Going to Work: Practical cues for managers & staff

A cheeky TechRepublic blog post, Is Your Boss an Idiot? reminded me again that communication -- or lack there of -- is one of the great pitfalls of going to work. More important, though, is that telepathy is neither a management tool or a career-management system, and managers and staff should stop trying to use it.

Unless someone has been trained to supervise, he may attempt to use telepathy to manage his staff, triangulating with one Trusted Lacky by muttering "Why don't these idiots ever do X the way it should be done?"

Sadly, the Trusted Lacky is unlikely to ask pointedly: "Have you ever asked them to do it?" and "Have you ever explained how it should be done?" All too often, if the questions were asked, the answers would be "No."

Perhaps because an employee has never worked in an office or perhaps because she mistakenly believes that everyone communicates exactly as she does with her friends, she has:
  • Misread or ignored visible cues from a boss that might lead her to believe that her supervisor is concerned or upset with behavior or work product. This could be cured by looking up from a smartphone and engaging with the people in the office.  
  • Neglected to ask how her boss wants to learn about progress on projects. This could be cured by asking "How would you like to learn about my progress on projects? Would you like hard-copy memos, email memos, texts, phone calls or face-to-face meetings?" and "Would you like daily or weekly reports, or reports  on some other schedule?
FOR EVERYONE: Ask for what you want. Be clear and unambiguous.

8 rules for phone or Skype interviews

  1. Get dressed. Put on shoes that tie so that you can't kick them off and get too comfortable. Wear a suit (or at least a jacket), without stripes or plaids that may be distracting to your viewer. 
  2. Sit at a desk or table. Sit up straight. Re-read your resume and cover letter and have them in front of you. Have pen or pencil and paper so that you can take notes.
  3. Make sure that your phone is fully juiced or that your computer is Skype-ready.
  4. If Skyping, make sure that whatever is behind you is NOT your laundry, your unmade bed or last night's dishes. 
  5. Never forget that you are taking to a human being who is judging you.
  6. Even with Skype, you are relying primarily on your voice. Speak clearly, distinctly and in Standard English (or in the language in which you are being interviewed). It is unlikely that you will be interviewed in "Teen-Age Mall Rat," so avoid "I'm like, you know" which will undercut the power of your speech. Do not mumble. On the other hand, you are not speaking to the third balcony. Ask your interviewer for a sound-check at the beginning of the interview.
  7. If you are conducting this interview at school, ask for a quiet space and then make sure that you can get EXCELLENT cell reception. If necessary, as your career office staff to use a land-line.
  8. For reasons of confidentiality and ambiance (quiet enough so that you can hear and be heard), conducting a phone interview at a coffee shop is not a very good idea. Similarly, airports are generally awful locations for phone interviews.
Good luck!

Going to work: finding and taking criticism

When my career began to focus on the school-to-work transition, my eloquent friend, the writer Michael Dolan, offer this advice: “You know that you’re doing ok if they’re not yelling at you.”

Evaluations: when and where?

How, then, would you know when you are being evaluated? Sometimes it's hard to know what questions to ask of your new boss. Sometimes, as with an annual performance review, the agenda is unambiguous. 

What you should hope for in the school-to-work transition is a patient and understanding teacher, willing to work with you as you acquire skills, and willing to give reality-based and useful critique when it is called for. Often the best technical lawyers are the least able to slow down to offer routine evaluations of each project. While you should never expect minute-by-minute support and evaluation, you should never stop never stop looking for sound criticism.

Evaluations: how to respond when it's not "Bravo!!?"

Your responsibility, when faced with an evaluation that makes you cringe, is to breathe deeply, remind yourself that you don’t know everything, and to learn from the criticism.

A great book
in a terrific series
It is also helpful to understand that your work will not be praised by everyone, and that you are certain to encounter people who believe that you are uniquely ill-suited for the job that you are doing.

