Writing essays for business school is a daunting task. Applicants usually find it difficult to decide what story they want to tell the committee and as a result they have a tough time bringing all the details of their essays together. That’s because some applicants are unhappy in their current jobs. These people invest a lot of time discussing the job they want after business school, but neglect talking about what they want to do in the long term. Another group of applicants is more idealistic. They are strongly compelled by their long term goals, but in the meantime don’t articulate actionable steps to achieve them. In my experience speaking with hundreds of applicants, many of them tend to fall into one of these categories. That was confirmed in a couple of recent phone conversations I had last week with applicants who will be applying to business school this fall.
Just last week I spoke with two business school applicants. One was like the first person I mentioned above. He didn’t like his current job and was focused on working in a very specific role after school. The other was just the opposite, focused on what he wanted to do ten years from now and willing to do anything he could to get there, no matter what industry or function.
In a sense, I could relate to both of them. On one hand, I’ve been in jobs I didn’t like and felt like I had to maintain a laser focus on making my next move, so at the time I didn’t spend as much time thinking about my long term my career path. On the other hand, I’ve also come to find the value in keeping the bigger picture in mind, especially when more opportunities become available. Today, I tend to spend most of time thinking about things from that perspective.
But specifically in terms of business school application, both the short and long term are important. Without a long term plan, you’ll miss trends, be more likely to follow the crowd, won’t adapt to changing economic circumstances like today’s economy, and may not head down the path that makes the most sense for you. On the other hand, without short-term goals, you may never even make it to the long term, because competition for post-MBA jobs is still and applications for business school are higher than ever. So being focused will give you an advantage.
Ultimately, both of my conversations ended on this idea of short-term goals. That’s because admissions committees, at times, tend to be more interested in seeing those stated clearly in applications. And that’s especially true today, where the job market is contracted, and the committee will want to ensure that students can get jobs immediately after school in the slumping economy. On the other hand, admissions committees are at times also more likely to give deference to an applicant’s long-term goals. That’s both because many young professionals can’t articulate what they’ll be doing tens years from now, and also because even when they can most still end up changing their minds anyhow.
During my discussions, I talked about a couple of things with the applicants, and specifically discussed how to address these short term career options in their essays. The list below isn’t exhaustive but it’s a short recap of what I recall discussing about in both of my calls. I hope the information is helpful.
1. Play to your strengths. Applicants should leverage things they have experience in and the things they do best, and then they should discuss how they will continue doing those things going forward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a generalist at heart, and I always think it makes sense to try new things and get as broad experience as possible. On the other hand, focusing on your strengths will show you have a unique skill set to bring to the table and will differentiate you as a candidate. Keep in mind, part of playing to your strengths means being explicit with details and discussing how those strengths will allow you to add specific value. One, this will prove that your experience was one of substance, and second, organizations always want to add someone who will add value to their community.
2. Do (and discuss) things to reinforce your image. Applicants should also take part in activities that reinforce their image and make them a better fit for their short-term goals. This means taking part in activities that enhance their story and help you develop the image they want to convey. For example, if you want to be a project manager, then volunteering on community based projects would be useful. Similarly, if you want to enter the media space or be seen as a technology person, starting a website or helping an organization start one will demonstrate interest and experience. There’s not much science behind it, but people should consider getting involved in activities that are correlated to their short-term goals as a way to not only show interest but also to build skills. And during the interview, be sure to discuss it.
3. Understand the context of your surroundings. You should do the best you can to surround yourself with people that have common interests and similar values. These might be people you want to work with, or people who want to work you. If you can find people at your career stage and have similar career goals you can leverage each other’s resources and work together. For example, if you want to enter the consulting industry, working together to research firms and practice cases is key. Similarly, if you can find people that are older than you, then maybe they’ll eventually serve as a mentor, and if you can find younger people, then you can do the same. In the end, the more information you can obtain and the more people you can work with, the better off you will be and as a result the better off your applications and interviews will be.
4. Create an angle. In every circumstance, you want your resume/ application reviewer to walk away with a very clear picture of who you are. So do your best to convey not only why you’re a good fit for an organization but also the things that make you unique and suggest that you would have real impact right away (i.e in the short-term). And this idea of impact is especially true for people who are really good fits, because good fits tend to be the most common types of applicants to jobs and business schools – good fits in terms of grades, prescribed career path, and academic history. But often times, there’s only a baseline of intelligence needed to do well in a professional environments, depending on the nature of the job or the industry that you’re in, so those who stand out, often do so because they have unique experiences and bring different perspective to the table. But even if you can’t point to that any measurable impact, creating an angle will still usually tend to make you more memorable.
