In her new book Job Quest for Lawyers: The Essential Guide to Finding and Landing the Job You Want, the author provides step-by-step guidance on effective networking, along with examples of the real-world dos and don’ts of how to conduct a productive job search. Here’s a special excerpt on “How to Prepare for Your Quest.”
Would you go on a trip to Europe, Africa or without packing your bag? Would you go hiking without boots and a map or GPS system to guide you? Would you set off on a sailboat without knowing how to work the sails? Preparation for a journey can make all the difference in the success of the venture.
When preparing to launch a quest for the job you want, it is likewise critical to perform certain steps that will provide you with important information and knowledge about yourself to guide you, and to help you guide your contacts, in your search for the right job. Step one in the process involves figuring out your career “sweet spot”—these following two exercises will help you do exactly that.
The AILS Test
How do you know whether you will be happy in a particular job? What four elements can help you to predict your job satisfaction?
These elements create the acronym AILS. They can help you figure out what AILS you. If you have these four elements in your job, it is highly likely that you will enjoy your career and be relatively happy going to work. If your current job is not satisfying, or if sometime in the future you feel dissatisfied with your job or career, this exercise will help identify the source of your dissatisfaction.
Aptitude. How well do you understand the work you need to do for the job? If the work is easy for you, generally speaking, and you understand what you need to learn and learn it quickly, you probably have an aptitude for this work. How do you know if you have an aptitude? Where others might struggle for comprehension, you already get it, or learn it quickly. When you studied this subject in school, you did well with reasonable effort. Colleagues, professors or supervisors tell you that you are a quick study. If you do not know what your aptitudes are, there are various assessments and testing services that can help you identify them.
Interests. Interests and aptitudes are not the same. You can be very interested in a subject but lack the aptitude. You can have an aptitude but lack interest in the subject. Many lawyers who do not enjoy the practice of law report a lack of interest in legal or law-related subject matter. Given a wide array of books or magazines to read, they would not choose to read about matters related to the law. If you lack interest in the work you do, the content of your daily work is likely to be boring for you. Ultimately that lack of interest makes it hard to continue to do an outstanding job. If you do not like thinking about legal issues and you are a lawyer, that is a serious career issue.
Another issue that arises around the concept of interest has to do with a strong interest or passion for a career or job that is not reasonably achievable. For example, you would love to be a film critic or write the next great thriller series, but you are a lawyer, you have a young family, and you want to keep making six figures. You should try to build in elements of the kind of work you love as a hobby or do some of what you love during your leisure time. You might be able to write a blog or write a column for a legal magazine. If you have unmet strong interests in helping others, you might try to engage in community service, volunteer work or other activities that satisfy that need to some extent. Eventually, you may be able to transition your career in a direction that includes more of your passions or strong interests depending on what they are and your particular situation.
Lifestyle. What kind of lifestyle do you need to be satisfied? Maybe your highest priority is to have a balance between your work and your home life. Maybe you need to be sure you can leave your stresses and worries at work and not take them home with you. Perhaps you believe you need to make six figures to feel secure. Perhaps you need to make enough money to support a growing family and allow your spouse to be home with the children. These and other elements influence your lifestyle satisfaction level.
Self-actualization. What kind of person do you want to be? The culture of your workplace has an impact on you. How you respond to the people you interact with at work, your clients, the work you do, the pace of your work and your colleagues’ attitudes all interact with your unique personality to shape the person you are and are becoming. If you work in a pressure-cooker environment that makes you feel irritable and you bring that attitude home with you, your workplace environment may be having a negative impact on your life outside of work. In other words, your behavior is being shaped in a way that is likely to create a negative response in people around you both outside of work and in the workplace. You might attempt to combat it by trying to ignore what is happening at work. But it is not easy for most people to change their natural responses to their work environments. The same intense workplace culture that makes you crazy could be a great environment for someone who thrives on being in a hectic or fast-paced setting. That person might enjoy the beehive- of-activity aspect of the workplace and not experience it as overly stressful. Every person’s path to self-actualization is unique.
Ask yourself: How is the workplace culture affecting you? Do you like the person you are and are becoming? Or do you go through your day feeling drained, bored, angry, annoyed or anxious? Are you bringing your stresses home with you? Are you spending so much time by yourself in front of your computer doing research that you are feeling disconnected and depressed? Do you need a more social, team-oriented workplace? If you are required to work fast under pressure, are you finding that to be a challenge that adds to your sharpness or are you feeling overwhelmed? If you have to be decisive to excel on the job, is that making you tougher or are you becoming bitter? Does the work you do or your workplace culture require that you compromise your ethics or honesty?
The work we choose to do and the place we choose to work have the power to shape our personalities. You want to be sure you like the result you are getting. If you don’t, you may need to find a different environment or, in some cases, a different career. What works well for one person does not always work well for another, so solutions vary: changing partners or practice groups, moving to a new law firm, going in-house or into government might do the trick. Sometimes more radical steps need to be taken, such as changing your career altogether.
