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Navigating the Career Development Process
Dana Bartocci and Victor Massaglia
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
by: Dana Bartocci and Victor Massaglia

Section: Features/Substantive Law

Dana Bartocci, Contributing Author. Ms. Bartocci is the employer relations coordinator at the University of Minnesota. She has worked in career counseling at law schools, in law firm professional development, and in law firm pro bono.

Victor Massaglia, Contributing Author. Mr. Massaglia is a career counselor at the University of Minnesota Law School. He has over 25 years of experience in coaching, training, and communication. He served with the U.S. Air Force for nine and a half years as a personnel administrator.

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The Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) at the University of Minnesota Law School helps students and alumni in all stages of the career development process, and most other schools offer similar services. This article introduces the three stages of a career development model—Assessment, Research, and Job Search/Career Management—and provides resources for each phase. This model can be useful if you are seeking to change jobs, are transitioning to an entirely new career, and/or are pursuing professional development opportunities. If you are ready to begin a job search, consider meeting with a career development professional who can walk you through the process. 




Assessment is your first step. This critical activity is often overlooked because it takes time and work and often does not yield immediate results. Most people, in fact, begin a transition with the last step, by crafting a résumé and sending it out by e-mail blast to everyone they know (or don’t know). Until you know and are able to articulate what skills, knowledge, and abilities you bring to the profession, writing a résumé is a waste of time. Just as you cannot write an effective brief or contract until you know the case or deal, you must know yourself and your target before crafting your career development documents and preparing for interviews.


There are many resources to help you in this assessment process. Some of the most basic will help you identify the skills, interests, and values you may want to use in your next opportunity.


You can start by creating a list of the skills you would like to continue to use in your next role. List tasks that you have done or are doing in your job now and circle the ones that you enjoy the most, and then cross out the ones that you would rather leave behind. Do you enjoy legal research or direct client contact? Do you want to move away from extensive trials or deals? Be honest. Next, think broadly about the things that interest you, which need not be tied to your current position or profession. Do you have an interest in education or the outdoors that you have not been able to tie to your current job? Finally think of your values. Values can change over time. Perhaps loans drove you to your job, but now one of your highest values is time to spend with your family. Your values may need to be re-prioritized so that you can find an organization that shares your value structure.


Assessment is important for traditional legal careers but becomes even more important for alternative career searches. There are many career options outside of the traditional lawyer role. Once you have identified your skills, interests, and values you can begin to assess transferable skills and how they might work with a new career.


For example, if you identified the outdoors as an area of interest, a traditional role might be as an environmental lawyer. If you have administrative skills, you might seek a position as an executive director of an environmental nonprofit. You might look outside of the legal profession to use your skills in another way. For example, as a writer, you might propose a book about the outdoors, pitch articles to a magazine, or start a blog. If you have an untapped interest in working with children, you could start on a journey to become an outdoor adventure guide. Having identified the skills, interests, and values that are important to you, and learned about the potential career opportunities, you can determine whether you need additional training or education to meet these goals. 




Once you complete your assessment, the next step is to find a place where your skills and interests match the work environment and position. Sending a résumé at this point would still be premature; you need to take the time to identify labor markets and industry needs, and to learn specific information about potential careers before approaching employers. 


Focusing and gathering data allows you to identify firms in your practice area and in other practice areas. It also allows you to discover career paths that you may have never considered and lets you investigate requirements for a transition into a new career. Your law school career office or job coach may help direct your research. The law school can assist you in identifying alumni with similar interests, varied locations, and intriguing positions.


After you have identified those working in the field, or the employer in which you are interested, it is time to create and reestablish connections. Informational interviewing is a great way to learn about a profession or employer and, at the same time, increase your network. 


The rules of informational interviewing are simple; you are asking for information, not for a job. You are researching the nuances of a position and the culture of an employer as well as creating a network of people to support you during your transition. As you may know, more than 70 percent of individuals make their job and career changes by networking, and, in 2009, face-to-face networking must be supported by online social networking. Tools such as blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and others are extremely useful in connecting you with others, sharing information, and promoting yourself.



