Times are tough. What can you do now to keep your career in gear?
Whatever you do, don’t lose focus. “You might have to take a few career sidesteps during economic downturns—including working in positions that do not have legal titles—but do not let that shake your confidence,” said Lynn Howell, the founding chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Career Forums for the ABA Section of Business Law (now the Career and Practice Development Committee). “Believe in yourself enough to stick to your career dreams.”
Put stronger emphasis on networking. “In this economy, people extend the hand to those they have a tie to,” explained Mercedes Pino, Director of Career Services at St. Thomas University School of Law in Miami Gardens, Florida. “There are recent grads and attorneys that have been practicing for years vying for the same two or three slots. Often the position isn’t even posted!”
Remind yourself of what anchors your career. “Keep up your contacts, through good times and bad, and let the bar associations be your base,” articulated Howell, who now serves as a corporate attorney for Crown Castle in Houston. “Your firm and office colleagues will change over the years, but your bar association friends and colleagues will be a steady source of mentoring, guidance, and information throughout the course of your career.”
Be a part of others’ career solutions, too. Kathy Morris, the Chief Training and Development Officer of Sidley Austin LLP, reminds those who are employed to assist others in their networking as often as possible. “It’s challenging to be in transition,” Morris noted, “so the more we take people’s calls, respond to their e-mails, and lend a hand by suggesting others they might contact, the more we give back to the profession and build enduring goodwill in the process.”
Recognize that flexibility is critical. “During these times, you have to think outside the box in terms of geographic location and practice area,” Pino affirmed.
Don’t write off public service/pro bono work. “For those who can afford to do so, working or volunteering for a not-for-profit can be a great way to get experience when no one is hiring,” suggested Michael Sullivan, principal at Goldberg Kohn in Chicago.
Remember to frame your abilities in terms an employer can appreciate. “Many firms are struggling right now and facing problems they have never faced before,” said Sullivan. “Try to find a way to show them that you can solve or alleviate a problem for them and you are one foot in the door.”
Think long-term. Howell summarized, “Remember, your career is a marathon, not a sprint.”