Archive for June, 2010

Giving A Good Presentation

I’ve been giving a lot of presentations recently.  A few weeks ago, I posted here on my website about my presentation at Latino Legacy Weekend, and I even wrote a post about my preparation beforehand. Just this weekend, I sat on a panel and discussed leadership and entrepreneurship.  A week or two before that, I presented as part of a group at a networking conference in New York City. And in addition to all of this, I’ve had a couple of  small presentations for work, and have another one coming up soon for class. And through all of these presentations, I’ve come to learn a couple of things.

For one, I learned that presentations are difficult, even for those who may have the gift of gab.  I’ve definitely had my share of mistakes in my presentations. That’s because it’s easy to try to cover too much. It’s common to find yourself rushed at the end. And when you start to scramble, it’s easy not  to leave everyone with a memorable message.

As a result of both my successes and failures presenting, I thought I’d write up a few lines on the basic things I aim to do in order to make good presentations:

1. Narrow down the topic. Before you start, you should really understand why you are giving the presentation. That means knowing what you promised to deliver to the audience and also what your audience is expecting to hear. And when you have a choice, you should always err on the narrow side, because time always goes by faster than you think.

2. Use a headline-style opener. At the onset, you have to set the tone for the presentation by engaging your audience. One good tactic is a good opening line and opening story. It could be an anecdote or a personal story. It could also be a joke. Just as long as it grabs the audience’s attention, while also reinforcing the topic.

3. Narrow down the presentation. Just like the topic, many people also invest to many ideas in their presentations. And as such, sometimes they can’t get through the whole thing. But even if they do finish the whole thing, many times they end up skipping parts just to finish, the presentation gets too rushed and void of emotion, and the audience gets confused because they are overloaded with too much information. So it often makes sense to take out as much as possible, and anything that’s not critical.

4. Involve the audience. When it makes sense, try to involve the audience. Ask them questions, get them to raise their hands, and make them laugh. Involving the audience is a quick and easy way to get them engaged.

5. Speak slowly. Good presenters also tend to speak slowly. Speaking quickly is a sure fire way to leave your audience behind and confuse them. It also increases the odds that you will slip up over your words or get through your presentation too quickly. On the other hand, speaking slowly gives you more command of the discussion and allows to do think more on the spot if you need to.

6. End strong. A good ending can make up for a variety of flaws throughout the presentation. Do your best not only to summarize and discuss facts, but also compel them by give them something to remember.

While taking these steps is no guarantee of a perfect presentation, taking them will definitely ensure that you’re still more effective.  And that’s important for just about every one of us.  Because whether you’re in the legal, business, or public interest space, it’s likely that you will find yourselves presenting a lot.  And the ability to show that you understand a complex issue and can deliver a compelling message will not only engage the audience but also leave them wanting more.

Good luck with your next presentation!

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 Leadership 6 Comments

Good Ted Talks Speech: College Begins In Kindergarten

What’s the right time to start thinking about your kid’s college education? It’s the age old question that every parent thinks about. Some parents don’t think too much about it until high school when college is just a few years away.  Others start sooner. They give their kids tutors and putting them in honors and AP courses in middle school or in junior high. And they do what they can to ensure that they get every opportunity to make it to college.  And another group, goes even further. They push their kids are far as possible as early as possible, and they negotiate the world of education as early as kindergarten, in hopes that they can negotiate their kids academic future all the way to the top.  But which one of these is really the best approach?

On one hand, thinking about college as your child starts kindergarten is probably useful.  Studies show that early preparation builds the foundation of skills needed to be successful in college. It also shows that kids who are socialized earlier and start reading and writing earlier, tend to be not only perform better but also have the intrinsic motivation to keep doing well over the longer term. On the other hand, though, some people today have taken that concept a bit far, putting kids in a high pressure environments and pushing them to get all A’s before grades even matter.  And in many of these cases parents end up helping with homework and getting frustrated if they don’t destroying that very motivation that may have existed.

In my view, I suspect there may not be one size fits all approach and that the actual decision depends on context. Context of the kids and family, of the school zone they might be in, and of the socio-economic upbringing of the family. And in a recent Ted talks video, Ken Robinson gives his opinion on this dilemma. For anyone interested in education, I highly recommend checking it out.

In sum, Ken Robinson’s 2010 Ted Talks speech is a funny yet stimulating follow-up to his first talk in 2006. Ken makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools, from something more industrial and narrow to a more personalized environment that creates conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish. He also talks about passion, and how we need to feed the spirits and energies of kids who have diverse talents.

In my view both of these are great videos, touching on one of the most important issues of our time – education.  And it’s especially interesting for many of us who’ve had the good fortune of attending top schools, where many of us may have had classmates that were forced to major in certain subjects. I personally know a couple of people who were forced to study engineering or medicine because that’s what their parents wanted them to do.  And the consequences of not studying those subjects was not having parents pay for tuition, and in some cases, getting negative treatment at home altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, engineering and medicine are incredible professions and highly rewarding for those who undertake them. Not only because they provide a great standard of living but also because they are intellectually challenging, provide a service to the community, and add real value to society. On the other hand though, being forced into any profession, noble or not, tends not to be the best use of talent, especially today in our complex interconnected society, where so many opportunities for innovation exist. But there’s also merit to the competing argument that an 18 year old student, entering college isn’t always equipped to make that decision. As I said before, I don’t know the right approach.