5. Give details. And last but not least, it’s important to provide details. That’s because details evince that you’ve done your research, prove that you have not only the relevant experiences to contribute, but also the substantive understanding of the job role at hand. So be sure to give details of your experiences, not your impressions, and when possible take that further by discussing insights that your experience has given you and how those insights will also be helpful. In the end, being explicit about how details played out in the past and how you will specifically contribute in the future will help you stand out from the crowd.
Taking the time to write a detailed recommendation is easier said than done. Writing a good one will take at least a couple of hours, though it’s more likely that it will take longer if the writer invests time to make it good. The person has to get to know you and your resume in more detail, think about your accomplishments both professionally and personally, reflect on your career trajectory as an employee and eventually as an employee with an MBA, and then put all of that together to come up with something insightful and hopefully compelling. Like I said, easier said than done. So if that’s true, how should you approach someone who you really want to write it for you, especially if they do not have much time?
It’s finally that time again. Summer is in full swing; we’re already in the last week of July; and people are finally starting to get serious about business school applications, especially those who intend to submit round one applications in October. I remember this time for me two years ago – I had just began studying for the GMAT, had drafts for a few of my essays, and was thinking about how I could help my recommenders write good letters without taking too much of their time. It felt like a lot of things were going on at the same time.
Well, it sounds like many MBA applicants are feeling the same thing now. And I recently received a question from one of my readers about this very topic – how to get an MBA recommendation in the midst of everything else going on too. The reader’s question was short and simple, asking for ways to approach a busy recommender. I’ll note that there’s a lot of information about the topic online already. So instead of writing a laundry list of items you could get online anyway, I thought I’d provide a few specific tips that you may not have thought about. Hopefully it is helpful.
See below for the question, and below that for my response.
I was wondering if you could provide a bit of information on MBA recommendations. Specifically what is the best way to approach my writer to ensure I get the best recommendation possible. My recommender is busy, but I really want to be sure that he writes it for me if possible. But I’m finding that process hard to manage giving everything else I’m worry about as well.
Thank you in advance.
MY RESPONSE TO AN EMAIL
Thanks for reading my site and for sending your question. Your question comes at a good time, as I’ve recently received a couple of emails on this topic and because now is a great time to start thinking about your recommendation strategy.
Conventional wisdom suggests that your letters of recommendation are one of the least important parts of your applications, taking a back seat to essays, resume, GMAT, the data form, and the interview. While it’s true that the other parts are important, in my view, the recommendation is still an important piece, not only of the application but also your story as an applicant.. It provides a different and unbiased perspective on the application. It can provide color on things you didn’t have time to expand on due to limited space. It can confirm or negate assumptions that the admissions committee may be making about your application. And it can tell if someone really thinks highly of you, by how much time and thought they put into your letter.
But asking someone to take the time and energy to do that is no easy task. In fact, for most people, asking often feels like an inconvenience if you’re asking for multiple schools, and even worse if you’re applying to schools that require a lot of work.
As such, here are a few ways that for some people tend to ease the process, which hopefully will ensure that your boss is more likely write your recommendation and also write a good one.
1. Ask someone who knows you well. This is the tip you hear from every source out there, but it’s still definitely true. These people tend to be more willing to take the time to write thorough, detailed letters. And they also know more about you so will help round out your application. This is especially for important for dual degree programs, such as a JD-MBA, where the committee may be looking for more nuanced responses that address multiple skill sets. People who know you well are better equipped to provide this perspective.
2. Ask in person. It usually makes sense to ask someone in person if you can. That way you can tell them a compelling story about why you’re deciding to apply, you can get a response right away rather than wait, and you can gage their reaction and level of organization, which might help you understand how much you’ll have to steer them along. Further, you’ll have the chance to communicate how important it is to you, which will ensure they understand the importance of the letter.
3. Highlight why you picked them. When you ask a person to write a letter, it makes sense to tell them why you are asking them specifically. It will likely make them feel flattered, and more importantly, it will also give them information on what you had in mind when you wanted them to write. That should give them some initial direction and provide some food for thought before they actually begin writing your letter.
4. Provide an outline. You should make it easy on your writer by providing an outline. Doing this will ensure they don’t have to spend too much time thinking about the basics and that they don’t have to go through old files and performance reviews to get caught up. On the other hand, be sure you don’t make the outline too long, or unorganized, since most writers will want to go through multiple pages to get started.
