Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

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Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

Law Careers: Do You Have to Be a Lawyer If You Go to Law School?

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Whenever I talk about law school, I feel like a broken record. I cycle among three stock sentiments: it’s difficult for recent law school graduates, especially those who attended third or fourth tier schools, to find jobs as practicing lawyers; it’s a darn shame; and maybe a law degree just isn’t worth it right now. I’ve developed so many different ways of saying “bummer, dude” that I worry I’ll explode by sheer force of being so bummed out. And I doubt I’m the only one to feel this way.

Graduating from law school means you have to be a lawyer--or does it?My new approach is the following. It’s sad (unfortunate, distressing, lamentable) that the state of affairs is what it is, but I reject the inside of the box! There are things to do with a law degree that don’t include being a lawyer. Not that it’s entirely advisable to decide to attend law school on the basis of such thinking (see Jessica S.’ response to the second question), but if you have already gotten your JD and don’t know what to do next, the range of options is not so narrow as you might think.

To that end, I interviewed two non-practicing JDs, both of whom work in legal publishing agencies, about the paths that led them to their current careers. In the interest of garnering candid answers, names have been changed.

Vault: So tell me about how you decided to attend law school in the first place.

Roger M.: Well, I was working as an editorial lackey at a large trade publishing house, and one of my jobs was to shuttle manuscripts between editorial and the legal department for basically libel vetting. There were a couple of lawyers employed by the publishing house whose job was to do nothing but read manuscripts, try to spot libelous passages, and make recommendations about how to work around them or cut them out. I thought that they had the greatest jobs in the world, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to stay at a publishing house, so I went to law school–where I immediately forgot why I went there in the first place.

Jessica S.: There were probably two factors that went into the decision. The most immediate was that when I neared the end of college, I knew I wasn’t ready to enter the working world. So I went through the list of grad school options: PhD, business school, law school. The MBA I ruled out right away. I debated a bit about the PhD. But in the end I decided on law school, in part because it revived a vague childhood dream of being a lawyer.

Vault: As a 1L, what trajectory did you envision for your career?

Jessica S.: This is where I made a mistake that I would recommend others not emulate. You shouldn’t choose law school just because you don’t know what else to do, and that was really how I ended up there. So, when I was a 1L and discovered how little I was inspired by the study of contracts and torts and civil procedure, I thought, “Well, I’m going to get a law degree, but I’m not going to become a lawyer. There are so many things you can do with a law degree!” And there are, but law school itself doesn’t really train you for anything else. I had studied some languages, so I developed this vague idea of doing something international.

Roger M.: I knew that the publishing lawyers had all come there from other jobs where they were established, experienced lawyers; it wasn’t their first job out of school. I was just really naive. I didn’t have any sense of what kind of jobs those were and I was either incurious or lazy enough not to ask them about it. Not that I didn’t know them–I talked to them and they even wrote me recommendations–but I didn’t realize that they were coming out of really top-flight, blue chip law firms before they landed at the publishing house. I didn’t really get that connection; I thought you could sort of do anything. So as a 1L, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer focusing on the classroom subject areas that I liked, which were criminal and con law. I thought that I might want to be a criminal lawyer–a public defender, something like that–as a 1L. I wasn’t someone who spent a lot of time at career services. I wasn’t plugged into the grapevine or conveyor belt or whatever it was that funneled people into firm jobs, with on-campus interviewing and maxing out your GPA and all that. Basically, I didn’t appreciate the make-or-break nature of the first year in terms of landing a law firm job. I’m sure people told me; I just wasn’t listening.

Vault: How and when did that change?