But here’s what I do know. I know that having a diverse talent pool is critical to the advancement of our society.  That our human community working together is stronger when it’s diverse and when its people are engaged.  Because that way, they can create new things, become more innovative, and steer our society toward new heights, not only economically but also socially and culturally. And in the end, if we not only diversify the talent pool, but if people are also in roles that they are passionate about and that uses all of their best skills, then the odds are much better that we will come up with solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

Here are links to both of Robinson Ted Talks speeches and brief descriptions on each:

1. Click here for his 2010 Talk on named “Bring on The Learning Revolution.”
“In this poignant, funny follow-up to his fabled 2006 talk, Sir Ken Robinson makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning — creating conditions where kids’ natural talents can flourish.”

2. Click Here for his 2006 Talk named “Schools Kill Creativity.”
“Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.”

Sunday, June 27th, 2010 Leadership 2 Comments

Good Article: Best Places To Start Your Career

Have you ever wondered where you will end up twenty years from now? Will you be the leader you always wanted to be? That maverick who went out and started your own company. That diplomatic leader who always had a way with people who eventually became CEO? Or the guy who always wanted to change the world and ended up running a non profit. On the other hand, have you ever wondered what would happen if you got stuck in middle management and missed the opportunity to do that. Or if you couldn’t navigate the waters and kept getting held back because the economy was bad. Well, for those new to the workforce, just last week, Bloomberg Businessweek came out with a list of companies that may provide the best places to launch your career.

Just last week, Bloomberg Businessweek came out with a list on where can you find the top undergraduate internship and graduation programs in the country. This is BusinessWeek‘s third annual list of the Best Internships, where the rankings are determined according to data such as pay and the percentage of interns who get full-time jobs, as well as feedback from career services directors across the U.S.

This is not to say that these are the only places to get good training. I personally didn’t work for any of these companies upon graduation and neither did a lot of very successful people I know. On the other hand though, it is a solid list of companies that will ensure that you get a solid summer program and a substantive experience over the summer. And that sounds like a good proposition to me, especially in today’s economic environment. Take a look at the article and see what you think.

The article is titled Internships – The Best Places To Start.

Click here to read the interactive rankings table.

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Saturday, June 26th, 2010 Careers 1 Comment

Summer MBA Courses Begin

There’s been a lot of public conversation recently about getting an MBA. What’s the value of the degree these days?  And what’s its role now given the global downturn? But despite that, people are still headed back to business school in herds, both full-time and part programs, and MBAs are still coming out with high paying jobs. In fact, just last year, recruiting at a number of school was almost back to normal. Well, just this week, after a grueling year of law school, I officially had my first class ever at the Kellogg School of Management.

At long last, after a year of being in law school, just this past week I finally began the first week of summer quarter classes at Kellogg. While the traditional Kellogg students and Northwestern Law students don’t take classes over the summer, the JD-MBAs typically do take classes, as a way to lighten the load for the second and third years of the program. So, as a JD-MBA, although we will start with the class of 2012 in the fall, we officially kick off our Kellogg experience this summer at the downtown campus.

Unlike the Kellogg schedule in the fall, where much of the curriculum is determined by core classes, in the summer there is a lot more flexibility in the classes we take. And so people take accounting, finance, marketing, and operations, depending on their interests. That said, since time is more limited for JD-MBAs, most of them end up taking a mixture of law and business classes, often which will help get a few more prerequisites out of the way.

The most popular classes at the law school tend to be Small Business Opportunity Clinic, the Corporate Counsel Practicum, and Secured Transactions. And at Kellogg, many people take Accounting, Finance, and DECS, (Decision Sciences, which is a business statistics class.)  Personally, I am taking Accounting and Stats (i.e. DECS) at Kellogg and I haven’t decided on my law school courseload just yet.

It’s pretty weird being back in school after our six weeks off. But it’s also been great to see all of my classmates again and hear about how everyone’s summers have been going. But unfortunately, despite all the excitement, I can’t help but wonder how the summer will turn out. Unlike most of my JD-MBA classmates, not only am I in class but I’m also working full time at a law firm this summer. I really like the firm and want to make a good impression.  It’s definitely shaping up to be an interesting and long summer semester.  Stay tuned to hear how it turns out.

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Friday, June 25th, 2010 Business School No Comments

Connecting With A Couple Of Careers Bloggers In Chicago

CEOs say it all the time. That a team of talented individuals who bring diverse perspectives can lead to breakthrough results. Venture capitalists say the same thing. That just about every start-up that makes it big, begins with a strong and cohesive leadership team. Even business schools and law schools look for it. High potential students who have a habit of working well with other people.  That’s because a team working together is effective, and sometimes it can be unstoppable. And just today, I met with a few people that I’ve been teaming up with in the MBA and careers blogging world.

