As a rezooming attorney, interviewing with a prospective firm can be daunting. How can you make a memorable impression? What can you say that will be relevant when asked, “So what have you been doing for the past (2, 5, 10) years?” What you don’t want to do is give a laundry list of things you have done. You’ve taken care of the children, worked for the PTA and organized a carpool. How you reply will positively or negatively reflect on what you have done while you were away from the law. Tell your own memorable and unique story. Tell how your actions positively impacted a situation you found yourself in that needed managing.
My story goes like this.
I joined the PTA when I quit the law. The first thing I volunteered to do was to become the PTA Vice President for the grammar school. How hard could that be? I had managed investigations in my last legal job. This would be a piece of cake. What I didn’t realize was that I had been thrown into the deep end of the pool without a life preserver. I had no experience in how to ‘herd cats,’ a kind description for encouraging grammar school parents to work together.
My first attempt at running a PTA program ended in disaster. I thought I could just assign people tasks to do and they would work ‘for’ me. After all, hadn’t I assigned tasks to my staff when I worked in the law and hadn’t they done them without question? This part was easy. I soon found out that my mindset was hugely flawed. I felt the jobs I had assigned were easy and mundane, anyone could do them. I wanted them to follow my directions and get the job done. However, the people who helped me on the PTA wanted and needed to feel respected and appreciated. As the event crumbled around me I discovered, if no one felt respected and appreciated as they did the tasks assigned to them, they didn’t do them. The most mundane tasks become difficult and important when no one shows up to do them. I discovered the hard way that people needed to feel important as they carried out their jobs.
When you are looking for your own story find one that resonates with a broad base of people and their personal experiences. This is the blessing that comes from being a rezoomer. You can tell a real life story that people usually don’t share. When I tell my PTA story, either at an interview or speaking event, it resonates with the listener. Almost everyone has a PTA story. It is broadly appealing and creates talking points for men and women alike. Whether they have remained in or left the law they all have a PTA story while schooling their children.
The minute I say, “I was a PTA vice president” I immediately hear peals of laughter, see heads nodding and people turn to their neighbor to murmur stories of their own experiences with PTA. PTA is universally understood and you either love it or hate it. It is my memorable story when asked, “What have you done since leaving the law?” and from it flows discussion, stories and examples of similar pertinent experiences.
Telling a story is a much more effective way of answering the “what have you done” question than simply saying to the interviewer, “I had children, worked for the PTA and drove in a carpool.” A simple story can show the valuable lessons you have learned while away from the law. Your story gives you the ability to speak concretely about experiences you have mastered. It supplies you with an example of relevant life experience that can be used to address pushback involving your recent legal experience. “Well yes, actually my experience at X provided me with the opportunity to organize this event, raise money, speak in front of large groups and hold one on one discussions with people about fundraising.” Your current story will provide valuable support for your suitability to hold the position for which you are interviewing and talking points with which to engage your interviewer.
After deciding which of your stories to tell, it is important to then get your story straight. It needs to flow smoothly and not be too long or too short. The following three steps will help you set up your story, outline its relevance and show your acquired expertise.
Start with a challenge:
For example, I was challenged by dealing with PTA parents who really didn’t want to work for anyone or organize themselves. My story shows I positively dealt with different kinds of people and now have first hand knowledge of and experience in how to get people to work together.
Identify the problem:
For me, it was running my first PTA event. I realized I had not made anyone involved feel valuable. Learning how to make people feel valued for their opinions and contributions is a priceless lesson for anyone and would help me successfully run future event. A future employer may see me as an organizer who gets things done. It also shows I learned from my mistakes, regrouped, pulled people together and turned situations around.
Navigate to solution:
I didn’t listen or appreciate people. I now listen to and respect the assistance of others. Identifying this newfound ability provides my prospective employer and I with a window into my prior world of running the PTA and my current world of mediating conflicts between people about animals.
As you resume your legal career remember, pick your own unique story. What happened to you while you were away from the law that sets you apart from everyone else now? Be engaging. When you decide what your story is use the three points listed below to create it:
The Challenge, The Crisis and The Resolution
Then practice telling it. Tell your story to anyone who will listen until it rolls off your tongue effortlessly.
The bonus in creating an experience story like this is that, when you find yourself in an elevator with a partner of a firm you want to interview with, you will have a ready made conversation piece. You will be memorable. It is all about your unique story. Tell the juicy stories; create pictures in the interviewer’s mind. Make it impossible to forget and easy to hire this outstanding rezooming attorney. Now get out there and rezoom your career.
All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.