Roger M.: The summer after my 1L year, I ended up salmon fishing in Alaska. I had an old friend who lives up there and does that for a living. I didn’t know I was ever going to have another chance to go live there, and I also expected to make about $25 or $30 grand–and I didn’t have any money at all–which would have taken care of my housing and other expenses. As it turns out, though, that summer was the worst salmon season Alaska had ever seen since they started to keep records. I had to borrow money to get home. And now I was really broke, so I had to transfer to the night program of my law school because I worked during the day. And in effect, that gave me another bite at the apple because I did realize what I didn’t realize as a 1L, and I went out and I got all A’s. Then, when on-campus interviews came around again, I had a much more attractive resume–because it’s all just two piles based on grades; I mean, there’s no real analysis–with a plausible GPA to get hired by a good, high-paying firm. Also, this was right at the absolute peak of the internet bubble, so there were the Silicon Valley companies and all these new start-ups, all of whom were trying to compete for law school talent. So, all the sudden in the year 2000, you had the chance of making $125,000 for your first job. Obviously I had money on my mind, and I decided that I was getting one of those jobs and do it as long as I can stand it, and then I was going to get out and I’d be in the clear. So all these public defender notions just evaporated; all I could see was the number. That’s how I ended up in a law firm.

Jessica S.: In my second and third years, I started taking international law courses, focusing on public international law, and decided that was what I wanted to do. I got an internship to study abroad with a humanitarian agency for the summer of my second year, which was a really great experience. One thing I discovered, though, in talking to people in that field was that most of them either do this work on the side or they come to it after an initial career in private practice. When I asked for advice, it was suggested was that I work for a few years at a law firm, get some private practice experience behind me, and then see about getting a position in the public arena. It was good advice, which I didn’t follow because I just didn’t want to practice in a law firm.

Use your law school legal knowledge in your career without being a lawyer

Vault: What made you decide to take your current job?

Jessica S.: I knew I wanted to do something other than work in a firm, but I didn’t know what that something else was. I hadn’t gone through on-campus recruiting; I didn’t work on a journal; I didn’t do moot court; I didn’t do any of the things that are traditionally helpful in terms of getting a law firm job. So I graduated without a job and without an idea of what to do. It was a little bit of a scramble, to be honest, at first, because even though I’d gone to a good school and had decent grades, my unconventional situation was (understandably) off-putting to most employers. But then I found a job with a small litigation practice through a listing at my law school. I worked there for a few years, and I hated it. I disliked being paid to take a legal position that I didn’t necessarily agree with; I hated the hours and stress; and I wasn’t comfortable with the constant confrontations inherent in an adversarial process. I realized there was a reason I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and I quit.

I took some time off, traveled and, when I came back, landed a job in publishing. It was a little bit roundabout, really, since I first took a temp job at the company, but then it turned out they were expanding into a new area for which they needed an editor with a legal background, and they offered me that position. There was something satisfying in finding that I could still use my law degree without having to practice.

Roger M.: I practiced in the firm setting for about two years. I hated it. It was an ill fit for me: I hated billable hours; the clients’ problems bored me (I mean, that’s a problem, right?). And I didn’t like the climate of fear. The junior associates were afraid of the senior associates who were afraid of the partners. The partners were afraid of the powerful partners, and it was just crazy. I have a lot of respect for people who do well in such a setting–maybe it was just my particular circumstances–but I realized I had to get the hell out of there. Somebody sent me a Media Bistro ad for a law editor type of position at a legal publishing company, and by this time I was kicking myself for having left publishing in the first place, so it seemed like a way to justify having a JD and doing something I would find a little more agreeable.

Vault: How do you use what you learned in law school in your current position?

Roger M.: A lot of what I do in the course of my day-to-day job consists of translating legalease into something like laymen’s terms. I mean, we’re still an industry publication and the audience is pretty sophisticated, but they might not be specialty practitioners. So, I have to sift through the language to get what is useful or interesting to an informed but not necessarily specialist audience.

Jessica S.: I think you can certainly be a legal journalist without a law degree, but it’s really helpful to have one. It helps you understand and convey to readers what’s going on in the profession, with respect to both legal issues and the day-to-day practice of law. It also lends you a certain amount of credibility, especially if you’re dealing with law firms, the courts or corporate counsel. There are also practical skills law school develops that are valuable in fields like publishing–for example, learning how to make cogent, well-supported arguments, and to distill often very dense and diffuse information into something persuasive and easy to understand.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em

Should You Bring ‘This’ Up During a Job Interview?