5. Do small things to make it easier for them. In addition to giving your writer an outline, you should also consider writing some background info on the specific school, provide them with all the links and passwords, alert them periodically to the upcoming deadlines, and maybe offer to walk them through the question beforehand. You should also put everything in one document and one email. Helped them get organized and by doing all the small things for them.
6. Give the writer a chance to say no. It’s always good to give your potential recommender a chance to easily say “no.” Not only are you not likely to get a good letter from someone who doesn’t want to write it anyways but also sometimes things do come up. But in most cases, if you ask someone who knows you well, they probably won’t decline, so you shouldn’t have much to worry about. But it is always smart to consider having a few other possible recommenders in mind just in case you need to find a substitute later on.
For responses to more recent questions, see the #AskJeremy segment
Have you ever waited for a special moment just to find it wasn’t everything you thought it would be? Like finally graduating from college after four years but then realizing that you had one more course before you actually got your diploma. Or running a marathon and when after running for hours you were excited to finally turn the last corner, but when you looked up you realized that you had another couple of miles to go. Well something similar happens with law students, not only at Northwestern but at every school. And after experiencing the euphoria of graduation, walking down the isle, and getting their law school diplomas, the students still have to take the Bar Exam at the end of July.
At long last, the Northwestern Law Class of 2010 finally made it. The law school class officially graduated back in May, and my JD-MBA classmates graduated from Kellogg in June, since it’s a quarter system. And what a momentous occasion! After giving it all they had to survive the workload of the 1L year, spending dozens of hours interviewing at firms, agencies, and organizations the very next fall, finding jobs in one of the most depressed legal economies of all time, and then surviving the final year of school despite thinking it would never be over, they finally made it. Congratulations everyone!
But unfortunately, as good as that news sounds, it’s not quite as good as you think. Unlike MBA students and students in other graduate program, instead of starting new jobs, going on lavish vacations, and enjoying summer time on the beach in Chicago, the newly minted law school alums have spent the past two months studying for the bar exam. In fact, on my way to work today, I passed three new alums who were headed to campus at 7am to study for the day.
But there is one piece of good news. That news is that the exam is next Tuesday, so one week from now, all those things I said above, will become reality for 3Ls everywhere. I’m sure it will be a time of great celebration.
In any event, best of luck to everyone studying. And if you’ve put in the work all summer, then don’t worry, people pass and I’m sure you’ll do great.
And a special good luck to all those at Northwestern Law!
Have you ever saved a file at work, just to return the next day to find out that it looked different than it did the day before? I have. And I bet you have too. Did you think that someone else changed your file, either purposefully or mistakenly, and that your real work was compromised as a result? Or instead did you assume that it was your fault and that you must have done something wrong? It’s often the case in these situations that a manager will come up to you and to address the mistakes. In such cases, you can either defend yourself and ensure that your boss understood that the mistakes were not your. Or you can agree to fix the work that you’ve, often never actually resolving the misunderstanding that actually happened. In my experience, most people have been in both situations before and often they find it hard to manage this conflict.
In a recent on GottaMentor.com, a person asked me just that. “I believe someone is trying to sabotage my work” the person said. The person mentioned that they love their job, and want to make a good impression because they’d like to return to the firm, but on multiple occasions they have found their work on the shared drive changed and the person has reason to believe that one of the fellow co-workers may have played a part.
It’s a tough question, and a hard one to answer without knowing more of the facts at hand. But I did have a few thought to share around the idea of handing conflict at work. See below for the message (part of the message), and below that for my response.
And also be sure to check out GottaMentor.com for hundreds of similar question on careers guidance and information.
For the summer I am interning at a financial services firm. I love it. However, I think an intern in my group is trying to sabotage me.
On at least three occasions work that I saved to the shared drive was altered and errors were inserted. I don’t have proof it was her, but I’m 100% sure that the documents were altered because the last two times I kept hard copies of my work before I left for the evening. When I returned in the morning the documents had been changed. How should I handle this? Do I tell my manager or confront her directly?
The advice you received that you should “not insinuate bad motives or imply fault” hit the nail on the head. And I also agree that you should definitely not be quick to point fingers if you decide to chat with the supervisor.
Why? First, because you don’t actually know what happened. After all, mistakes do happen. Maybe the wrong copy of something got saved or perhaps there are IT or Microsoft problems. Similarly, maybe someone was given permission to check out the file and happened to make a couple of honest mistakes. And it’s also possible that at least of the errors did turn out to be yours. It’s happened to the best of us.
