Review Past Experiences
For long term job satisfaction, it is important to find work that you enjoy and are good at. Using your resume as a starting point, think through every job you’ve held, group you’ve joined, and activity that you’ve participated in since high school to identify two things:
1) What did you enjoy most and least about the experience?
2) What do you think you did most and least effectively in each position?
Thinking about what you’ve enjoyed – and what you haven’t enjoyed – in jobs prior to law school can help give you insight into what type of law you might enjoy practicing, whether or not your work was law related in any way. And even if you don’t have extensive work experience before law school, evaluating why you have enjoyed certain extracurricular and volunteer experiences more than others can give you similar insight. In addition to thinking about what you have enjoyed the most, be sure to pay attention to what your strengths are – i.e. what you’ve been the best at. As you are evaluating each of your experiences, consider:
What specific tasks did you enjoy the most? Do you enjoy paperwork? People work? Numbers? Research? Writing? Working with your hands? Routine tasks like record keeping? Brainstorming new ideas? Putting ideas into action? Dealing with people on emotional issues? Public speaking?
What specific tasks did you find difficult, boring, or frustrating? Were any of these tasks so problematic that they prevented you from enjoying the good parts of the job or experience?
Did you work independently or as part of a team – and which felt best to you?
What were your proudest accomplishments in each job or activity?
What work/work product did you receive the most positive feedback on from supervisors?
As a final step, after evaluating every entry on your resume, consider whether there are activities not included on your resume that could give you more insight into what you like to do and are good at – consider hobbies, how you spend your free time, and what issues (political, social, religious, etc.) are most important to you. This is especially important if you find more negatives than positives in your previous work experience – if you haven’t really found anything that you want to do as a job, thinking about what you like to do for fun can often help you think in new directions about what is important and satisfying to you.
Once you’ve evaluated your past experiences this way, try to take a big picture look at what you’ve learned. Writing down your thoughts may help it all come together. Try to come up with a few short sentences to complete the following four phrases:
I enjoy working most when:
I achieve the best results when:
I do not want to work in situations where:
My dream job would be if someone would pay me to:
Don’t worry about making your answers reflect areas of law practice – what is important is taking a close look at why you have enjoyed the experiences that you have enjoyed in the past. Your counselor in the Career Services office can help you take these findings and look at them in the legal context.
An example of how this is useful when you work with your Career Services counselor:
Often a student will come in to our office with no idea what type of law they are interested in. We will ask what types of activities they’ve enjoyed in the past. A student might answer, “I was involved in student government in college and really enjoyed that.” This doesn’t give us much to go on. But if that same student came in and said, “I was involved in student government, and serving on the student grievance committee was really satisfying because I was able to work with individual students who were upset about something and help them resolve their problems” that might lead to a good discussion of areas of the law that allow you to work one-on-one with individuals on personal issues – practice areas like family law, personal injury, criminal work or personal bankruptcy. Another student might answer differently, “I was involved in student government, and I really enjoyed working on the finance committee, where I was responsible for reconciling the student government budget, and overseeing the allocation of funds to student groups.” This would lead to a very different discussion about career opportunities that might include detail work for corporate clients – maybe in banking, finance, or corporate bankruptcy. The additional information is key to helping your career counselor assist you in brainstorming areas of the law to consider.
Once you've examined your past experiences, it is time to look to the future, and think about your personal "Job Musts" . . .