I’ve written a fair amount about lawyers at the office in this column.
Right now a lot of lawyers aren’t at the office.
They’re at home, out of work.
Unemployment is tough on lawyers because they tend to be pleasers – they have to be, to earn the grades to make it into law school.
It’s all about pleasing others at a firm, too. You submit to the whims of a partner and work around the clock.
Like all pleasers, lawyers get used to looking outside themselves for affirmation of their worth.
When you’re unemployed, there’s no one to please but yourself. You’re alone with you – and for a pleaser, that can lead to a plunge in self-esteem.
That’s why, during unemployment, you have to be especially good to yourself.
You can’t afford to fall into a hole right now – you need to stay strong. That means reminding yourself of your achievements – your grades, your degree, your accomplishments at a firm.
If things get truly dire – remember the bottom line: you’re doing your best. That’s all anyone can ask.
This is no time to beat yourself up. Remember to be you – your best self – the person you really are. That’s more than just a lawyer – that’s a person. Spend time with friends, and people who like you. You’re worth something and you know it – and you need all the support you can get.
You also need some time off.
The worst thing about being unemployed, as one of my unemployed lawyer clients put it, is that “when you’re unemployed, you’re always working.”
Unemployment can turn into a 24-hour/day grind. Give yourself permission to relax sometimes. Activity is important – but so is taking time off to get your head together.
Job interviews, in my experience, can be particularly difficult for lawyers.
Pleasers never learn to sell themselves – you just do what you’re told and hope good things happen.
That doesn’t work in a job interview.
You might remember those mass interviews the law school placement departments arranged back in the boom years. They typically consisted of a handshake, a dutiful glance at a resume, and a pointless chat about nothing.
Those weren’t real job interviews. Those firms were hiring your resume. They just wanted to make sure you could dress yourself. The interviewers often seemed as clueless as the candidates.
It’s different now, during a recession. You have to sell yourself actively.
That can be tough for a lawyer.
Here are a few basic rules:
First, a job interview is a sales presentation. You are not relating to a friend, or a mentor or a parent or teacher – or even someone who particularly cares about you. You are selling to a customer.
People tend to regress under stress, and fall into unconscious patterns of behavior – like pleasing a parent-figure. But that’s not what a job interview is about.
An interview is not a confessional. This is not where you open up and share your truth.
If you are asked about your previous job, and you hated it, don’t say so. Never lie at an interview – but don’t spill your guts, either. No one wants to hire a complainer – even if your complaint is legitimate.
You have two simple messages to communicate: (1) You can do this job; and (2) You want this job.
That’s it. Never stray from the outline.
First message: You can do this job.
An employer narrows the field to the most competent applicants. He is hiring you to do something he doesn’t want to do himself.
He doesn’t want to teach you, or mentor you, or be bothered with you. He doesn’t particularly care about your career – that’s your job. He cares about his career. His worst fear is that you will screw something up and make him look bad.
You must assure him you can do this job – and won’t create hassles.
Second message: You want this job.
Of the pool of competent applicants, an employer will choose the one who wants it the most.
That’s more than the human instinct to give someone what he wants. He also knows you’ll work harder if you appreciate having the job. He doesn’t need attitude.
If you can look an interviewer in the eye and say it would be a privilege to work at his firm – do so.
Communicate your two messages – and get out of there.
Unemployment isn’t fun – but it might make you stronger. People grow under adverse conditions – it draws out your strengths.
Affirm your belief in yourself and get down to business – and you can nail that interview and get the job you want.
Confidence comes from within. It’s there, if you look for it.
[Editor’s note: this piece is part of a series of columns created by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.]
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