Just today I met with my friends Marquis Parker and Jullien Gordon in Chicago. Although the group meeting about our websites wasn’t specifically planned, after a few texts and calls we all ended up getting together and sharing our experiences and ideas on careers blogging and web 2.0. And not only did we share our passions and ideas for the future of our sites but we also discussed some of the actual steps we need to take to get there. Our diverse audience of readers. Technology hurdles that each of us are facing. Techniques to reach a wider range of interested readers. And most importantly ways to work together to share more information.

You might be asking yourself, what’s the value in having a group of people get together to talk? Well for one, my view is that everyone is at least a little bit biased, so new objective perspectives can be valuable.  Also important is the fact that we’re all still learning and none of us knows everything. So bringing new team members to your specific space can increase the exchange to useful information and allow everyone to be far more productive together.

Perhaps more interesting though is that we all ended up even coming together at all.  That we connected not because of our professional backgrounds or our cities, but because we’re linked through careers blogs and also because we’re all alumni of Stanford. And although Jullien and Marquis met at Stanford Business School years ago, I only met the two more recently, through our online careers sites and also through organizations we’re mutually a part of.

With that in mind, it was good to listen to Marquis’ and Jullien’s take on the value connecting with others, because many of the things they said are viewpoints that I also believe. Similarly, it was also interesting to see others who share the same passion for sharing information with the broader community and interest communicating in the new 2.0 world. In fact, Marquis already beat me to the punch and put together a web post on networking after our gathering today, where he gave his take on the power of tapping into your network to meet new people. (I highly recommend signing up for his site)

And after listening to his post, I’ve confirmed what I’ve said many times before. That the ability to connect with others is absolutely critical. That leadership is about influencing others but to do that, you first have to be able to connect with them. And it today’s age that means in person and in the online world.  But we also talked about how difficult that is today, given people have more limited time and given that the web is infiltrated with too much information. And as we talked, we quickly came to understand the value in collectively brainstorming about trends and ideas and equally share resources to overcome these hurdles together.

That’s because the best leaders understand the value of teamwork. That high-performing teams are the core of high-performing organizations. And that a team working together, especially in the age of 2.0, can deliver breakthrough results and reach a wider audience than you ever thought was possible. And that’s true no matter what your ultimately goal is. Whether the goal is to drive revenues at a company, litigate the next big Supreme Court case, fuel growth at the next innovative start-up, or in our case, reach out to a more diverse set of people and serve the broader community by sharing information to those who need it.

And in the end, when a team’s ideas are exchanged and its energies aligned, you can merge into one super-performing unit working together to create change.

Sunday, June 20th, 2010 Diversity 8 Comments

New Job? Setting Yourself Up To Succeed

Every year, thousands of people start at new jobs. Senior leaders and managers transition from one firm to another. MBAs and JDs graduate and jumpstart their careers at businesses and law firms.  And students head out to start new summer internships looking to secure offers for the next year. And all of them are thinking the exact same thing. How can I succeed in my new position? Even in a typical year, that question is difficult, because starting all over again is tough. But today, in an era where the markets are still uncertain and firms are still recovering from the economic blow of 2008, that difficulty is magnified. And as the sole summer associate at my law firm this year, I had to ponder that exact same question when I started three weeks ago.

Three weeks ago I had my first day at my law firm Vedder Price. As I mentioned in my previous post about my first day, I couldn’t help but keep thinking how exciting it was to finally get started. But at the same time, I also thought a lot about how to succeed there over the summer, especially in today’s current economic context. Because long gone are the day of the typical summer associate experience at law firms. Happy hours three days a week. Lavish lunches. Expensive dinners and boat cruises. And most importantly large classes, most of which who got offers in the end. Instead, most firms today have slashed their classes by more than half, and some firms have cut them entirely.  And without all the firm programming, many people struggle to get integrated at the firm.

Fortunately in my case, I’ve quickly gotten pretty integrated into the firm. I have already been put on a number of projects and so far seem to be making a successful transition.  Because things have started out well so far and because I’m still in the early stages of my summer associate position, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about how to hit the ground running. And in my view, these ideas not only apply at a law firm but also at any company you might be working at.

1. Start early. Succeeding in any job is not only about performing well during your tenure there, but it’s also about laying the groundwork beforehand so you can hit the ground running. That means sending the right message during your interviews, exposing yourself to the organization early, and reaching out to people as soon as it makes sense. On one hand you definitely don’t want to cross the line of being overeager, but on the other hand there’s definitely an advantage to be connected and to have people know about you – about what you’re interested in and about how you work – sooner than later. In my case, I reached out to a number of people before I ever stepped foot in the office, and I’m already working with a number of them in my first two weeks, including the firm Chairman. But even in the cases where I’m not working with the people I met, I’m better-positioned now not only to work with them later in the summer but more importantly to build relationships with them over time.

