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

A Second Stimulus, and Bad News for the Finance Industry: This Week in Employment

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If one thing has become clear over the last week, it’s that the road to the midterm election is going to be a long, long, slog—especially for those of us who have set up alerts for the words “economy” and “jobs” in Google Reader and.

In case you somehow missed it, the biggest thing that happened to the world of jobs this week is that President Obama came out swinging as he attempts to save the Democratic majority in the House come November. Accordingly, almost everything he said throughout the week was tailored towards the issues that voters are most concerned about right now. Don’t know what that is? Here’s a clue: starts with “j”, ends in “obs.”

Mindful of the tarnished reputation of Stimulus I, the President was careful to avoid the term when rolling out his latest plan to, uh, stimulate the economy. His new plan has three main prongs, with each designed to spur hiring and investment in the economy: infrastructure spending, a 100 percent tax break for companies on new investments in plant and equipment, and increasing the budget for an R&D tax credit while also making it permanent. Oh, and there was also something about “holding the middle class hostage” that didn’t get any press attention at all.

Outside of Washington, one of the biggest hiring stories of the week turned out to not be much of a story at all. There we were all breathless with excitement over the news that Spanish bank Santander was hiring 6,000 in the UK. There was speculation on what it could possibly mean in terms of their plans for expansion (the company only has 22,000 employees in the UK).. And then there was another announcement: the company is hiring a mere 600 employees. Typos, eh?

Compounding the bad news for the finance industry was the prediction from Wall Street analyst Meredith Whitney that some 50,000 jobs related to the securities industry could be at risk. Her reasoning: that ” underwriting and advisory fees account for around 80 per cent of investment banks’ revenues and those areas have suffered badly.”

It was a bad week for those in aerospace and defense contracting as well: BAE Systems, Boeing and Lockheed Martin all announced layoffs, with tightened spending at the Pentagon prompting the firms to cut costs.

Elsewhere, it was another better-than-expected week for new jobless claims, with further “good” news to be found in the fact that there are now only five jobless workers for every open position. Woeful as that figure sounds, it’s a significant improvement from just a few months ago, when it was as high as six per opening.

There’s fresh hope on the horizon regarding that number as well: the birth rate appears to be among the many things negatively affected by the economy. All we need to do is hold on for a generation or so, and there will be more jobs than people. Right?

7 Career Changes? Depends How You Define ‘Career’

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What is a career anyway? It’s not a question that’s likely to come up in too many college level Philosophy courses (at least not until they’ve solved that one about the tree falling in the woods), but as the Wall Street Journal reports, it’s at the heart of a debate over just how many careers each of us is likely to have before we reach retirement age.

Most of us will be familiar—at least in theory—with the well-worn trope that the average job seeker can expect to have seven careers over the course of a working life. The Journal has assembled an impressive number of experts, however, to refute the likelihood of that claim—it turns out no one even knows where it came from—and who raise the question posed at the outset of this piece in the process.

So what exactly is a career? Is it simply a job? One or more jobs with a similar function or skill set? And how does duration factor in?

The Journal points to BLS statistics that show “Three in four workers age 16 to 19, and half between 20 and 24, have been with their current employers for under a year.” While that’s hardly surprising given the ages of the people involved, it also suggests that young people switch “careers” more often. But as the Journal again points out: “early, frequent switches, which can include jumps by students between summer jobs, aren’t what many people would consider career changes in the same way as a midlife switch after a decade or two in the same job.”

So how do we define a “career change?” Speaking from personal experience, I’d say I’m on my second: having spent several years as a teacher, I’m now in a completely different field, relying on a completely different set of skills. Other metrics might put me at five: I’ve had stints working in a bank, pulling pints in a variety of bars, and even working as a sales assistant at a certain giraffe-festooned toy emporium. But none of those felt like permanent choices: each job was entered into with one thing in mind—making enough money to pay my bills until I figured out what it really was I wanted to do and gained the qualifications to do so. Entering teaching, however, felt like I was taking on a profession because it was something I wanted to do, and could envision myself doing for a long time. Ditto with my current profession.