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In 2007, when the financial industry was at the brink of collapse, one executive at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) saw opportunity. Shannon Schuyler, then a member of PwC’s recruitment team, wrote a white paper for company leadership emphasizing that the firm needed someone to reorganize and refine their community initiatives, and give their corporate responsibility a face.

Three months later the job was hers. How did she re-strategize the firm’s hiring policies and recruitment outreach to encompass PwC’s commitment to corporate responsibility?

  1. For one, having a background in experienced hiring and on campus recruitment helped. She has seen first-hand the gradual evolution of the hiring landscape, where candidate priorities shifted from the best-paid job offer to work/life balance, and today, to a company’s commitment to responsible corporate citizenship. Her experience assured peers that directives coming from the new Corporate Responsibility Leader would be balanced and realistic.
  2. Secondly, the message from campuses was loud and clear. According to Schuyler, candidates are increasingly asking what the firm is doing to give back to the community, who they donate to, what they do toward the environment, etc. “They want to know how they can get engaged when they start. They want to know what our strategies are,” she said.
  3. Finally, she noted, markedly changing business strategies and decision making processes can be a double-edged sword. As her team continues to work on ensuring that new hires are aware and receptive of the company’s commitment from day one, she is also responsible for inculcating a deeper cultural change among current employees. And that is where her real battle lies.

Her observations mirror findings of Vault’s recently concluded Job Hunting in CSR series, where four MBA candidates discussed business school, their career transitions and job hunting, all connected with a commitment to CSR and change management.

For now, Schuyler is focusing on the “life cycle of a student.” Her team is busy redefining the firm’s hiring strategy by shifting their focus from best practices to candidates’ personal journey. “Increasingly, we ask, what are the opportunities? What could we continue to build on as a continuum? Would that really change what their education experience is, and ultimately, their success? It’s not just how you do the equations, but how you’re taking that and making it part of their life.”

–Posted by Aman Singh, Vault’s CSR Editor

Changing Careers – The When, the Why, and the How

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I was at my desk at 11 p.m. waiting for my publisher to give me the front pages to edit for that week’s newspaper wondering – ‘After eight years, why am I still here?’  It was at that moment two years ago that I realized that it was time to change careers, or at the very least, change jobs.

I’m sure everyone has had this epiphany at one point.  Whether you’re working long hours, not receiving enough income, tired of taking orders from a tyrant, or not finding the job challenging enough – there is a time, bad economy or not, when we need to make real decisions about our future and what strategy will help us achieve our goals.

Take a Look at Your Current Career Choice

You need to ask yourself a few questions.  1) Have you done everything you can to make your situation better?  2)  Is a promotion possible?  Have you seen other people at the job rewarded for good work?  3)  How long has your manager wiggled a possible promotion/raise in front of your face only to never come through?  The longer you have been strung along, the more likely you are to never see that promise fulfilled.

Do You Choose a New Job or a New Career?

I was involved in community newspapers for so long I thought I just might be sour on that field.  I looked into daily papers and found that reporters were actually getting paid less than I was making.  Since income was indeed a factor, I looked into magazines, but most of them hired freelancers and I was looking for a steady income.  Examining the industry, I also knew that print journalism was dying a slow death and that I needed to broaden my horizons.  A career change was warranted.  As a potential job seeker, you need to do the same – examine what options are available within your field and pay attention to how other companies and your industry are faring when it comes to the job market.  That’s exactly why Vault profiles are so important in the job search.

What Other Careers Are Out There?

If you’re switching careers, you need to think about how much effort is required.  Do you need to go back to school or seek out a training program?  What do you not have the patience for?  And what career change doesn’t require dipping into your finances?  That’s my kind of career change.