Job Search/Career Management

The job search and career management stage is where you make your plan and implement it. Job searchers who start at this step usually have to circle back to assessment and research; you will be more successful at your job search if you have done your homework and worked through the career development process.


Start by drafting a plan of action using the acronym SMART goals (Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely). Your plan will include your tasks such as creating your marketing documents (cover letter/résumé), conducting active networking activities, mock interviewing, following up, and regularly assessing your progress. Create your plan and set it in motion.


Cover Letters and Résumés:

Tailor your résumé and cover letter to the specific job opportunity. A traditional legal résumé is often much more direct than résumés for other occupations and never includes an “objective” statement.  Always have someone else read your documents because another set of eyes can help you find any errors or pitfalls. Consider using resources such as your law school career center to identify the appropriate résumé format.



Once you have secured an interview, you must prepare, and you can never be too prepared to talk with potential employers. You will need to conduct employer research to demonstrate your knowledge of the employer and the industry. This preparation will assist you in communicating why you should be hired for the job. Finally, you must have a prepared list of relevant questions. Practicing your interview skills with mock interviews is critical to help you identify your presentation strengths and weaknesses. A colleague, friend, relative, or career counselor can conduct a mock interview. Have the interviewer walk you through questions and answers and focus on both the substance and the delivery. Practice your interviewing skills prior to the actual interview.


Follow Up:

Follow up is critical throughout the job search process. After submitting a résumé and/or after an interview, reconnect with your contacts, and let them know where you are in the process. In addition to following up with the individual who received your résumé or conducted the interview, you should tell your network of friends and allies about the jobs you are seeking. In addition to their moral support, they may have some advice for you or may know of someone you should contact. As always, reach out to your references and let them know when they might be called and how your work for them relates to your current job search.


Career Management:

Your career development does not end with a job offer. Maintain contact with the professional relationships you have created and continue to build your network. Continue your connections with the people you have reached out to; they can be lifelong resources and potential mentors. Tap your resources to discuss work-life balance issues, time management, and other professional development needs. Be willing to support others with career management.


Your network of friends, colleagues, family, and the legal community should be able to give you sound advice as well as moral support as you move through this career development model. Utilize your law school career development and alumni offices to help you move your plan forward. If you can support others in their transition, contact your law school. Staff would be happy to help you give back to your school as well as broaden your own network at the same time.

General Career Development Resources

Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams by Kimm Walton

National Association for Legal Placement: http://nalp.org/

Quintessential Careers:


What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Bolles

Public Service Network: http://www.pslawnet.org/  

Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career by Herminia Ibarra




Skills Assessment:  http://www.iseek.org/sv/12398.jsp   

Strengths:  https://www.strengthsquest.com/  

Personality:  Myers-Briggs Types Indicator (MBTI): www.myersbriggs.org/  

Career Planning:





Martindale-Hubbell: http://martindale.com/

Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/

The Official Guide to Legal Specialties by Lisa Abrams

Company information: http://hoovers.com/  and  http://wetfeet.com/  




Resumes for Law Careers by Editors of McGraw-Hill

(Non-Legal Specific) Knock ’em Dead Cover Letters: Great Letter Techniques and Samples for Every Step of Your Job Search by Martin Yate




Building Career Connections by Donna Gerson

Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi

Little Black Book of Connections by Jeffrey Gitomer 

How to Work a Room by Susan RoAne

Highly Effective Networking: Meet the Right People and Get a Great Job by Orville Pierso




Informational Interviewing: http://www.quintcareers.com/informational_interviewing.html  

High Impact Interview Questions by Victoria Hoevemeyer

The 250 Job Interview Questions You’ll Most Likely Be Asked...and the Answers That Will Get You Hired! by Peter Veruki

101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview by Ron Fry


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