But even if neither of those are the case and someone did change your files with malicious intent, you still don’t have the proof that it happened or that there was mal-intent behind the action. And even if you did have proof, in most cases, it’d still be a really bad idea to battle a coworker, especially give you’re still an intern. And that’s especially true now, given that economic times are tough and getting a FT offer for a job is more difficult than ever. At the very least you’ll want to walk away with a recommendation letter but ideally you’d like to come back, as you mentioned.
So instead of thinking about confrontation, and rather than playing the blame game when you discuss the situation with your manager, in my view the best thing to do is stand up for yourself without being defensive, and without blaming.
Being defensive is rarely the right answer. It usually comes off as a negative reaction, it tends to evoke negative emotions from others, and no matter what actually happened, it may look like you are doing your best to avoid responsibility. After all, the project was yours, and you were responsible to finish the work both accurately and completely. And from what you mentioned, it looks like you likely did a pretty good job of that.
On the other hand, keeping your cool tends work well in a majority of cases. Keeping your cool as you summarize the details of the project, walk through the facts of the answers and the subject change, and as you show the original file so that the manager knows exactly what happened. Part of that means being prepared to give any factual details if the supervisor asks you questions about the “right” answer and about what happened. It also means being patient to let the supervisor speak, even though you’ll be excited to tell your part of the story. Similarly, you should try to keep your composure, smile when you can, and show confidence in your work, rather than anger at the situation.
And finally, if you’re up to the challenge, you should also be thankful for the parts of the feedback that are constructive, even given in the midst of controversy, because that shows that you can keep an eye on the bigger picture and that you’re above the back and forth that often happens at the ground level. And if you do that you’ll not only be better off now as an intern and be more likely to get an offer at the end of the summer, but it will also be good practice for when you get a high impact leadership role and need to manage conflict of an entire organization.
The business and legal industries are radically changing. Today it’s impossible to escape complex legal issues as a CEO in business. Similarly, if you’re a leading corporate lawyer, you consistently run into firm and client business issues, especially in today’s environment. How can an employee who’s been in the industry for years keep up? And even if they can, would they be better off being trained in both business and law? While some students know early that they want both degrees, others decide to make a career change later in their careers. And then there’s a third group that comes to the conclusion during their first year of law school.
I recently received an email about someone in that very position. They are interested in attending Northwestern Law and asked about transferring from Northwestern Law into the JD-MBA program. If you’ve done a few Google searches, you’ve probably noticed that it’s not a topic that has a whole lot of public information, and in my view one where the answer is highly dependent on the specific person.
Nonetheless, I’ll provide a few of my thoughts here, and also present you with how I might think about the decision if I were in your shoes. But I’ll also preface that given the lack of information, I won’t make many assertions and unfortunately can’t provide many data-driven answers.
See below for the question and below that for my response.
Thanks for the blog. I was wondering how feasible it is to transfer from the NU JD program into the JD/MBA program. I spoke to admissions, but they did not seem to provide a very clear answer. Do you know if JD transfers to the JD/MBA program are common?
Thanks so much for visiting my site and for sending your question. I’ll preface my response by saying that, as I alluded to in my intro paragraph, this is definitely a tricky topic, which is likely why the response from admissions may have “seemed” a bit unclear to you. Not only is it a topic without much concrete information to begin with, but it’s also one that’s turns out to be more convoluted than you might think.
As you’ve probably already noticed here on Northwestern’s website, the JD-MBA program, unlike Northwestern Law School, does not accept transfers from other schools. I suspect there are a number of reasons for that, one being that the JD-MBA program is considered a real joint “program,” not two disjointed graduate school programs. As such, it has a handpicked class that gets to know each other well during the first year, the students are afforded the opportunity to strategically take certain electives in the fall that you would likely not take at another school, and we go through the same recruiting process together for our shortened and more intense first summer.
On the other hand, as you deduced, there is no “formal” policy against transferring from the law school to the JD-MBA program. So why the unclear answer from admissions? Probably because the process is unclear, and also because transfers are not typical in the program. One reason may be because transfers are not typical to MBA programs generally, which is the program you’d be in at the start of your second year upon transferring. And if you’ve taken the time to look at our site, the JD-MBA application process at Northwestern is managed out of Kellogg.
Another reason, which is much less concrete, is that admissions has always been somewhat of a “black box” anyways. And that’s not just at Northwestern, but it’s the case at most top schools, especially business schools. That’s because admissions has to balance determining the composition of a class, aligning competitive test scores and GPAs, looking at things like diversity of background and country of origin, read your personal story and assess fit to the program, and in the end make sure all of that fits together every year. And for Northwestern, this is true not only of Kellogg but the JD-MBA admits must fit the same way at the law school and in the JD-MBA “program” specifically. A herculean task by all measures, and one that can’t be described in a simple email or phone chat.