For this quick fix, a jobseeker must break down his current career by examining each facet of his day-to-day activities.  You need to think outside the box.  I was a writer and editor, but at the same time, I worked for a community newspaper, which means I promoted the community in my articles.  From that idea, I started thinking about public relations.  I thought, ‘If I could promote an entire community, I can promote one company.’  In that career, I could still write press releases and I would still deal with the media, pitching stories.  It seemed like a natural transition.  What new career will allow you to use some of the same skills you developed in your previous career, but still be different enough to offer overall satisfaction in your decision.

Now that you’ve identified your new career path, you will have to rework your resume, search for jobs in your new field and brush up on your interview skills.  That will be the focus of Part II: Making the Career Switch.

Career Paths: Career Development Counselor

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Much is written today about the perils facing this year’s graduating class. They leave college to enter an uncertain job market seemingly rebounding from the recession, but dense with competition for what new jobs are trickling in. The students expected to succeed in this environment are the ones who took the initiative well before donning their cap and gown, and sought guidance from career counselors like Marc Goldman. For nearly two decades, Goldman has participated in a vital element of the college tradition, ferrying students from academia and into the real world.

Marc Goldman headshotMr. Goldman has steered Yeshiva University’s Career Development Center since 2007, as Executive Director at two New York City campus offices. But it was at NYU’s Wasserman Center that he honed his abilities and rose from a “neophyte counselor” (as he puts it) to the role of associate director, before accepting his current position at Yeshiva. No stranger himself to the uncertainties of charting a post-college career, Marc lends his experience and administrative prudence to best serve those just starting down their career path. In the following interview, he shares with Vault the myriad lessons he’s learned along the way, the impact of recent recessionary budgeting, and how today’s students could themselves become tomorrow’s career counseling professionals.

VAULT: You’ve made your livelihood in career counseling, dating back to one of your earliest positions at Suffolk County Community College. How did you come into a job guiding others to jobs?

Marc Goldman: During my undergraduate years at Cornell, I went through a number of career transitions myself, starting as a pre-med student and ending up with a psychology major, considering graduate school options. Additionally, many of my peers who I considered to be very bright and driven individuals were finding it quite challenging to secure next steps in their career paths. “Ding letter walls” were common monuments to the challenging job market in 1990 and the lack of preparation or savvy on the part of new job seekers entering the full-time workforce for the first time.

When I was in my graduate counseling program at the University of Maryland, I chose a practicum experience at the college’s career center because it gave me an opportunity to assist students dealing with transitional issues similar to those I observed and experienced at Cornell. What struck me most about my first practical experience in the field was the multiplicity of roles college career counselors get to play. Individual counseling, workshop development and presentation, event planning, employer outreach, and program management were just some of the hats worn by the staff I worked with at Maryland. The diversity within the student body and the various stakeholders involved with the career center, including employers, alumni, faculty, administrators and student leaders, also intrigued me. No day would ever be the same, and that keeps you on your toes.

V: Prior to taking the helm of Yeshiva University’s career center, you were a 14-year veteran of the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development. How would you describe your time at NYU, and what led you to make the move to Yeshiva?

MG: My years at NYU were an incredible learning and growth experience for me. I went from a neophyte counselor to an experienced professional and administrator in my time there. What an exciting, vibrant, and diverse institution NYU is, and the career center reflects that nature. I had so many great mentors and collaborators at the NYU career center, and eventually, I became a mentor and supervisor myself. My main focal points in my work at NYU were liberal arts students and career center technology in addition to the previously mentioned counselor supervision. But the myriad programs and initiatives I had a chance to create and participate in are too many to include in this response. I spent about one third of my life at the career center there, so it certainly was a huge deal for me to leave.

The move to Yeshiva arose from two well respected mentors of mine, Trudy Steinfeld and Manny Contomanolis, serving as consultants at Yeshiva regarding its career center. Following Trudy and Manny’s recommendations, Yeshiva sought a new director to reorganize and revitalize the career center, and I pursued that opportunity. It seemed like the next logical step for me, one that could prove both challenging and rewarding in many ways. I always pictured myself as a director at a smaller institution than an NYU because of the more tight knit community feeling one experiences. Also, Yeshiva provided me the chance to take everything I learned throughout the years and bring my own vision to a fledgling department in all aspects of the operation.

