suggested that instead of talking a lot, the salesmen might be studying the customers, trying to figure out what they need.

It took Paul just a few moments to come up with this theory. If he is even partially right, why do we lawyers keep proclaiming that we do not want to be like car salesmen? Maybe we should reframe our challenge and try to be like some of the most successful ones. Talk less, listen more.

I liked this kid. I talked less, listened more.

Paul has a niche all to himself in the service department – – electronics. He got into it for two reasons: he has always been interested in playing around with electronics and no one else in the service department wanted to do that work. I suspect he is developing a niche skill set that he can build on for years to come and use anywhere in the country.

In high school Paul thought he wanted to be a psychologist but realized he did not like to study. So he decided to go to an out-of-state technical institute. He may not like studying, but obviously he likes to learn. He picked a specific car family track and graduated in two years. He chose the track based on his personal background and what he knew of the need in the market.

Of multiple job offers, he accepted this one based on the dealership’s reputation and his sense of how employees are treated there. He has benefits, a nice car and funds to travel to see friends in college.   Unlike two friends at the institute who have held and lost several jobs elsewhere in less than a year, his niche and relationships in the dealership seem secure and full of potential.

As he pulled up in front of my house, I repressed an urge to thank Paul for starting his career exactly where I wish more lawyers and other people could be, in the middle of a Venn diagram. He is thriving in the intersection of three circles: his interests/passions, things at which he excels and a need or opportunity in the market.

Instead, I thanked him for the ride and wished him luck.  He is a terrific young man headed in the right direction.

If you would like to thrive more in your legal career, please contact me.

Career Building Buffet for Young Lawyers: 20 Tips

slideshare logo20 tips for new or young lawyers – – This is a slideshare of a breakfast talk I gave on Saturday to lawyers at the State Bar of Michigan’s annual Young Lawyers Section Summit.  It’s a mix of advice ranging from communicating with colleagues, clients and other people, to values, interviewing, productivity, business development and building on successes.

If you want to work on one of these areas, please contact me.

Breaking Through Barriers to Greater Success, part 1

MH900385401Insanity, fear, control, values and strengths.  When speaking to two lawyer groups recently, I touched on these key words as ideas to break through a few common career barriers.

First, “insanity”.  Einstein is attributed, probably inaccurately, as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  What do you do repeatedly and expect a different result?  Maybe you promise yourself daily that today is the day you will leave the office at 5:30 or that tomorrow you will get up 45 minutes early to work out.  Perhaps you continue to attend time consuming meetings for a business group from which you’ve never received a business referral.  Yet the hope of getting more clients is the sole reason you belong to the organization.  How many random acts of lunch do you have without any preparation and a clear understanding of how the person fits into your strategic business development plan?  How many times a month do you describe your legal services without tailoring your words to your listener or to attract more ideal clients and referral sources?    Yes, business development is built on relationships and they take time to develop.  It takes time to become known, liked and trusted as a lawyer.  But if you feel like you are banging your head against a wall, stop!  Evaluate the situation and consider whether you should continue on or pursue other courses of action.

Ask yourself this question:  “What can I give myself permission to stop doing?”

Stuck in Neutral? 5 tips for Faster Career Success

Regardless of whether you are an in-house lawyer, in private practice or elsewhere, if you have at least a few years of experience under your belt, focus on the following tips in 2014 to take your career to the next level.

Get a Sponsor.  Mentors talk with you; sponsors talk about you.  Mentoring prepares you to move up; sponsorship makes it happen.  Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is an influential person who goes to bat for you, pounds on the table and uses his or her political capital to open doors to opportunities.

Maintain a Master Resume.  A master resume is solely a resource.  Create one with details on all of your jobs, accomplishments, skills, experiences, etc.  Add to it twice a year.  This reference document makes drafting easier when it is time to write a tailored resume.  You should use it to prepare answers with examples for interviews and to assess your career path, direction and speed and make adjustments.

Run Highly Effective Meetings.  Distribute the agenda in advance.  Start on time, end on time.  Do not stop to catch up the late arrivals.  At the end of the meeting, everyone should know who is going to do what by when.  Distribute the minutes or summary soon after the meeting.

Develop & Deepen Your Expertise.  Your colleagues and/or clients are more likely to seek your advice and services if they know and trust your expert knowledge.  Your expertise can keep you ahead of the competition and on the leading edge of your practice area.

Raise Your Visibility.  Being an experienced and excellent lawyer is no longer enough to get you what you want in your career.  Opportunity won’t come knocking if the right people don’t know you or what you can do.  Create, volunteer or ask for projects or assignments that get you, your name and your talents in front of whoever is in your target market.

If you would like coaching on any of these suggestions in the new year, please contact me.

Holiday Networking Tip for New Lawyers & Law Students

thPSQYKOC8New lawyers and law students, do you freeze in your tracks at the thought of going alone to a bar association or other holiday event full of strangers? Attending a social event where you know no one is hard for most people.  In my highly unscientific opinion, based in part on my own personal experience, it is even hard for extroverts.

