Ms. Entry Level Law (Assistant for the Prosecution) sagely advises that no entry level position is going to feel like your dream job, but you have to experience one before you can get to the other. She emphasizes exploring a wide arena within career areas that you think you may be interested in; and the power of personal initiative, drive and making the most of what you have.
ZD: Why law?
A: I chose law because it is closest to an intersection between my ideals, strengths and desires. Law allows me to engage my primary motivation to work - the instinct to affect positive change - in a stimulating and intellectual setting. Law keeps my love of strategy and language alive without asking that I sacrifice the opportunity to work toward a comfortable lifestyle. Law is an invitation to have personal influence in the world and to take responsibility as an expert for our society’s highest vision of itself.
ZD: Tell us about the “process” - your résumé, the interview.
A: To gain experience, I interned at various non-profit law firms and organizations during summer breaks from college. I knew that most for-profit firms only accept interns who are already in law school, and I was a desirable candidate for non-profit legal teams because I had previous experience in social justice work (during high school I worked with various Global Health NGOs both in the States and abroad). These summer legal internships were invaluable. Not only did they build my résumé, they showed me that I prefer tackling large problems with strategic thinking to the social work side of public interest law. They also confirmed that I wanted to remain in the States and focus on domestic issues. The interviews for these internships were designed to gauge the sincerity of my passion, the speed of my thinking and my communication skills. For example, they would ask me to explain a difficult situation I had previously faced and how I had handled it.
ZD: How did you land your job?
A: I found a listing for my current job in a database provided by my college that was curated to students interested in public service. I received a call about two weeks after submitting my résumé and took a train to my interview shortly thereafter. I met with both HR and the office chief and was officially interviewed by an administrator as well as a lawyer and a senior legal assistant. The questions they asked were fairly standard--an explanation of the progression of my résumé, etc. The question that stood out was if I was aware that transitioning from non-profit law to city government would mean giving up that one-on-one approach to public service (my previous internship involved working with the homeless and was very personalized). My answer was yes, and that the greater impact of working at a larger agency was worth the sacrifice.
ZD: How would you describe your transition from college to career?
A: Transitioning from college to work life has largely been a process of getting used to a new city. The routine of work, which is less free spirited than student life, is actually comforting while you adjust to a different world. Long hours are not an issue for me, so the other adjustment has been taking responsibility for my personal enjoyment, which requires more thoughtful time management than it did in college. There is no communal setting in which all your friends meet regularly, nor is there a set time when you're all free. So you have to plan ahead for social events, and remember in the moment what makes you feel good. For example, spending responsibly, reading instead of watching TV, staying informed and exercising everyday keeps me happy.
ZD: What was the biggest surprise in your new job?
A: The biggest surprise has been how quickly time passes once you start working.
ZD: Where you see yourself 5 years from now?
A: In my experience, trusting the path has been successful and that means not planning much farther beyond the next step. The next step for me is law school, so in five years I see myself holding a JD, perhaps practicing law or already working in government.
ZD: What do you do in your spare time?
A: Exercise! I didn't want to start my working life with bad habits so I resolved to break a sweat at least once a day. It makes me much less restless at my desk and enhances my mood. I've also taken an interest in my friends' creative and side projects; for example, I edit a friend's screenplay for fun. I'm also studying for the LSAT.
ZD: Two Tips (Do's and Don'ts)?
A: Don't get overwhelmed during recruiting. At least at my school, there was an expectation that everyone would be employed by winter break, but it's really only investment banks and consulting firms that do their hiring in the fall.
Do identify what makes you want to work, even if it's something vague like "doing good" or "staying intellectually engaged" or "building a company". Then think of a career goal that fulfills that instinct, look to role models to design the path and accept that some steps along the way might be necessary evils. No entry level position is going to feel like your dream job, but you have to experience one before you can get to the other.
ZD: What do you think shines in your résumé?
A: I think what shines on my résumé, generally speaking, is personal initiative. I've explored a wide arena--global health, journalism, communications, international law, non-profit law--but it's all tied together by my public service instinct. I've also had wonderful mentors and gotten by with few personal resources. It's all about drive and making the most of what you have.