Perhaps that’s the reality of what constitutes a “career”: that each job ultimately comes down to what an individual chooses to make of it, and the meaning they find within it. Just as I found myself in toy retail as a means to an end, so there are others who have entered professions that most would consider solid career choices—law, teaching, finance—with an eye simply on the paycheck, biding time until they can do whatever it is they’re passionate about. But if that’s going to be how we define it, many of us will be lucky to have even one career.

As ever, I’m keen to hear your take on the subject. How do you define a career? And how many do you consider yourself to have had?

Will Work For Tweets: The Great Los Angeles Job Contest

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Despite what the “Trending Topics” sidebar might tell you, the biggest news surrounding Twitter in the past week wasn’t Justin Bieber or Chelsea Clinton. Rather, users were all atwitter about a contest launched by @mikemckayecd—that being Mike McKay, the Los Angeles-based executive creative director for advertising firm Saatchi and Saatchi. McKay’s challenge was simple: “I have a writer position worth $70k. Funniest twitter response gets it.”

Thus the gauntlet was thrown down. As if the job market wasn’t already competitive enough, hundreds of “Tweeps” converged on the hashtag #saatchila to vie for a single opening. Among the popular entries submitted to McKay, some personal favorites include:

• “Is this contest nearly over? I have to start training for the astronaut job I won on Facebook.” (@iscoff)

• “nigerian ad agency seek writers, send $$$” (@faketv)

• “Does $70k cover the cost of a boob job in LA? I’d be moving with my girlfriend and I’m worried about her self-esteem.” (@um_giz)

• “I hope this job isn’t for Scion. They’re like the Twitter version of a car. 140 inches or less.” (@brendyn)

• “I’am probabbly the moost qaulified four thes righter jobe.” (@MstrMn, and yes, sic)

The winner was one Jonathan Pelleg, a.k.a. @Peglegington. Pelleg, according to his Twitter bio, is an Austin, Texas resident and native of Los Angeles who was “breaking into advertising while listening to music and enjoying life” when the Saatchi contest came along. So his selection, as it turns out, is both a dream come true and a homecoming wrapped up in one. And the submission that brought about the young man’s triumph?

“You have to be concise on Twitter. Like a circumcision, everything extra gets cut off whether you like it or not.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, McKay was almost blasé about conceiving the contest out of the blue. “It’s really hard to find good writers. I don’t know why,” he stated. “It’s even harder to find people to write dialogue. It’s even harder to find funny writers.” Of course, the sudden and unprecedented way he launched his offer didn’t win him any points with Saatchi’s human resources department: “Immediately I get HR coming up and saying, ‘What did you just do?'”

The Atlantic notes this isn’t the first time a candidate has been awarded a high-paying job via tweet; last year, marketing firm BFG Communications picked a social media coordinator with its own Twitter contest. Still, this doesn’t exactly promise to be a new trend in hiring—the odds are slightly better for 3-D video resumes becoming standard for job applications. But it does signify the incorporation by leaps and bounds of social networking for employment and professional advancement. Without being plugged in to the online activities of employers, industry leaders and even your fellow job seekers, you could easily miss out on the unique information and opportunities that will provide an upper hand in beginning or enhancing your career.

And, as if to drive that point home, Mike McKay has followed his announcement of a winner with a suggestion of things to come: “@Peglegington might need an art director partner. Hmmmm.” Any aspiring advertising professionals would do well to keep watching that space.

— Alex Tuttle,

Written by A.A. Somebody

July 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm

The Week’s Best Hiring News: Week of July 19, 2010

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In case it escaped your attention, we’re smack in the middle of the reporting season for the second quarter of the year. Which means that, in addition to the deluge of corporate reports that send the market swaying back and forth, we’ve also had a smattering of opinion from economists on the state of the job market.

cupcakesTheir staggering conclusion: that the second quarter was lousy, but the hiring outlook is moderately better for the rest of the year. That reasoning comes from the fact that fewer employers have indicated they’re planning to cut jobs, while there’s been an increase in the number planning to expand headcount in the coming months.

Many of the following stories are examples of companies that have evidently decided to make the conversion from saying they’ll hire to actively seeking employees. And one is about how cupcakes are saving the New York economy. No, really. Read on to find out more.