And one last reason that it’s difficult to measure success (i.e. “feasibility”), because there’s not much good data out there. For one, it’s hard to say how many people actually apply to transfer every year. People certainly do, but I suspect a number of applicants don’t disclose to students that they apply, both (i) because of the complicated nature of the process and (ii) because of the competitive nature of getting admitted to Kellogg. So it’s impossible to tell you how many people apply every year, and I also can’t estimate any number that might come to Northwestern Law with the hope to come to the JD-MBA program. My hunch is that the latter number is not that big.
But perhaps more importantly than the pure numbers, is the probability that many transfer candidates don’t submit their best applications. That’s because to apply to business school as a 1L is a hard task. Taking the GMAT, writing your essays, interviewing, and worrying about your application are hard enough on their own, let alone balancing that with being a 1L, which has long been considered the hardest year in any graduate school.
Similarly, the application process to business school tends to be more difficult because the application is so different. Law school admissions have long stressed grades, writing ability, and the LSAT. On the other hand, business schools tend to emphasize things like quantitative skills, leadership qualities, and management experiences. So they look for different things in the application, and as a result, it’s likely many law students don’t submit the right information in their applications.
Further, there’s also the challenge that most candidates have that the biggest qualification for top business schools is strong work experience, and at a school like Kellogg it’s usually either prestigious or very interesting experience. And that’s in addition to managing teams, leading high impact projects and having strong sense of where you want to take your career, something many law student don’t bring to the application process because their focus was different and are often a tad younger.
As a result of everything I just described above, I’ll reiterate that law students likely don’t always submit the best applications, so this should not necessarily discourage you from applying if you do come to Northwestern Law. Instead, remember that people have applied to transfer from Northwestern Law and have gotten in before. And so a low acceptance rate may not be as relevant to someone who really does fit the MBA profile and has significant experience. If you have the experience, credentials, and a good application, but for some reason never knew about the program, then in year’s where there’s space, they will probably consider your application.
In sum, transferring into any program that has all these requirements would seem to be a convoluted process, and a nearly impossible process to quickly explain to a “potential” applicant to the program. Ultimately, you’ll have to really asses your desire to obtain both a law degree and business degree, and balance that with the risk of not getting into Kellogg and only obtaining a law degree only. On the other hand, if you decide the risk is not worth it and wait to apply to the JD-MBA program, that ‘s also risky, because the JD-MBA class is small and getting the program is competitive. And in the end, it’s just a balancing test of sorts, and a decision that only you can make.
So take your time to think about it. Collect as much information as you can. Talk to students in all of the respective programs. And try to speak with admissions, who will know more than any other source. And after that, all you can do is use that information to formulate a plan. And that plan should be one that makes the most sense for you in terms of fit and interests.
And in the end, no matter what you decide (MBA, JD/MBA, or JD application), your success will likely hinge on your ability to not only prove you have what it takes to get in (intelligence, scores, experience, etc.) but also on writing the right type of application for each school and in the process evincing why you would be a good addition to the class.
I hope this helps. Best of luck whatever you decide!
I overheard a guy talking at a networking event earlier this week. Turned out he was a law student working in Chicago this summer and had just finished his first year at another law school. Like so many others, he was afraid he might graduate without a job and was looking for a few tips on how to navigate the process. He mentioned that he attended a top tier program outside of Chicago, spent a few years before that as a paralegal at a white shoe firm, and attained a median GPA at his school. But he still feared his prospects coming out.
Unfortunately, that story isn’t unique. I know dozens of people, if not more, that have been saying the same thing for the past twelve months. And suddenly now, there’s an epidemic of fear rushing not only across the Midwest, but also across the entire U.S. because law school recruiting happens in just a couple of weeks. Resumes are due in late July and interviews begin in mid August. And in the first recruiting cycle since the worst legal recruiting season ever, the question is, “how are law students going to fare?”
As you might suspect, that’s a really difficult question. One that most students, and even law firms, can’t answer. After all, the legal industry did just experience on of the worst economic aftershocks in history. Firms cut classes and handed out deferrals. Profits per partners fell. And morale has followed suit.
So today, firms today are treading new waters, scrambling to change the stakes of the market. And that’s not only happening in law school, but the pandemic and the associated reflex by the industry is also happening in other graduate programs and for those freshly minted out of college.
In my view, though, law students are probably feeling it the hardest, largely because the legal market trails the economic market, which has only started to recover in the past months. So students are studying a little harder, stressing out a bit more often, and many now believe that they’ve already sealed their career fate after two semesters.
