Confidence is the foundation of job search success
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Office of Career and Professional Development
August 7, 2012
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the NALP Bulletin, August 2012, reprinted with permission.
As career coaches, year after year we experience the emotional highs and lows of the job search along with our students. We feel the excitement of the first-year student who finds out that he is in the top 10% of the class. We see the discouragement of the second-year student who has applied to 245 law firms only to receive 245 rejection letters.
We recognize the student who is suffering from “anxiety paralysis” as the bar application deadline approaches.
And, especially lately, we have been faced with hard questions from panicked alumni who are jobless and distraught due to employer downsizing or exhausted from the search for a better career fit. Although we encounter job seekers at various stages of their legal careers, there seems to be one common thread: they are all dealing with an internal crisis of confidence.
We believe that confidence is the key to job search success. We are not talking about arrogance or entitlement.
True confidence appears as a level of inner strength, a humble self-awareness, an attitude that conveys, “I believe in myself even with my weaknesses and shortcomings.” What builds this confidence? How can we as career coaches foster true confidence in our students and alumni?
Part of the answer requires a fundamental shift in focus. Law schools (and employers) are notorious for determining value based on grades and other external factors. In contrast, confidence arises from internal validation, from a student’s recognition of her unique assets. True confidence cannot come from a grade point average or moot court trophy.
These factors fluctuate and are too unstable to be the foundation for success. Rather than focusing on these external means of validation, career coaches can help students build confidence by emphasizing certain key factors: building blocks that create a strong foundation for job search success.
Building Block #1: Self-Awareness
Confident people recognize and value their individual strengths without ignoring weaknesses or areas in need of improvement. The first step toward this is conducting a self-evaluation. We can use a variety of self-assessment tools to help students pinpoint their unique personality characteristics and discuss how these traits translate into professional strengths.
Being able to coach a student from a strengths-based perspective is crucial to helping that student gain confidence. For example, we have seen first-year students who claim their résumé is weak because their only professional experience is working as a restaurant server or in retail. A strengths-based perspective allows us to shift the student’s focus to highlight the value of this experience — pointing out that it demonstrates a strong work ethic, dedication, and reliability.
Building Block #2: Salesmanship
In addition to being aware of one’s strengths, being able to articulate those skills in a humble yet confident way is critical to job search success. A good salesperson believes in the value of his or her product and knows how to sell it. One way to rein force this is to help students develop their “sales pitch” or elevator speech and help them understand how their unique skills meet an employer’s needs.
Building Block #3: Practice
We ascribe to the principle “fake it ’til you make it.” Seeking out opportunities to be uncomfortable is the key to growth. For the student who is intimidated by a cold call, we can demystify the process by having the student make a practice call to a receptive alum. Identifying areas for improvement and addressing them head-on not only melts away insecurity but also creates an opportunity to succeed, building the student’s confidence level.
Building Block #4: Goal-setting
Many students come to us with their dreams for the future, some more realistic than others. It is important to work with students to identify a series of small steps toward their ultimate goal. This may require narrowing their focus initially to a particular geographic or practice area. Break down large goals into small, manageable tasks and then celebrate each success. Success breeds success.
Building Block #5: Perspective
People thrive in an environment that is aligned with their core values. With the inflated expectations and competition in law school, some students may lose their perspective. It is important for us to help students identify what is most important to them and remind them to focus on these core values in seeking the right fit for them.
Building blocks work best when they are stacked together. Different students may need to spend more time on different building blocks, but all are part of a strong foundation that can lead to job search success.
Category: Student Life