The Essential Elements for Your Career
Knowledge Informs Luck: Be Knowledgeable.
What do you need to be successful in your work life? For a job to be satisfying on a long-term basis, you want to be sure the workplace satisfies your personal needs. If you are unhappy with your job, you are more likely to leave or be fired. This is not good for your career or your self-esteem.
You want to have a job that plays to your strengths as a person as well as contributes to your professional skills. If you know what you are looking for, you can vet the workplace for your needs.
The Essential Elements exercise helps you to identify those elements you need in your career and your work life to be satisfied and those irritants to avoid because you are allergic to them. This exercise is very useful to help you figure out what you need in a job, and to identify the sweet spot for your career. It helps you create your unique template for a satisfying work life and find the matches for that in the field of potential workplaces. Start with a work history. The importance of the work history for purposes of this exercise: Identifying what you liked and disliked about each job is the key to spotting trends that will affect your choice of future workplaces.
To do your work history, write down every job you have had, paid or unpaid, including volunteer work. Then create a plus column and a minus column for each job and list everything you liked or disliked about each position. Include college and law school as well.
When you have finished this list, look at it carefully and try to discern key trends. You can ask friends and family to help you with this endeavor if you need assistance to spot the trends. A trend might be that you always seem to like a job if you like the people with whom you are working. Or you usually hate jobs when you have to work under stress or feel bored. Everyone has a unique profile that emerges from this exercise, but the trends often stand out if you look for them. These trends usually reveal consistent and powerful needs that you have to meet to have a satisfying work life. From these trends you can create two lists: one is a list of your “Essential Elements” and the other is your “Irritants to Avoid.”
Do the work history, spot the trends, and then write them down. The trends become your Essential Elements list. These elements are the ones you want to have in your work life to be satisfied. Do you need to have the role of the problem solver or the expert or the advisor? Now, write down the roles you want to have as part of your work life on your list of Essential Elements. Do you require an uptick on the learning curve to stay engaged? Put mental variety on the list. Do you need stability and security? Put stability/security on the list.
Next, create a second list of all the elements you can find from your work history that make you annoyed, irritated, angry, or make you feel some other negative experience that you would like to avoid. Does a micromanaging boss or lack of control over your hours make you very upset? What pushes your buttons? Try to list only those irritants that make you feel truly allergic. These go on your Irritants to Avoid list.
After you have your two lists, create a scale next to each element. The scale should range from 1 to 10.
Next, give every element you have identified a grade on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 the most positive rating. Each element gets a separate rating. You are rating how much you want to have this element in your work life. If you give something on your list a 9 or 10, that means you really should not take a job if it does not provide that element. If you give an element only a 4 or lower, you should consider taking it off of your list because it is not essential enough to make a difference in your choice of a particular job.
When it comes to grading the list of elements you want to avoid, you are measuring how much you hate that element. If you give something a 10, you would not want to take a job that would require that you put up with that element in your daily work life. For example, if you do not work well under pressure and you hate pressure so much you give it a rating of 10, then you should try to avoid jobs that require that you deal with intense pressure on a daily basis. If, however, you dislike pressure but you give it a 6, that would indicate you could manage some pressure even if you do not like it. You would look for jobs where you only have to cope with moderate pressure on a daily basis.
Use the Lists as Your Template.
Once you have these two lists of elements reflecting what you need to have and to avoid in your work life and you have graded each element, you have a template of your work life requirements. You can use this template to measure or vet a potential job for your unique needs. As you learn more about a workplace over the course of your quest, you will be able to make fairly accurate guesses about how well that particular workplace is likely to match your needs. The template also helps guide you during your quest in asking questions that will give you the information you need to assess whether the job you are considering will be a good match for you. For example, if a micromanaging boss is on your list of irritants, you want to discreetly ask questions as you network with people loosely affiliated with a given workplace to learn how the workplace is managed. Discovering a micromanager should be a factor in your decision to work there or to keep looking for a workplace that might be a better fit for you.
The template you create can change over time, so it is a good idea to update your template over the course of your career. A change in priorities can occur in your life that will affect the essential elements or the irritants you feel most strongly. For example, if you have a baby and feel strongly that you want to have predictable time to be with your child, the need for a balance between work and home life might suddenly pop to a 10 on your essentials list. The irritant of being unable to control your hours might jump to a 10. This change in priority may affect your job satisfaction and your need to make a career change.
Once you create your template, you can apply it to your current job to learn what is satisfying and not satisfying for you when it comes to your present work life. You are essentially vetting your workplace for your needs. For example, if you currently have a job that does not allow you a chance to have variety and you assign a 9 to that element but you are getting a 2 from the current job, then the job is flunking when it comes to that important need. You can get along for a while with a serious mismatch such as that, but over time it will take its toll. If you are missing out on many of your deeply felt needs, you may want to launch a job quest to find a job that is a better fit for you.
Job Quest for Lawyers: The Essential Guide to Finding and Landing the Job You Want by Sheila Nielsen is available from the ABA Bookstore. Visit the store at www.ababooks.org for details.