But it’s always good to take a step back and think about things from a 30,000-foot view. Because in the end, there’s a lot more that goes into finding the right employee than two semesters of GPA. After all, there’s a gigantic list of CEO, firms partners, and successful politicians who came out of school without a 4.0. And many of them had grades below the median. In fact, I wrote a recent post about the CEO of the decade, Steve Jobs, who did not even graduate from college. But because things are looking so uncertain now, because things haven’t worked out perfectly for the classes ahead, and because summer associate numbers at firms have been cut by more than half, I definitely understand the concern.
And with this in mind, I recently stumbled across a couple of articles on the Wall Street Journal website. The first article is on GPAs. It discusses how to talk about your GPA during interviews, when to put it on your resume, and what other things you can emphasize if your GPA isn’t as high as you would like – things all of us have thought about before. The second article is a shorter piece on how to interact with campus recruiters. It comes from the perspective of a recruiter. And although it’s intended audience might be college graduates, it’s content is very relevant to anyone interacting with recruiters from any industry.
See below for summaries of the articles and links to written pieces on WSJ.
And more importantly, good luck with recruiting this fall.
“By the time a college graduate transitions to the working world, he or she has spent years being defined by numbers: SATs, GPAs, GREs, class rank and so on. As a result, and understandably, college graduates with a thin portfolio of work experience assume hiring managers will place a great deal of stock in their overall GPA as a gauge of intelligence, capabilities and competence. That’s not always true. …”
“As a member of the campus recruiting team for Ford Motor Co., I would travel to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign two to three times a year on a mission to discover the best available talent for opportunities at the company. These trips enabled me to gain key insights into the relationship between employer and prospective candidate. The most valuable lesson learned was…”
Hey everyone, I hope you had a great 4th of July weekend. This will be a pretty quick post, but I wanted to write to tell you about a recent MBA graduate I know named Kaneisha Grayson. Kaneisha is a recent graduate from the dual MBA/MPP program at Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, and she just launched a new MBA admissions coaching site called The Art of Applying. To jumpstart her new venture, Kaneisha is hosting a free webinar for up-and-coming MBA applicants, where she’ll not only provide tips for applying but also share her story with the audience. So I wanted to pass along a bit of information about the webinar.
I personally hope to join the call this Thursday and will probably do so from my office here in Chicago. Blogger extraordinaire Marquis Parker also plans to attend the call. Click here to check out his post about Kaneisha.
I hope that some of you will join as well. It sounds like it will be a great opportunity for those of you applying to b-school this fall or who plan to apply down the line. Here is a bit of info about the call and about Kaneisha.
Title: “B-School Despite the Odds”
Date: Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 5:15 PT
URL for Webinar: http://theartofapplying.com/2010/07/b-school-odds-webinar/
Event Registration: Click Here To Register
“Hello from Los Angeles! I’m Kaneisha Grayson, a 2010 graduate from Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School. I recently received a grant from Harvard to found a coaching business. I specialize in working with what I call “interesting people,” applicants who have ambitious goals for where they want to attend school but whose grades, test scores, and/or work experience do not accurately reflect their best abilities. I help people tell their story so that schools can look past the numbers and see how phenomenal of a person and student the applicant will be. I’m a writer, storyteller, and coach rather than just an “admissions consultant”. My priority is to be as helpful and relevant as I can be in aiding people in achieving their educational and professional goals.”
About two weeks ago, only days after beginning my new job at Vedder Price, I had the special privilege of having lunch with Bob Stucker, the Chairman of our firm. In addition to making a good contact at the firm, and eventually making my way onto a couple of his interesting projects, I also had the thrill of seeing first-hand how a top lawyer and revered leader in Chicago navigated his way to the top and what his thoughts were regarding the future.
It was about 11:10am, and only my second week at the firm. I had a lunch scheduled with a couple of associates in the office, one whose office is across the hallway from mine and another who sits right next door. At Vedder, most people tend to head to lunch around noon, so at the time, I was rushing against the clock to get a few things printed and to draft a couple of emails before heading out. But as I was typing up my first email, I looked up and saw Maryanne head into my office. Maryanne is the Chairman’s Executive Assistant, and she told me that the chairman wanted to take me to lunch.
“What a remarkable opportunity I thought to myself.” So of course I told Maryanne that I was excited to head to lunch with Bob, and she replied that he’d drop by my office to grab me at 11:50am. So after rescheduling my lunch with my coworkers and getting started on a couple of emails, Bob dropped by at 11:50 on the dot. He had on a nice gray suit that day, despite the fact that our office recently went business casual in the summer. Fortunately though, I haven’t followed that trend, and I’ve been wearing a shirt and tie to the office every day. So I was dressed for the occasion.