Take inspiration from two of my favorite authors, DouglasPreston and Lincoln Childs, who have gone out of their way to collect bad reviews of their work. Think of it, they labor together to write intricately plotted and elaborately charactered novels, and there are people who don’t like the books and are not afraid to say so. True, the bad reviews are posted anonymously, but it is with good humor and humility that P&C post them.

Take criticism with good grace.

Do not argue when a person who is paying your salary suggests that you employ correct grammar and spelling in professional documents, and that perhaps your legal analysis lacks sufficient nuance to persuade a judge or jury. Although the language of the critique might be couched as a "suggestion," following through is not an option. Fix the problems or find other work.

Not an attack on your creative spark

Please know that your evaluator is not hell-bent on destroying your creative spark. In your personal writing, you are free to bend and embellish the English language and to create new forms of expression.  Enjoy your opportunity to become bilingual: Standard English with Nuanced Legal Analysis, and Your Own Personal Creative Expressions. 

Going to work: make a plan and work it

In this market, you have two career exploration options:

  1. Repeat “there are no jobs” 100 times each morning and fret yourself into a frenzy, or
  2. Make a plan and work your plan.

With all of the blogification about employment statistics and the shrunken job market, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that many, many law students get jobs. Driving yourself into the crossroads of Anxiety Alley and Despair Drive will take all of the energy that might have created a reality-based job and successful search.

Make a plan. Work the Plan.

If you know what you want to do, read everything about the subject or career path and begin to talk (yes, talk on the telephone or face-to-face) to the people who do the work. You should be reading current cases, blogs (both law professors’ and practitioners’ blogs), course syllabi from the best professors in the country, the latest news in the industries that are affected by this topic, and everything else that you can get your hands on. You should participate (not just join) professional organizations and the relevant sections or groups.

Take as your Role Model a patent lawyer of my acquaintance who has briefed every patent court case that has come down since he was a law student. He shares this information with his colleagues and is respected for his dedication, breadth of knowledge, and commitment to his work.

If you don’t know what you want to do, pick three topics or career paths and systematically do the tasks listed above. If you find something you hate, ditch it. When you find something that you like, ditch the other two.

What will happen if you don’t make a plan?

  • You may fall into employment. You will be relying on luck and gravity.
  • Because you cannot outsource gathering this knowledge, you may graduate with no job.
  • Should you be lucky enough to get an interview, your reply to “Why do you want to do this work?” will be shallow and lacking in substance. The difference between a candidate with a substantive body of knowledge that he has taken time and trouble to acquire and the person who replies "I liked the class," is a paycheck.
  • Should you graduate with no job, you will then have to begin the tasks outlined above. Instead of operating from the safe space of law school as an engaged and therefore interesting law student who is curious about practice, you will be an unemployed grad scrambling for a foothold in a difficult market.

Interview Practice Protocol & Checklist

A checklist for you

Whether practicing on your own or practicing with friends and colleagues, a Practice Protocol checklist will help you cover your bases and succeed in your interviews.

1.       Handshake: firm, neither fishlike nor crusher
2.       Personal presentation
          Suit: pressed; cotton shirt (men)
          Suit: women: if wearing a skirt (not too short)
          Hair: cut
          Shined Shoes
          Portfolio and pen
          No baseball caps, ever
3.       Demeanor
          Eye contact: direct
          No fidgeting, drumming on the table, leaning back in the chair
4.       Answers to questions (provide a list of practice questions)
          Clear and direct
          Complete sentences with meaningful specific information
          Never says: Ummm, and-ummm, I was like, I was like, you know
          Can discuss every resume item
          Can answer:
                   “Why do you want to work here?”
                   “Why should we hire you?”
                   “What do you know about our business?”
          Has re-read writing sample and can discuss it intelligently
          Has practiced some behavioral questions
5.       Market information
          Knows about the industry
          Knows about the business
          Knows about  business and industry problems and issues
6.       Local information
          Knows about local conditions (market, geography, cultural)
          Knows the location of the employer and can get to the office on time.