Bill Wilson spent over 20 years in legal departments at corporations large and small, from high tech to brick and mortar, and is writing about various topics while trying to find that next great career opportunity.
This very simple question should be the start of your job search. The answers hold the key to building your resume, where to search, and who can help you. But it’s deceptively simple, in that there are many, many layers to it. And answering it requires a healthy doses of honesty – with yourself. Fortunately, as a lawyer, you should be very good at the process, but it’s always harder with yourself. So don’t try to do it all alone.
On one level, you need to state the facts: I have done this kind of law in the past, I’ve worked here. But you need to know much, much more about yourself. Organizations have personalities too, and chemistry is probably the key factor in hiring: the hiring powers ask “do we want to work with this person?” “What will they add to our organization?” And they are looking at fit, and so should you. Some want a particular kind of person; others look for a mix.
I will confess that of my 20-plus years of regular full-time employment in-house, only 14 of those years was I working where I should have been. I am not a very political person, but I worked five years at a company where politics was played out with live ammunition. I value integrity above many other factors, but went to work somewhere that did not share that value with me.
Looking back, I probably realized those things in both cases by the time the offer was made, if I had been more rigorous about the process of who I was, and acted consistent with them. Sure enough, I was more successful when I worked where my personality and the organization’s were in sync.
Take some time with some clean sheets of paper to do some thinking. Are you a workaholic, or is balance important? Is money key, or other things? Type A or laid back? Am I a loner or a team player? When didn’t it feel like you were working? When did you feel valued? What could you have done without? Was it people (who change frequently) or was it the institution (that usually don’t) that was the source of your issues or the reason it was great? What got you excited: was it the products, was it the chance to work with lots of other smart people, or was it that they assumed you knew what you were doing and let you do it? Lots of rules or no rules? Many questions.
A word of advice: Get feedback. Take out old performance reviews and look for the grains of truth. Ask mentors, past supervisors – and listen. Don’t forget your spouse.
Armed with these answers, you will write a better resume that paints a more vibrant picture of who you are; narrow your search to organizations that are consistent with you; and probably be happier with, and more successful in, the job you get.