2. Get early wins. Another important part of a new job is getting a few early “wins” and figuring out how to build momentum in your role. To put the idea in context, consider the  presidential race when Barack was campaigning. His momentum ultimately helped him reach more people in future places. Similarly, think back to when he was newly elected to the role. The same hold true when you begin a new job because expectations are high and perception can be very important. And by the end of the first six months of a new job, or the first couple of weeks of a summer job, it’s good to start meeting a lot of people, to get involved in interesting projects (critical projects that have real impact if you’re at the senior level) and communicate those success to stakeholders at the firm.

3. Get to know the right people. It goes without saying that meeting the right people can be an important factor in shaping our career (or summer stay) at a firm. But by “right” I don’t necessarily mean the “top” people. Instead, I mean the people who are key stakeholders that you need to know. Those people who want to support you. Those who want to get you involved. And those who have the ability and network to actually get you involved. As a new person at any level, it’s important to facilitate early introductions so that you can begin building relationships right away.  And I emphasize the word “relationships” not just knowing people. One thing that business leader Jon Rice likes to say is that”It is not who you know, but instead it is who knows you well and thinks highly enough that they will go to bat for you.”

4. Do good work. It goes without saying, but in spite of all of these tactics above, in the end you still do have to do good work. You have to put in the time, show critical thinking and analytical skills, be both a leader and a team player, and in the end deliver tangible results. This is true for all new employees, but it’s especially true of senior leaders and perhaps more important at services firms, where budget constraints and finding new clients are critical. And this is especially important in the beginning because the work that you do will be what people remember, and it will make an impression. And although proving to be someone who does good work won’t stick forever, the impression that you do bad work can.

5. Make an impression. And if you do all the things above you will be able to make a good impression and manage your perception at the firm. The is critical, when it comes down to decision time for summers, where some of the people may not have worked with you directly but will have an impression of you, not to mention an idea of what other people’s impressions are. Similarly for full-timers, the impression you make is important because it will not only be the one that sticks with you early but it will also guide the impression that stays with you over the years.

Sounds like an impossible set of tasks? Well, that’s because sometimes it can be. After all, when’s the last time you brokered a relationship with the Chairman of your firm in the first week? And when’s the last time you had people really wanting you to succeed as the new guy at the firm, in a depressed economy.  Instead, it’s more often the case that people analyze and test new employees to see what they’re made of, especially now, when job security is not a guarantee and where many people may actually fear for their spots at the firm.

But on the other hand, if you do make to sure to have some early success – build momentum, find mentors and other stakeholders that want to see you succeed, and work together with the people who would otherwise be fearful, then it won’t be a sink or swim approach. Instead you’ll not only have the help of many of your co-workers, but also the real support of people who want to work with you and see you succeed.  And over time they will become invested and will make sure that you do well and make a good impression. Any if you can broker that set of events, then the sky is the limit.  “Summers” will get their offers, and new hires will have the potential to have big impact over time.

And in the end, the things you do in the first few weeks could make all the difference.

Best of luck to all of those at new companies.

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Saturday, June 19th, 2010 Networking No Comments

Careers Question: Does Size Matter? … Taking The Job That Pays You Most

We’ve all asked ourselves the question, “Does [paycheck] size matter” when we think about how much to consider salary, or even the number of people, when choosing our future employers. In most cases, the question probably seems like a no-brainer. More is better. After all, the bigger our paycheck, the better standard of living we have. And for those of us who are more philanthropic, the more we can give back to our communities. This idea is reinforced consistently at business and law schools, where today classrooms are infected with people that consistently choose higher paying jobs over lower paying ones and where campuses are plagued by well-paying employers who lure students away from public interest jobs and from firms who can’t compete.

This topic has long caused trouble for people during the recruiting process. On one hand a candidate has to consider their earning potential – their base salary, bonus potential, and ability to receive increases the following year. On the other hand, though, they also need to consider things like career trajectory, exit opportunities, and not only immediate compensation but also longer term earning potential. And in a recent question from one of my readers – a 1L at a smaller law school looking into law firms for OCI – I was asked what I thought about taking differences in pay into account when choosing law firms. This reader was specifically thinking about the gray area that exists between firms of similar prestige but that had both a different culture and in pay. See below for the question, and below that for my response.

Thanks for reading, everyone!


QUESTION FROM MY READER
Dear Jeremy,

First off, you have an incredible blog! I really enjoy reading and think you give lots of quality advice. Thanks for sharing all your information and time.

I am writing to see what your opinion is in regards to choosing a law firm.  While I don’t want to base any decision solely on annual pay. It has come to my attention that the firm I am most interested in and which I think I am a good fit for pays a less than market in my region, by nearly $20k in annual salary and also a bit lower in bonus. As I look to go into OCI this fall, it has started to settle in a bit more and begun to create a bit of tension. I really like this firm and think it might be the better fit for me career wise. But I also don’t want to settle by working at a place that may not pay me up to my potential.

Generally speaking, I pretty much understand the tradeoff of choosing either way, but was curious to hear what you think about the situation.

