Practical lessons in how to manage your career, Part 2.

Rachelle J. Canter, Ph.D.

In Part 1, I related meeting Mike, the best career manager I have ever known. He is Criminal Section chief for the Utah Attorney General's Office and spent 22 years practicing law in the Air Force. He has experience in criminal and civil law, as a criminal defense lawyer and a prosecutor, in domestic and international jobs, and in the Pentagon.  He has provided legal services to entire regions as a circuit court prosecutor and judge,  and argued hundreds of cases in court.  He is now happily employed in the civilian job of his dreams.  His story provides some important lessons, including Lessons 1 through 3 shared in the first part of this article.

Here are Lessons 4 through 6.

Lesson 4:   Write a Results-Oriented Resume

Instead of a traditional legal resume, Mike wrote a resume that emphasized specific, quantifiable results that he had produced in his jobs.  He recognized that a resume is not an effective marketing tool unless it does more than document employers, titles, and job responsibilities the way traditional resumes do.

How can a  prospective employer differentiate candidates if they have resumes with relatively comparable career paths and generic job descriptions?  An employer can only rely on the prestige of the law school or employers or class rank.  This helps only those with strong credentials, but as the years pass, even strong law school reputation and rank become less important than on-the-job performance.

Specific accomplishments, like those in Mike's resume, differentiate a candidate from the competition much more effectively.  A job description that refers to "arguing motions" does not differentiate litigators.  An accomplishment that states "argued over 250 cases to conclusion" does.

Quantity or volume is only one form of quantification.  "Saved the government $500,000 per year by innovative use of computers" is another example.  Quantifying results provides objective data that makes a compelling case for a candidate.

Lesson 5:  Keep Up Your Network

As part of his long-term strategy, Mike nurtured relationships with a wide range of colleagues, acquaintances, and friends.  He reasoned that when it came time to look for the next job, personal contacts would be a big help.  So Mike kept careful records of his network, maintaining a list of information about each person, including names of spouse and children and other important details.  At least once a year, he made contact with each of them, through a Christmas card, a phone call, or a face-to-face visit.

At many points in his career when he was looking to make a change (including a big move from the military), he called a friend and asked if he could put Mike's resume on the desk of the prospective employer.  Because Mike had established long-standing relationships, he had a good idea of what his contacts had done and who they knew.  He also felt confident that his requests were appropriate to the relationship.  Most important, he knew he could rely on people to do what he asked -- put the resume on the desk ASAP -- and that they would accompany this task with a warm personal recommendation (for which he didn't have to ask).  As anticipated, within 24 hours, the resume was on the appropriate desk, accompanied by a personal endorsement from one of Mike's "friends."

Networking may be a cliche, but developing and maintaining a strong network is crucial.  Seventy to eighty percent of jobs come from  personal networks, far overshadowing all other approaches combined, including search firms, ads, and targeting and direct approaches to employers.

One of the most common resolutions of job-seekers is to keep up their networks.  Developing and maintaining your network while you still have a job and presumably don't "need" one is a wise investment of time and energy.  It requires more than a signature at the bottom of an annual holiday card.

Spending time to get to know people and to help them when they need assistance is essential to developing a network that you can count on. This includes headhunters.  Go out of your way when others ask for your help, providing contacts, introductions, search leads, and the like.  They won't forget and it will make it much easier and more productive to pick up the phone and ask for help in return.  And don't forget to return calls from unemployed contacts -- unreturned calls are the biggest gripe and blow to the morale of job-seekers.  Remember to make time for people so they make time for you.  It's basic (but unfortunately, uncommon) human courtesy, and people will remember it.

Lesson 6:  Prepare For Interviews

Mike prepared for interviews as he would prepare for a trial or an important meeting.  He anticipated questions a prospective employer might have about his candidacy.  He prepared for typical and difficult questions, such as his reasons for leaving his current job .  In Mike's case, his desire to settle (and ultimately, retire) in the Rockies led him to seek a job change in his mid-forties, when he felt he'd be more employable than in his fifties.

He also anticipated concerns an employer might have about him.  For example, when he was seeking a civil job, he anticipated a concern about how well his military experience would transfer to civilian practice and came prepared with an answer to overcome it.

In fact, no one asked him a question about this, but he was able to dispel an unspoken reservation by taking the initiative.  He said, "I'm sure you're wondering how closely my military trial experience parallels civilian experience.  As an example, the rules of evidence concerning admissibility of a co-conspirator's statement, Section 801 (d) (2) (E) is the relevant rule for civilian cases and military cases."  The fact that the rules of evidence were identical reinforced their similarity.

In addition, he selected an example that would demonstrate his highly sophisticated grasp of rules of evidence in a specific and relevant issue or case.  If Mike had not volunteered this example or the interviewer had asked a question to which he replied only, "They are very similar", his interview presentation would have been much less effective.

Mike prepared for the interview in another important way -- by learning as much as he could about an employer and its lawyers.  When he went for an interview, he generally knew who he would be speaking with.  He looked up the person and his or her number-two person in the Martindale-Hubbell so he would know  who they were, where they were from, and where they'd gone to undergraduate and law school.  As part of his preparation, he also read the local morning paper a day or two before his interview.  He was able to learn about local cases being tried so he could be conversant with the cases that the lawyers in the office were talking about.

When a Deputy Attorney General asked Mike why he was interested in public sector law, he quoted the chief of the civil litigation section (her civil counterpart) from an article in that day's paper.  Simply knowing the name of the chief of civil litigation was notable, because Mike was from out of state.  The Deputy Attorney General's eyes lit up and she smiled, remarking, "You're certainly well prepared, aren't you?"  By following the strategy of getting as much information on as many people as possible in the office, Mike made a very favorable impression.

This kind of impression had enormous payoffs for Mike.  Selling yourself is harder than selling a client's case.  It is easy to fall into the common interview traps such as talking too much (lawyers do like to talk), speaking in generalities, rambling, and focusing on what you want rather than what an employer needs.  Without careful preparation and practice, even the best advocates have difficulty making their case.  It is the rare lawyer who would go to court without preparation; it is the wise lawyer who wouldn't think of going to an interview unprepared.


This article draws selectively from Mike's career to illustrate some of the basic lessons of effective career management.  Although these represent only some of the many ways in which Mike successfully managed his career, they suggest the value of a comprehensive strategy for building a career to meet long-term goals and to provide the kind of job satisfaction that most lawyers only dream about.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 1998 issue of Leadership & Management Directions (Volume 8, Issue 3), a publication of the American Bar Association.  Copyright © 1998 American Bar Association.  All rights reserved.  This information of any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association.