This holiday season consider an “ask” like the following which a law student sent me recently.

“Hi Elizabeth.  I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed meeting and working with you for our presentation. I was hoping that in the future, I could go to a [Bar] event with you since I do not know that many people.  I can’t go to the [. . . ] because I have class, but hopefully sometime after that. * * * ”

Of course my answer was yes, happily, let me know when you are interested in one.

Like this student, you will sound comfortable and confident, even if you’re not, if you:      (1) ask someone who knows you through more than a five minute conversation (people do business with people they know, like and trust);  (2) ask someone who displays friendly or helpful tendencies; and  (3) ask to do something you know the other person does or will be doing anyway.

Good luck and let me know if you try this tip.

If you would like help developing or rekindling relationships for your job search or book of business, please contact me.

Mentors v Sponsors (Part II)

Since sponsorship sounds like a miraculous career enhancement tool, there must be a catch.  Anecdotally the catch for many lawyers seems to be the necessity that they proactively and strategically identify one or more sponsors and intentionally develop a relationship.  To many lawyers this sounds calculating, perhaps even manipulative, certainly not natural.

For example, many lawyers have had colleagues who from day one identified lawyers with their name in lights, or those who were soon to be, and went to lunch only with them.  They were thought of as gunners or worse and disliked for it.  Yet look at their subsequent career track and consider the role of sponsors in it.  Many experienced lawyers know sponsored lawyers who were elected partners in stark contrast to their unsponsored peers with equal or better skills and statistics.  Similarly, they have seen the protection sponsors provide from missteps and layoffs.

So take Hewlett’s advice as well as pages from those “gunners’” playbooks and rewrite them for your style of play.

  • First, identify what you would like a sponsor or sponsors to help you get.
  • Second, scan the horizon for potential sponsors.  Look for those with real influence and, if possible, sponsor tendencies.  Look beyond your boss, mentor and immediate supervisors.  As Hewlett says, choose efficacy over affinity.
  • Third, get in front of would be sponsors.  Ask a supervisor for an assignment in the sponsor’s area.  Request a meeting with the target sponsor for career advice.  Attend networking events and other gatherings where you can approach the person and introduce yourself.
  • Fourth, offer to co-author an article, collaborate on a project of interest to the person or share an idea or feedback on something important to him or her.  When possible, let the person see you in action.   As you get to know the person, share your goals appropriately.  You may even propose a quid pro quo.
  • Fifth, minimize your risk by developing more than one sponsor at work and developing a sponsor relationship outside of work as well.
  • Sixth, consistently deliver outstanding performance and make your sponsors look good.  Be relentlessly loyal.
  • Last, be strategic and patient.  Like all relationships, sponsorships take time and trust.

For those of you who do not need or desire a sponsor, turn the concept upside down to consider who you could sponsor and how being a sponsor might benefit you.

Finally, regardless of where you are in your career, you might have clout you can wield in some circle to benefit someone else.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start building a cadre of protégés for yourself?

If you would like help identifying sponsors and developing sponsor relationships, please contact me.

Mentors v Sponsors: Do You Need Advice or Action? (Part I)

875654-lunch-meetingWhen asked for a show of hands by those who had sponsors, about 20 of 200 lawyers present raised their hands.  When asked how many of those sponsors were powerful people who could help get them promotions, raises or high visibility assignments, most of the hands went down.  I conducted this exercise at the annual mountaintop retreat last weekend of the Women Lawyers of Utah to emphasize the difference between sponsors and mentors and how landing sponsors, not just mentors, can more quickly advance your career.

Compare the advice “Jodie” received from a few close lawyer friends to “stop apologizing so much” to the introduction and subsequent recommendation a senior lawyer gave to another senior lawyer – “You should hire Jodie.  She’s perfect for this job.”   He did.   Mentoring prepares people to move up.  Sponsorship makes it happen.

Although sponsorship is not a new concept, it is getting a lot of attention lately, particularly thanks to economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s latest book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor.   Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.  Hewlett uses a two year study of over 12,000 professionals for her proposition that powerfully positioned champions, unlike mentors, make measurable differences in career progress.

As Hewlett writes, mentors talk with you at lunch.  They act as a sounding board, offering advice, support and guidance, and they expect very little in return. An informed mentor knows the lay of the land in the firm or office, can help you understand the unwritten rules and navigate the corporate ladder.

Sponsors, on the other hand, talk about you at lunch.  They are influential champions who advocate on their protégés’ behalf, connecting them to important players and assignments.  And by doing so, they make themselves look good.  These are mutually beneficial arrangements where the sponsor’s reputation vouches for the protégé’s legitimacy and abilities, and the protégé’s loyalty and stellar performance enhance the sponsor’s position.   Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is someone who goes to bat for you, pounds on the table and uses his or her political capital to open doors to opportunities.  And because a sponsor is someone who puts their reputation on the line for you, you have to earn the relationship rather than have one appear in the doorway of your office.

Next time, Part II, putting together your sponsor playbook page.



Take Charge of Your Practice and Career!