Finding that first job out of law school is a rite of passage for most young lawyers. Many, especially in this economic climate, are content to find “something.” However, that first job lays a crucial foundation for your career. Knowing your strengths, values, personality traits and preferences can help you pick a career direction that pays the bills now, but also pays benefits of fulfillment and satisfaction in the long term. Here are a few tips to help you align your personality with your pocketbook:
- Take a personality exam or inventory. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI®, can clarify how you prefer to interact with the world: e.g., how you make decisions or how you gather information. The MBTI® is not designed to be a career assessment device, but it can provide helpful insight about your likes and dislikes. If you don’t like the MBTI, the Strong Interest Inventory identifies personal interests. The Strong and MBTI are just two of many such instruments.
- Name your 3 accomplishments. Identify three things that you feel you did well and, while doing them, brought you particular satisfaction. Don’t worry if they’re not significant “accomplishments” in any broader sense. Write each of them down and write a few sentences about why you picked each one. Review this information and identify the commonalities among all three. Did they all involve a specific activity? Were you working by yourself or with a group? Did they all involve a specific subject matter? Finally, brainstorm a job, practice area, or even a workplace situation that incorporates these aspects.
- Meet with a career counselor. Career counselors are not a new phenomenon, but these days, an increasing number — and even some former lawyers — work exclusively with lawyers. Ongoing consultations can be expensive, but you may be able to leverage these resources without regular meetings. Many counselors have websites with resources available for free. Others can be heard at CLEs or other bar events, which may be offered to young lawyers at a discount. Many law schools permit alums to use the law school career services office at no cost — some consultations may even be conducted by phone if you have moved away.
- Get involved. Pro bono or other public service opportunities let you try out something new. Actually doing something can help you identify both what you like, and, almost as importantly, what you don’t like.
- Answer the question: What would you do for free? This is my personal twist on the old “What would you do if you won the lottery?” career question. Imagining what I’d do with all that money was always too big a distraction from actually answering the substantive question, so I found “the lottery question” unhelpful. A friend’s statement that he’d be a software developer, even if they didn’t pay him, changed my thinking. Now, I imagine what skills and opportunities I’d like to try to develop if money were not abundant but irrelevant.
Well-meaning law schools and even law school career services professionals don’t always encourage using introspection or self-awareness to identify a career direction. Let’s be honest: law school is hardly an “introspective” experience. Expertise developed over even a few years, even in a job or industry that you don’t like, increases the financial and emotional costs of making a change. Self-aware career decisions now will help insure that you enjoy multiple aspects of your practice over the long term.