So Bob and I headed toward the elevator, walking past reception on the 26th floor. I noticed that Bob spoke to every single person we passed on the way out, addressing each one by their first name, including our great receptionist Vickie, who sits by the elevator. And although he’s a very busy guy, not once did Bob seem like he was too much in a hurry to say hello to anyone.
On the way down the elevator, he explained that he loved being at the firm and that it was a great pleasure to get to know everyone there over the years. And it was clear that he was sincere about it. After all, he had been at the same firm for his entire legal career and took the time to know everyone by name and learn about their families.
In the elevator, Bob said we would have lunch at an Italian restaurant, Coco Pazzo, which was a few blocks down. It was lightly raining that afternoon, so instead of walking, we hopped in a cab. Bob had an umbrella but unfortunately I didn’t bring mine, a fact that Bob noticed before I did. Bob told me to wait inside while he waived down a cab. We hopped in, and then he sent me to the restaurant while he paid, so I could avoid the rain.
When Bob walked in, all the waiters said hello to Bob and greeted him by name. As it turns out Bob if pretty well-known in Chicago and at a lot of the local restaurants. So they sat us down ahead of the line, took our orders right away, and Bob and I had a nice discussion for the next eighty or so minutes.
We kicked off the conversation with a little business, first discussing an upcoming project he wanted me to get involved in, where we were retained by a CEO to help negotiate an employment contract. But the conversation quickly diverted into more interesting things, such as his background and mine. The practices I thought I’d be interested in and his process of choosing a practice back as a younger attorney. I also talked a bit about my personal history and Bob talked a bit about himself.
It’s funny, how when you’re having good conversation, eighty minutes can feel like twenty. And before I knew it, we had finished our meal, paid our tab, and had to head out. Fortunately the weather had cleared up, so we walked back to the office, which was the perfect way to finish off our chat less abruptly. On the way home, I brought up a few people I’d worked with in the past, including the Practice Chair of my old consulting firm, who Bob knew directly. That was a good way to really connect with him at the end.
Upon reflection, here are a few lessons I learned from the discussion:
1. Good leaders are also good entrepreneurs. Bob spent his entire legal career as an entrepreneur. Out of law school, he turned down a couple of white shoe firms to join Vedder Price, which at the time was still an up-and-coming law firm in Chicago. “It gave me the opportunity to have real impact” he said. But rather than simply playing a part in an up-and-coming firm and taking what came his way, he also decided to make his own opportunities. And along the way, he helped build a couple of practice groups, including the financial institutions group and the executive compensation group. Today, Vedder Price does more work with financial institutions than any other Chicago firm, and Vedder’s executive pay practice is second to none in the U.S. Most law firms, and business for that matter, are not wildly successful entering new markets, but Bob was an exception to the rule because he sought out new opportunities.
2. Good leaders focus on their people. Bob was the kind of person who inspired others in the office. As I mentioned above, he said hello to everyone we passed and remembered everyone’s name and personal story. “It’s critical to retain every single employee that comes here” Bob said at lunch. Not only because it’s economically better for a firm to do so, but also because we want everyone here to be successful and build a career here. And it wasn’t just rhetoric. In fact, Vedder Price has done a great job of not letting many of its attorneys go during the economic downturn, and it didn’t let a single staff person go, despite the worst of the economic downturn. Bob had a laser-like focus on everyone at the firm. He knew there names, knew where they sat in the building, and reached out to them when it made sense. After all, he was even taking me, the new and only summer associate this year, to lunch during my second week.
3. Leaders reach back and develop leaders. Just a few days before lunch, I was speaking to one of the firm receptionists, and she mentioned that Bob had been a great mentor to many of the attorneys at the firm. At the time, I was glad to hear it, but she had also never worked directly with Bob, so I solicited a few other opinions. I went to lunch that day with two senior partners here at the firm, and one of the them was the lead for partner recruiting at the firm. He said the same thing about Bob, that “Bob has mentored me over the years at the firm and that’s why I’ve done so well today.” And for the last couple of weeks I heard similar comments from a few others. “Was it all just rhetoric?” I asked myself a few times. After all, balancing the tightrope walk of managing client development and people development has always been difficult at services firms.