V: As both an associate and executive director, how much interaction do you have with the students your department advises? In addition to your administrative responsibilities, will you take an active role to provide guidance for certain individuals?

MG: When I was at NYU, I never dramatically decreased the number of counseling appointments I had each week until I was an Associate Director, and even then, I still saw a healthy number of clients. I felt it was important since I was training and supervising counselors that I also practiced what I preached and had a handle on the students and issues the staff was dealing with on a daily basis. I have tried to carry this philosophy over to my role at Yeshiva, so I still see students in appointments from time to time, but the vast majority of my position consists of overall department management, staff supervision, strategic planning, committee involvement, and serving as a liaison to various administrators as well as both internal and external stakeholders.

V: Describe the typical office culture and social atmosphere of a career development center. Is there a sense of hierarchy among colleagues?

MG: Career center cultures vary greatly depending on the institution, director, staffing, students, budget, location, and numerous other factors. Regardless of which division the career center falls under, whether Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, Development and Alumni Relations, Enrollment Management, or a specific college unit, I find many career professionals identify themselves most with student services. First and foremost, career centers exist for the students. That is something I hold true and instill in my team. In that spirit, I think career centers are made up of staffers sharing a common purpose, producing a unique environment of professionalism and fun. The balance of professionalism and fun changes at different times of year and varies with different members of each team. Whether the career center exhibits a fast paced, corporate atmosphere or a slower, more casual setting, the staffs care deeply about their work each and every day.

Of course, in order to accomplish the office mission and maintain some sense of accountability and quality, staff hierarchies do exist, but colleagues I know from across the country share my belief that college career centers attempt to be as flat in structure as possible. And in this, I mean that everyone has a voice in the direction of the office and what it is trying to accomplish. This philosophy is demonstrated on a routine basis, in regular staff meetings, or at semester strategic planning retreats. It is truly a team effort. It’s funny, but when I started as an entry level counselor, I was always lifting boxes and moving them around at our career fairs, and now as Executive Director, I am still carrying boxes or water cooler bottles. Nothing changes!

V: On the topic of offices, you work out of two Manhattan locations: One office on 185th Street, and one way down in the Murray Hill area. How are your duties and schedules divided between these offices, and how rough is that commute?

MG: Yeshiva is rather unique in that it has a men’s campus and a women’s campus for the undergraduates. When I came on board, it was very important for me to spend equal amounts of time on each campus, favoring neither population and insuring quality service for both. Even though my team is spread across the two campuses, we are indeed one team. I believe I am the one responsible for making sure our message is consistently understood and portrayed by the staff on both campuses and communication is flowing smoothly among all team members for ideal collaboration and success. The commute is fine for me because I live geographically in between the campuses. One commute is by bus, and the other is by subway. Living in Manhattan, I don’t own a car.

V: Many schools are enduring sharp recessionary budget cuts, which have taken a particular toll on career development centers. How have you weathered these issues? What effect has it had on fielding and acquiring necessary resources for your students?

MG: Yeshiva has certainly faced budget challenges, and my office has not been untouched. For me, the human capital is the most important resource at our career center, and I would much rather lose technology or other resources than lose staff. We have had to cut back on certain aspects of marketing and events, and we have become savvy at doing more with less. This is common in career centers throughout the country during this recession. Creativity and collaboration become more important than ever in times such as this.

V: From your experience in different schools and departments, what have you observed as a common education track for career development professionals on the university level? What guidance would you give to a student who eventually wants your job?

MG: A Master’s degree in counseling, higher education, industrial/organizational psychology, human resources, or a related field is typical for counselors at college career centers. However, practical work experience combined with a less common graduate degree is also welcomed many times in the field, especially at schools that specialize in certain studies such as law, business, public policy, arts, etc.

Something that I recommend in hindsight is to become involved in a professional association early on in one’s career. I have been a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers for a decade, but I only really have gotten involved with the organization in the last few years. The networking I’ve done through my participation on committees and at events has enriched my own professional development dramatically, so I can only imagine how much I would have gained had I dedicated myself sooner.