Thanks in advance,

(Name)


MY RESPONSE TO THE READER
Dear (Name),

Thanks for your question and many thanks for reading my blog and writing in with your thoughts. I think you hit the nail on the head with the trade-off, but I’ll try to structure a few thoughts, and perhaps give you the path I might go down if I had a similar choice.

You’re correct that some firms do currently start first year associates lower than other firms. For example in the Chicago market, there’s a batch of firms that start associates at 160k and another group that starts associates at 145k, which is about 10% lower.  But in my view, numbers do not always tell the full story and may not be reflective of how things will look a couple of years from now. That’s because a number of firms reduced salaries in 2008 when the economy faltered. And while some of them have responded to the improving economy by scaling salaries back up to 160k, others haven’t done that yet, suggesting that not all the firms are paying their true future wages as of today. That’s not only a result of uncertainty about the future prospects and stability of law firms but for others it’s also a result of timing, since most firms only change salaries at the end of their fiscal year. For many firms the end of the fiscal year is during the summer.

But even if they didn’t adjust salaries up to 160k, I’d be careful not to let that fact would play too big a factor in my decision. In my experience, most students [unlike business students] don’t do enough research about the real nitty-gritty details of the different law firms, most of which can’t be captured by doing a few searches on Google or by reading a few articles on vault or Chambers. Because if they did do the due diligence, they’d probably realize that after a few firms are very different in terms of salary adjustments, culture, ability to make partner, flexibility, practice areas you may be interested in, and a host of other things. After all, conventional wisdom suggests that you’ll perform better where you’re happy and a better fit, right?

For example, I’ll start with salary adjustments. The first year base salary for most new associates tends to be fairly insignificant when you look at the longer term picture of senior associate or partner level compensation opportunities. And just like executives in Fortunate 500 corporations make more than 50% of their comp in equity, senior lawyers in firms make a good portion of their money based on business development and on other firm metrics. This is especially important at specific firms, like my firm Vedder Price, where the senior attorneys are rewarded higher than market for their business development efforts. At some firms that’s true only at the partner level and at other firms it’s true at the associate level – that’s where the research comes in. And even at the junior associate level there could be a real difference in salary potential, depending on if the firm you’re looking at gives a bonus in the upcoming year. A lot of the big firms haven’t given bonuses in the past two years, where some of the firms that pay 145k have, which had the effect of equalizing that initial difference.

But even if salary potential were not an issue, my view is that newly minted attorneys should not only consider the compensation opportunity but also their longer term career opportunities. I’ve personally always lived by the motto “Learn in your 20s and earn in your 30s.” That means choosing a firm that will best position you to not only make money but also to learn as much as possible and set you on to the path to attain your desired career and have the largest impact. For each person this firm and path will be different. For some it may be at a big firm, but for others it may be the smaller firm that pays less.

And finally, as you already noted, it’s important to think about all the nuances of a firm that may be important to you. After all, it’s often those nuances that drive lawyer after lawyer out of corporate law while others continue practicing for decades. This means look at things like size (of firm not paycheck), culture,  practice areas, and perhaps most importantly people you’ve met and liked. And not only do this at your target firms but do it at other firms too, so you can really size them up and actually understand the real differences. This last part is hard, but it’s also particularly important because it’s likely you’ll be working with these people once you get to the office.

So in the end, I might suggest that you not rely too heavily on the first year salary number. Instead consider it in context, context of the people, environment, longer term salary potential, and most importantly, your longer term career trajectory. And once you do your due diligence on the industry and firms, I suspect that you’ll have a better sense of what makes the most sense for you. On the other hand, though, I do not know your personal situation. And it’s always possible that a little extra cash may mean more to you than someone else, for more personal reasons. In those cases, it might make sense if the pay played a larger factor. But otherwise, I’d say keep the big picture in mind and make the best choice for the long term. For me that meant coming to Vedder Price this summer, where although the firm doesn’t pay the highest associate rate to among the firms in Chicago, the firm is very highly aligned with my past experience and future interests, not only in regards to law but also in terms of cultural fit and my policy interests.

Best of luck in the recruiting process! And please keep reading.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 Law School No Comments

Careers Question: How Important Is My Upcoming Phone Screen?

Anyone who runs recruiting probably thinks about the following question all the time. How can we distinguish the firm’s future stars from those who simply have good resumes?  Well that’s a good question. What many applicants don’t know is that employers often get hundreds, sometimes thousands of resumes. That’s especially true now, where the economy is slumping and where a record number of qualified applicants (and overall applicants) are out of work.  So today, recruiters not only have the task of sorting through resumes and screening candidates, but they also have the nuanced task of of interviewing more people and looking more closely at all parts of the interview process.  And in a recent question on GottaMentor I responded to a question about just that.

“Is my phone screen more casual than a typical interview” I was asked on the website. Conventional wisdom suggests that phone screens are more of an initial hurdle before the real deal in-person meetings. The meetings where you schmooze with with HR, try to prove fit with the team, and convince the line manager that you’re the future leader the firm’s been looking for. Years ago, before the internet skyrocketed the number of applications for open positions and before the economic downturn put more people out of work, this idea probably had a bit more validity. But those days are long gone.