But for Bob, the answer is a resounding “No.” Bob has already gone out of his way a few times now, to bring me into meetings and teach me lessons about the world of law firms. And after the meetings are over he’ll always imparts a few lines to me. He has also set me up with a couple of attorneys that he works with, so I could learn more about the firm. I was glad to see this was Bob’s style. In fact, I recently wrote about this myself a few weeks back (click here to see the post).
4. To get to the top, do something you like. People who make it all the way to the top do because they are passionate about what they are doing, something I talk constantly about here on my site (click here for one of my favorite posts on passion). Not only do they have good ideas but they actually have a real desire to go after them. During lunch Bob told me that he’s always loved practicing law and that he’s never thought of leaving the firm. He also mentioned how much he like the legal aspects of executive compensation, financial institutions, and securities work. And even though it wasn’t that hot of an area legally back then, because Bob enjoyed it and thought there was opportunity, he paved the way for Vedder Price by initiating work in those areas. That passion is especially evident now given the fact that he’s stayed with the firm and practice areas many years later, despite the modern trend that many professionals have of hopping from firm to firm.
5. Leaders are humble and kind. And it goes without saying based on my story above that Bob was as humble as firm Chairmen come. As I mentioned, Bob knew everyone’s name at the firm, he made sure that I didn’t get wet in the rain, and he even made sure I got enough to eat for lunch, ordering an extra plate while we were there. I was also impressed by the fact that Bob actually showed up to take me to lunch at 11:50 that day, rather than a little earlier or later. Leaders at his level are often so busy that they prioritize their work over other people’s schedules. In fact, many lawyers and client service professionals do. I was particularly impressed that Bob didn’t do that, because he valued my time.
Conclusion. Today’s leaders are called to help tomorrow’s leaders learn all they can, especially now, as the business and legal worlds are changing, as they become filled with new technologies and expand to the ends of every continent, and as they reshape themselves to thrive in today’s changing economy. Fortunately, there are people like Bob who are already engaged in this process. These leaders dedicate serious time and energy to prepare the next generation to face these new challenges and to take on some of the current ones.
That’s because the best leaders know that mentorship is critical. That a leader’s job is not only to cut costs, meet with clients, and negotiate deals but also to make sure the up-and-comers in the organization are well-equipped to do the same. Leaders set the tone and inspire others on how to produce results and eventually how to become leaders themselves. And when they do, these up-and-coming leaders will be inspired and committed to take on more than they ever could have before, which is critical in the ever-changing business and legal worlds. And in the end, these lessons, meetings, conversations, and even lunches with interns can make all the difference.
Law firms, and most professional service firms, do everything they can to compete in today’s global market. That often means working long hours regularly, pulling all-nighters, coming in on weekends, and even going without vacation for the year. But that wasn’t true for many people yesterday, as a lot of people at my firm, and in Chicago, took at least part of the day off to get started on the fourth of July weekend.
That’s because it’s finally the fourth of July weekend. It’s a weekend where families take off for a relaxing vacation. Where non locals come to town to enjoy the beach and see all that the big city has to offer. And where students put the books down to roam the streets for the day, which is especially satisfying during times when we’re really busy.
For lawyers those times happen pretty often. After all, law firms are filled with people who are eager to make millions, make it to the top, and eventually make partner. Whether they’re competing in a litigation trial, writing a closing argument for a jury, or negotiating the terms of a deal, lawyers are often workaholics who constantly think about work, check their blackberries, and take on more responsibility, all while neglecting relaxation. And that’s especially true now given the economic times and the incessant need to generate revenues and find more hours to bill.
For me, this summer has me feeling a lot like a lawyer, because it’s also one of the most busy periods of my life. Although most JD-MBAs take classes full time during the summer, I am both working downtown at a law firm and taking classes. And I’m doing that in addition to a few sides jobs and all the other activities that I am involved in.
But on Friday my firm, felt like a ghost town. Most of the offices were empty and most of the lights were turned off. And the same seemed true for many of our neighbors, because the streets were less crowded than usual and the bus ride home had a lot of extra space on it.
So unlike usual, I’m going to slow down a bit and enjoy the three day weekend. Sure I am going to get started reading a case from my accounting class and perhaps work on homework from another class, but I’m also going to catch up on a few blog posts, go see the Taste of Chicago, and re-connect with a few friends and classmates here in the city. In fact, just last night, one of my great JD-MBA colleagues threw a get together at her house. It was good to see some of the JD-MBA family together again.
I haven’t planned the specifics for the rest of the weekend yet, but it will definitely involve a mix of work and relaxation. Hopefully you’re planning to do the same.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
MY RESPONSE TO THE READER
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.
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.
** 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.
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!
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 !
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.