I also would highly recommend new professionals considering this field to get some work experience outside of academia at some point. Basically, I have worked in higher education for my entire career. I did dabble in the world of theatre, so I have some knowledge of that industry firsthand, but I think it is a big plus to have some additional experience along the way to understand the world of work more fully.

Read more about the latest news and insights for student career development at Vault’s Admit One blog. Further professional development and job recruitment information can be found at the SixFigureStart blog.

Vault’s 2010 Consulting Survey: The Numbers Are In

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Well, folks, the 2010 Vault Consulting Survey has officially come to a close. After racking in close to 10,000 responses from consultants around the world, we are left with a rich pool of data, from which we can draw an interesting portrait of the consulting industry today.

While we won’t be releasing the consulting rankings until the end of the summer, below you’ll find some stats from our North American survey that will give you an idea of who participated and their general impressions of their respective firms.

Percentage of respondents who are men: 69

Percentage of respondents who are single: 57

Percentage of respondents who are non-White: 22

Percentage who said culture was the single most important factor that made them decide to accept their firm’s offer over others’: 44

Percentage who said prestige was the single most important factor that made them decide to accept their firm’s offer over others’: 14

Percentage who said that, knowing what they know now, they would make the same decision about which firm to join: 92

Percentage of respondents who worked as a summer intern at their firm: 18

Percentage of consultants who received a 2009 year-end bonus: 83

Average score on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is “inadequate” and 10 is “extremely generous”) that respondents give to their compensation: 7.43

Percentage of respondents who work 2-3 weekends per month: 24

Percentage of respondents who work over 70 hours per week: 7

Average score on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is “completely unsatisfied” and 10 is “entirely fulfilled”) that respondents give to their overall satisfaction: 8.07

Average score on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 is “in a precarious position” and 10 is “well positioned to thrive”) that respondents give to their firm’s overall business outlook: 8.66

–Posted by Naomi Newman, Consult THIS

Four Tips to Get Your First Job Ever

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Hopefully if you’re graduating from college, you have at least one internship stint under your belt. But what if you don’t have any work experience at all? You spent your summers on an anthropological dig in Boudreaux, for example. It’s unlikely that your skills dusting ancient bones will translate easily to the corporate world. So I’m not going to lie: it’s going to be an uphill battle convincing employers that you have what it takes to hack it at their organization. But it’s not impossible.

College student applying for first job with student resume I asked Connie Thanasoulis, former recruiter, co-founder of SixFigureStart and esteemed Vault blogger about how to find a new job if you don’t already have one–in fact, have never had one. “Recruiters and hiring managers always feel that a person with a job has more posture,” Thanasoulis says. “With that said, you could learn to have more posture. I once coached an employment lawyer who had never had to look for a job before. His wife did well in her job so income was not a problem. But he said that he lost all his posture and confidence. I had to talk him down from the ledge!”

While the job search of an employment lawyer is quite different from someone straight out of college, the same “posture and confidence”-building techniques are the same. Here are four tips recent grads and other inexperienced job searchers need to understand:

Four Tips to Get Your First Job Ever

  1. “You have skills that are necessary in the marketplace,” says Thanasoulis. No matter where you are in your career. “Make a list of your top 10 skills and quantify them–give an example of each skill in five or six bullet points.”
  2. “You have significant and measureable accomplishments” as a college graduate. Think of your academic experience in terms of accomplishments and make a list of your top five: Did you start a new club? Did you volunteer in an interesting way? Were you a research assistant on a professor’s project? These are real, quantifiable accomplishments that will look good on your resume.
  3. “You will find a job.” Even if it’s not your ideal job, it’s a valuable step in your career. Says Thanasoulis: “The first job is so key because you learn so much. Then you can take your skills to the next level.”
  4. “It’s just going to take some time…but you will get there!”

So chin up. Figure out exactly what your accomplishments and skills are–you probably have more than you think. Good luck!

–Posted by Carolyn C. Wise Admit One,