  • Finance: It’s been the only industry bringing employees on board for quite some time, and it doesn’t seem like it’s in any mood for slowing down. Both Jefferies and Bank of America Merrill Lynch have been adding to the hiring momentum on Wall Street.
  • No such luck in the legal industry, however: the Wall Street Journal‘s law blog points out that summer intake dropped by an average of 44 percent this year. (That makes insider information on the firms all the more valuable for anyone interested in a career in the field. What better place to start—shameless plug alert!—than the Vault Law 100, which was released earlier this week?)
  • Ah, the vagaries of the recession. Logistics technology outfit Manhattan Associates laid off 140 people last year. Then they hired 50. Now, the company is hiring 100 more employees, “mostly technology associates in Atlanta.” Kind of makes one wonder they didn’t just hire 10 people during the recession, really…
  • Still on the tech front, Samsung is seeking around 500 technicians for a semiconductor plant in Northeast Austin.
  • It’s not all good news on the tech front, however: Applied Materials announced between 400 and 500 layoffs this week. The cuts will affect its energy and environmental division, according to BusinessWeek, “with the goal of making it profitable by next year.”
  • Guess what’s driving a resurgence of hiring in New York? Okay, okay, the financial industry, but we did that above. But how many of you said “cupcakes”? The trend for high end sweet delights “has now become a legitimate driver of the city’s economy,” according to The Daily Caller.
  • Not had your fill of weird miscellany yet? Try this for size: the oil spill is helping to reduce the unemployment rate. No word, however, on whether it’s because BP is hiring every able body it can to help with the cleanup, or just that people have really given up hope. (We suspect the former, however.)
  • Not related to the spill (we think) is the news that New Bern, NC-based Hatteras Yachts is adding 350 jobs. Assuming that the company is ramping up hiring due to increased demand, that has to be a positive sign for the economy—there are very few purchases that say “rude financial health” quite like a new yacht, after all.
  • Before we get too carried away, however, the biggest story of the week for those in the process of finding a job may well be this one: the reinstatement of long-term unemployment benefits. Among other things, the story has been a solemn reminder of the oft-quoted statistic that there is only one open job for every five active seekers in the economy right now.

World Innovation Forum: Seth Godin

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Early in his presentation on day two of the World Innovation, Seth Godin made a point that may be comforting to those stuck in companies that don’t seem like they’re going anywhere, and that definitely presents opportunity for those interested in making a career out of effecting change and grasping new opportunities.

The premise: that we’re in the midst of a revolution in which the traditional methods of marketing—mass appeal, repeated messaging and so on—are no longer effective.

The message: That “revolutions create losers before they creates winners.” Broken down further, the core of his suggestion is that every company out there is struggling with the same issues when it comes to competing in a rapidly shifting marketplace. And that some companies will provide lessons for others by failing. The reason that may be of comfort to those at organizations that seem to be treading water: your company still has the potential to end up a winner. The better news: that it may come down to you.

The opportunity for individuals that Godin’s message represents should be obvious: that there is significant potential for individuals to shape the future of their companies through innovation.

On that note, Godin spent a long time talking about the automation of workflow, and delivered a message that should frighten many people: If you (or someone else) can write down what your job is, someone else will be able to do it cheaper. That’s the reality that manual workers faced in the era of industrialization, but according to Godin it’s one that is making its into white collar fields as well.

Value to organizations, he says, comes from employees who don’t spend their time repeating the same actions day after day. Accordingly, those who can innovate, create and provide new value by doing new things are the most important  in any company, and tend to be remunerated accordingly. Or, as Godin puts it: “The more time you spend following instructions, the less you get paid.”

The problem that many employees will have with Godin’s message is that carrying it out often relies on doing things without permission, and risking failing in public. Add in the rigidity of life at many major corporations–something that Godin acknowledges but dismisses as a barrier to those truly determined to lead change–and it’s easy to see where some companies could get left behind in a rapidly changing world.

Above all else, Godin is immensely quotable on his chosen subject areas. Some further examples from his presentation:

“Your job is a platform. It is not as platform for you to do what you are told. It is a platform for art.”

“Genius is a human who brings his real self to bring change.”

“This idea of obedience is bogus. There is no company today that would do better if employees were obedient.”

“You don’t lead because you have charisma. You get charisma because you lead.”

On Twitter: Don’t be fooled by numbers and metrics. The only one that matters is: “How many people would miss you if you stopped showing up or talking?”