Today, open positions not only get hundreds and even thousands of applicants, they also get a very large number of really qualified ones. And as such, all the parts of an interview are becoming more important. And so my belief is that the phone screen is no longer a “screen”. It’s a distinct and important part of the interview process, which means that you should prepare with the same level of seriousness that you would for an in-person interview.  You should practice the same questions, evince the same confidence and politeness, demonstrate that you’re both a leader and a team player, and be sure you have the same level of preparedness and relaxation. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Phone Interviews May Give You More Time. For one, you never know an interviewer’s schedule. And unless the recruiter is scheduled back to back all day, then there may not be a hard cut off in terms of time like there might be in person, where you are in an unfamiliar environment and where the interviewer will have likely scheduled your interview around their other important meetings. But on the phone, you can often take more of a lead, ask a few extra questions, and as a result, really collect and pass along good information. As such, the more prepared you are, the better conversation you might be able to have.

2. Interviews Are Often Holistic. Second, I think many candidates tend to over-compartmentalize the interview process. While on one hand an interview might be intended to be more of a screen to the next round, and may have little bearing on how things progress afterward, on the other hand it could instead lay the groundwork going forward. And if the firm has discussions on the what the screener thought about you the conversation, it could have serious impact on how people perceive you during the next round.I think this is especially true if you do really well, because then the recruiter will share all your information with those you’ll meet next. It’s also especially true at companies like Goldman Sachs and Google, where the firms keep intricate records of the people they interview, even if that interview is done by phone.

3. Good Leaders Are Always On. Third, my general belief is that you’re always representing yourself and your organizations during every interaction. That’s especially true during interviews where the person across from you, or on the other line, has the task of assessing you as a candidate. It’s also especially true today, where information travels at the speed of light speed and so the chances that what you say will be common knowledge at the firm are higher, not to mention where the chances of running to someone again at a career-related event or during another interview down the line are high. And so you should try to think longer term about the interviews you go through, especially if you intend to stay in the same industry.

Having conducted a large number of interviews  and gone on a pretty large number of interviews myself, I speak from experience with all three.  For many it may sound unreasonable to put so many hours into prepping for a phone talk, especially older candidates who are not used to putting in so much time just to use the phone. But from experience I would suggest that it’s not. After all, interviews, whether they seem difficult or not, demand a great deal of skill and agility. And that’s especially true if the interviewer is less experienced because in those cases you’ll want to be sure you convey all of the right information. As such, I recommend that you give the same time and effort that you would an in-person meeting so you can present yourself in the best light possible. Because in the end, you never know how things will play out.

Good luck!

** PS As I’ve mentioned in a few previous posts (post on Gottamentor and post on resumes), you might considering taking a look at GottaMentor.com when you get the chance. For now, though, here’s a sneak peak at another one of my responses from the site.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 Careers No Comments

Bottlenotes: Silicon Valley Internet Start-Up Meets Wine Industry in Chicago

Business students in all the top MBA programs experience what’s called the herd mentality during recruiting season. And although many fantasize about risking it all to become the next great entrepreneur, in the end most still head to corporate America for a safer job and a guaranteed pay check.  But every now and then there are exceptions. Mavericks that lead with energy and idealism. Leaders optimistic that with passion and hard work, they can build their own empires.  And I have the great pleasure of knowing one of them. And just this past Friday, I spent the evening at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary of Art (MCA) with leading entrepreneur Alyssa Rapp at an event put on by her internet start-up company Bottlenotes.

Meeting up with Alyssa at the Chicago MCA wasn’t by happenstance. In fact, I first met Alyssa in 2006, when I lived in Palo Alto after graduating from Stanford.  As a fresh, young graduate looking for new and exciting opportunities, I had the dual goal of not only working full-time at a start-up consulting firm but also rolling up my sleeves at a real start-up.  So I sent a few emails and made a few calls, and I eventually found myself working with Alyssa in the evenings and on weekends, when I wasn’t in the office. And not only did I gain have exciting and interesting experiences working at a internet start-up, but being the Anthropologist I am, I also paid attention to the things Alyssa did and tried uncovering the skills it takes to be an entrepreneurial CEO.

And after doing similar research on other entrepreneurs over the years, I’ve found that to be truly great, entrepreneurs usually have a unique combination of skills – passion and creativity, an ability to take risks, the capacity to make decisions quickly, and also an ability to balance competing priorities, especially in the early stages.  These are all traits that aren’t necessarily typical for JDs or MBAs. In law school, JDs are taught to identify risks and mitigate them. They’re also taught to analyze issues from both sides before making decisions and to focus intensely rather than juggle multiple tasks. On the other hand, MBAs are taught to be a bit more decisive. But because in business school quantitative skills are king, MBAs tend to rely on supporting data rather than creative thinking or intuition. Harvard Business School likes to say that it trains students to get in the habit of making decisions.

