New England Law | Boston

Return to the New England Law | Boston home page.
New England Law Opportunities

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to Transform Your Non-Legal Work Experience into In-Demand Skills

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

The majority of law students come to law school without any prior legal experience. While many have worked, their experiences range from positions in retail and restaurants to the military or general administrative work. This leaves their resume looking rather light on the type of experience legal employers are looking for when they want to make a summer hire. If only your desire to be a lawyer since you were a kid could be a worthy bullet point in times like this. Don’t fret, there is still a way for you to impress employers with that summer job as a camp counselor.

7 Professional Skills Employers Are Looking For

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey, asking hiring managers what skills they are looking for in the class of 2015, there are a handful of professional skills that are in demand across all majors and degrees.

1. Ability to work in a team structure

2. Ability to make decisions

3. Ability to solve problems

4. Ability to communicate with people inside and outside an organization

5. Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

6. Ability to obtain and process information

7. Ability to influence others

So while you must gain core legal skills, such as, conducting legal research, drafting memoranda, reviewing contracts, preparing trial materials, and so on, you can now highlight your non-legal work experience by framing it in the context of these seven professional skills.

Frame Your Work Experience Using These Professional Skills

Use the following format to write your work experience on your resume:

Action verb + responsibility or duty + explanation of how, why, or result

You never want to just say what you did and leave it at that because that is not enough information to make your resume stand out. You want to tell people what you did and why. You could start by looking at the official job description from your last job to help you get started. Job descriptions are written in a way that makes it easy to translate the responsibilities and duties on to your resume in a style and language that employers are used to reading. From there you will have to add your own details about how you completed your responsibilities or why you did them or what result was achieved.

Example: If you worked as an administrative assistant for a real estate company and you helped manage their apartment listings, rather than say:
  •   Helped manage apartment listings
You could say:
  • Managed apartment listings by collecting and organizing new listings from agents and posting them to company website to increase website traffic.
Example: If you were the lead counselor at a summer camp, rather than say:
  • Responsible for 30 campers and organized daily activities.
You could break it up into several lines providing a more detailed and impressive picture of your experience:
  • Managed a team of 6 counselors who oversaw the well-being and safety of 30 daily campers.
  • Organized educational and athletic activities on camp grounds as well as day trips to museums and farms.
  • Communicated effectively with parents regarding sensitive issues such as disruptive behavior.
The possibilities are endless based on how you frame your work experience. You can now effectively communicate your valuable work experience to employers by highlighting the right skills in the right way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How to Answer “Tell me about yourself” in Your Next Interview

Do you ever wish you could walk into an interview feeling totally prepared and confident, knowing exactly what you want to say? How great would it be to know what questions the interviewer is going to ask you ahead of time?

Well luckily you can ace your next interview by preparing your answer to this one important question every employer will ask in some form or another. How well you answer this question may make the difference between having a short job search or a long one.

Create Your Professional Story

Since you made it to the interview, it is safe to assume that you have already impressed them with your cover letter and resume. They already think you have the right skills and experience for the job and now they want get to know you a little better.

The problem is this question tends to throw most people off because it is so vague and open ended. Where do you start? Do they really want to hear your whole life story? No. In the context of a job interview, the employer wants you to fill in the background details that your resume can’t tell them.

Your professional story should not only include “who” you are and “what” you have done, but more importantly why you chose to do those things and what you learned along the way that ultimately led you to this employer. Your story should leave the employer feeling positive about you, the skills and experience you bring, and your ability to fit in with their organization.

Use the “Present, Past, Future” Formula

According to career expert Lily Zang, the formula looks like this; first start with the present, meaning a snapshot of where you are right now. Then move into your past explaining what you have done and what you learned from those experiences. Finally end with the future by summarizing why you are really excited and clearly a good fit for this new opportunity with the employer. The right answer, shows how well you know what the employer is looking for and how well you know what your strengths are.

For example, if you are a third year law student and you are interviewing for a post graduate position with a criminal defense firm, you could say:

Present: “Currently I am a 3L in my final semester at New England Law | Boston.”

Past: “I came to law school to become, a criminal defense attorney because I believe it is important to protect the rights of people who can’t otherwise protect themselves. Last summer I interned with the Public Defender’s office in their Youth Advocacy Division where I was 3.03 certified and was able to have my own case files, meet with clients, and represent them in court. The experience showed me how vulnerable people are against the prosecution if they do not know their rights as a citizen and reinforced my desire to be a criminal defense attorney.”

Future: “It is because of this experience that I am looking forward to continue my work in criminal defense and am excited about this opportunity with your firm.”

Use this formula as a guide and include what is relevant to our story. Part of your story may include personal stories about where you grew up, what you studied in undergrad, and/or any work experience you had prior to law school.

Why this Formula Works

By using this formula you give the employer the exact information they are looking for in a clear and concise statement that shows them that you are confident, enthusiastic, and well prepared. It also helps you avoid giving a long, unfocused answer that would reveal your lack of understanding about what they are looking for and why you are a good fit.

How to Prepare

Step 1. Take out a piece of paper and make three columns.

Step 2. In column 1, titled “Job Description”, review the job description and write down all the skills, duties,  responsibilities, and requirements that are included in the description.

Step 3. In column 2, titled “Work Experience”, look at all the work experience on your resume and write down the skills and duties that are an exact match for what the employer is looking for or can be seen as a transferable skill. For example, all criminal defense attorneys must be able to “present arguments in front of the court”.

Step 4. In column 3, write out your "Past, Present, and Future" statement using the details in column 1 and 2 and practice saying it out loud to a friend. Ask your friend for feedback and continue to practice it until it makes sense and you feel comfortable and confident saying it.