But in my view, being an entrepreneur is a bit more nuanced than both of those. Not only must they perform analysis and assess risks but they also have to do it real time, so they are better positioned to identify and seize opportunities immediately when the market changes.  That also means they have to be fearless and quick to act, not always out of “habit” but often times using intuition or gut feel. So entrepreneurs tend to have a higher tolerance for uncertainty and an uncanny ability to focus on the details while always honing in on the bigger picture. A herculean set of tasks by all measures.

And it looks like a lot of these traits have paid off for Alyssa. And last night the good people of Chicago got a glimpse as the MCA was jam-packed withwell over 800 people, a number which would have been significantly higher if the event hadn’t sold out due to the MCA’s capacity.  It was great to see Alyssa again and to see how successful her company is becoming. It was also great to see a Kellogg alum and Bottlenotes COO who I’ve gotten to know over the past few months, not to mention meeting dozens of new people at the event. I even ran into a good friend of mine from undergrad and into a Northwestern JD-MBA from the class of 2008.

In the end, I’m glad Alyssa was bold and decided to be an exception after graduating from Stanford Business School.  And as a result, today she’s building a business that provides a unique product, delivers a highly customized service, and perhaps most importantly that brings thousands of people together from across the US to share enriching and memorable experiences.  Bravo Alyssa and bravo Bottlenotes!

I hope that all my readers take a second to check out her company.  Click here to learn more about Bottlenotes. And if you’re up for a bit more reading, click here for an online interview by Start-up Stories, and here for a podcast interview on iinovate.com.

Thanks for reading everyone!

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Saturday, June 12th, 2010 Leadership 3 Comments

My First Day As A Summer Associate At Vedder Price

Do you remember your first day on the new job?  I bet you probably went in not knowing anyone but hoping to impress everyone.  And it’s also likely you also felt like you were running around frantically trying to fill out paperwork or scrambling around on your way to meetings and training sessions, hoping you wouldn’t be late. We’ve definitely all been there before. But consider doing that now, in what’s considered one of the worst economies ever. Where the stakes are higher and the odds of getting an offer are statistically much lower? Sounds nerve wrecking right? I thought it did too. But fortunately I realized that most of that stuff does not apply here at Vedder Price, a mid-sized and full service law firm here in Chicago.

At long last, one year after first learning about the firm, more than eleven months after first reaching out, five months after submitting my official application, three months after I got the good word that they wanted to have me for the summer, and just a couple of weeks after my law school final exams ended, I finally made my way to downtown Chicago to start my first day as a summer associate, which technically was the Tuesday after Memorial Day weekend. And boy was my first day exciting!

Although my office is on the 26th floor (top floor), I spent most of my day switching between the other six floors in our downtown Chicago high rise building with views of the Chicago River.  I met with the recruiter I’d most recently been in touch with to say hello and chatted with another to get situated for the day. I talked with multiple people from HR and administration to learn about the business. I spoke various individuals from Accounting (went over the billable hours at law firms which is a whole new post for later), had discussions about professional development and learned the importance of compliance with the docket team. And I even met a former attorney now working in professional development. Turns out she is a friend and a former classmate of a really good friend of mine who works at Northwestern Law.

And after all of the back to back meetings with new people here at Vedder Price, I spent the latter half of the day in computer training, learning new things like our billing systems, firm directory (this is going to be extra useful this summer) and our email server.  And in the end, it was exactly the action-packed, training-focused first day I originally envisioned.

But despite an action-packed first day at work, mostly schmoozing and learning our new systems, I took off around 5:30pm that evening to hop on a flight to New York city for the second of my two conferences that week with MLT, which lasted the rest of the week. And six days later, after hours and hours of networking, fun, and meeting new people and employers, I headed back to Chicago for my second first day of work this past Monday.

I call it my second first day of work, because despite meeting lots of attorneys and learning some of the systems the week before, spending a week out of the office has a way of making you forget lots of things. So I spent the past Monday figuring out some of the same things I learned the week before – logging on to  my computer, tracking down passwords, reading the instructions on how to use my phone, meeting my secretary and firm mentors for the summer,  and last but not least reaching out to new people here at the firm, including a couple of Northwestern Law alum and another Kellogg JD-MBA alumni, class of 2009.

Monday definitely felt more chaotic than my original first day, in part because I felt a bit behind after being gone for the week but also because I’m making a point to meet lots of new people and take part in lunches with different attorneys at the firm in addition to everything else I’m doing.   The good news is that I tend to enjoy reaching out and meeting others, so despite being time consuming, it’s also been a lot of fun.  But even if I didn’t enjoy reaching out so much, everyone here at Vedder Price has made it pretty easy to  get to know people at the firm, so things would still be going well.  In fact,  on my first day here, I not only met a number of partners and senior partners, but I also had a good conversation with our firm’s chairman, Mr. Bob Stucker. In my case, though, I did reach out to many of them before ever stepping foot in the office, including Mr. Stucker, so it was an easy introduction when I dropped by his office.

In sum, my first day went well and my summer is definitely taking off!  Thanks to everyone at Vedder Price for ensuring my first few days have gone smoothly and for including me in pieces of their projects during my first week on the job. And I’m especially grateful for the latter considering that this summer will probably be a bit different from past ones when the economy was better and billable hours flowed like the Chicago river does during the summer.

It should be interesting to see how the summer turns out. Stay tuned !

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Thursday, June 10th, 2010 Law School 5 Comments

Follow Up Or Fail. A Few Thoughts After Conferences in Chicago and NYC

Have you ever sat at home, waiting by the phone for a call, but found that the call never came? Or what about waiting by the computer for an email, but no messages ever made their way to your Inbox?  I have.  In fact, many of us have.  And it’s especially common after seminars and conferences, where people pass out their business cards but never hear back from the people they gave them to. Sounds disappointing, right? Well, wouldn’t it be even more disappointing if you found out that in a majority of those cases, the person on the other side was also disappointed that you didn’t reach out to them?

In my experience this happens all the time. Both parties pass out their business cards with the intention of staying in touch but then neither actually reaches out afterward.  But the good news is that it’s usually not personal. Instead, it’s usually because the other party becomes too busy or is too unorganized, has too many people on their target list, or simply isn’t in the habit of following up with the people that they meet.  And in all fairness, all these reasons make sense.  But are they still actually good excuses for not staying in touch?

On one hand, most of us are subject to far too much information nowadays and so it’s easy to miss sending a couple of emails or following up with some of the people we meet. On the other hand, though, in a world where finding information and being connected is critical, sometimes it makes no sense why you don’t take the extra step to ensure you reach out to someone after meeting them. And so that’s the premise of the title of this article – a phrase dubbed by networking guru Keith Ferrazzi and not me – that following up is the key to success no matter what field you’re in.

My overarching conclusion is that personal contact matters. That’s because at a conference, you’re all there for the purpose of the conference – to hear the speakers, find a new network, meet people to connect with, and speak to employers; in sum, to make personal gains.  For example, at my recent MLT conference in NYC, I was there to meet the new class of fellows, meet a few employers, see a few employers for a second time since I also attended last year, and mingle with staff members of MLT, an organization that I’m highly active in and intend to stay active in.  As a result, I probably gave my card or email address out to dozens of people, if not significantly more.

But that’s just an initial connection, and my belief is that following up afterward is a chance to make it more personal – to reach out to someone you really enjoyed meeting or to an employer you especially liked.  After all, why go through all the hours and trouble of meeting people, and spending significant time with some of them, if you don’t plan to really connect with them afterward?  And that’s especially true if time and organization do become factors, because then people would still tend to reach out to the employers or the people the enjoyed meeting most.

Granted, sometimes it’s easy to follow up when the number of people you meet is low. On the other hand, you’d be surprised not only how many people forget when it is this easy but also how effective following up still is in these situations. And that’s because following up is a personal process, especially when you can reach out in a way that is creative or that jogs their memory. But that can be tough after a mega conference, where memories are abound and where you have too many business cards to be creative with all of them, or to even find all of them in all of your coat pockets.  And this description is similar to what I just had in NYC, where a couple hundred people and dozens of employers showed up to mingle.

But despite the actual numbers, I believe that it’s still important to keep in touch with some of the people you meet.  That idea is validated by dozens of management studies, one by Marshall Goldsmith for example, that discusses the effects of managers who followed up in an organization. The study showed that managers who were seen as not following up were perceived as only slightly more effective as a group than they were eighteen months earlier. On the other hand, those who did some follow-up experienced a very positive shift in scores, and those who had con­sistent follow-up had a dramatic, positive impact.

Fortunately, following up today is much easier in our super-connected world of texting, IMs, emails, and social media.  I personally like to use these mediums to exchange the information that we talked about at the event.  I often tell people I’ll send them URLs of posts here on my website, other URLs, relevant information related to their careers, or introduce them to someone else.  In fact, I’ve got a couple of those lingering after my last MLT conference in NYC.  On the other hand, though, it’s important to remember that, as you exchange information, following up is not about asking someone what they can do for you or what they might know that can help you. Instead it’s about what you can do for them, and what you can do to sustain a relationship with them.

That’s because the best leaders know that building relationships is critical. That none of us can make it to the top alone and instead that we can achieve a lot more working together. This is especially today, where business is more global, technology more complex, and as the economy steers companies to retain fewer employees.  And so leaders must not only be able to focus on the day-to-day problems at their firms, but they must also focus on building the connections and networks to share information more broadly and as a result create more leverage for change. And in the end, I’m optimistic that doing that will help all of us reach our potential to solve some of the world’s biggest business and social problems.

But if that’s true, then I suspect I should stop writing now. I’ve got some emails to send and calls to make, since I just finished two conferences over the past 1.5 weeks.  Check back for more details on my recent MLT conference in NYC.  I’ll share some details of the actual events and meetings with employers.

Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 Networking 1 Comment

The Education Matters Project

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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