Presentation at Georgetown Law – Preparing Your Personal Narrative
Dear Friends, it was lovely to present at Georgetown Law last night on the topic of “Preparing Your Personal Narrative” as this is such a critical piece of getting a new job. For those of you who missed the presentation, I wanted to provide a few highlights for your review and consideration. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any follow-up questions. For those students who signed up for individual meetings with me, I’m looking forward to connecting with you.
As you begin to prepare for your interviews, think about your life and what makes you special or unique so that you will stand out from the crowd. Remember, the interviewer already knows where you have gone to school, what your grades are and what jobs you have had in the past. The interview is the time to bring your CV to life through a conversation that highlights the best of who you are. An interview is your moment to shine and we cannot simply rely on your academic performance or prior work experience to get a job. Law firms want to hire smart, hardworking, talented, interesting individuals who are able to collaborate with others and manage the stress and pressure of law firm life. So how do we go about revealing that you possess these qualities?
2. Developing Your Personal Narrative
My approach to interviewing is to focus on your individual life story and to create a narrative that will highlight the qualities that will make you an excellent lawyer. For example, what are the life experiences that you have had that have challenged you, motivated you, and pushed you to go to law school? Why did you want to study law and what is your passion? As we identify your individual story, we want to build in examples that highlight: (1) the unique qualities you possess; (2) the adversity you have faced and how you overcame it; and (3) the individuals who may have had a strong impact on your life and why. Our goal is to reveal who you are as a person in a thirty minute meeting so that the interviewer understands what drives and motivates you and why you will be an asset to the firm. We can’t simply tell an interviewer that you are the hardest working person who will overcome any challenge so the way we do this is through story telling. Our goal is to be the most interesting thirty minutes of the interviewer’s day!
3. The “Dishwasher” Story
When I was a law student interviewing for jobs, one of the stories I would share was about my time working as a dishwasher in graduate school and how the decision to wash the dishes changed my life. The basic elements of my story were that one night I came to the dining hall to start work and noticed that my regular dishwashing partner, a resident of New Haven who was employed by Yale, didn’t make it to work. It turns out that he had been arrested for selling drugs on behalf of his brother who was a drug dealer in New Haven. In fact, my friend wasn’t even paid to sell drugs for his brother but rather was given a new pair of sneakers for his efforts. What made the story even more complicated was that my dishwashing partner was challenged and couldn’t read or write and would certainly have difficulty navigating the judicial system. Because of these unique circumstances, I decided to start taking him to court and working with his public defender to make sure that he received excellent service. Because of my decision to work as a dishwasher, my life was changed and I learned about the importance of the law and how I could positively impact the lives of those around me. It was at that point that I realised I wanted to study the law and started the application process. So why did I tell this story during interviews? I wanted potential employers to know that I was willing to roll up my sleeves and that I would do any job including washing the dishes in the dining hall. I wanted the interviewer to think that if I could handle cleaning food off of people’s plates, I could certainly handle any task as a junior lawyer in their firm. Also, I wanted the interviewer to understand what kind of person I am and that I would go above and beyond to help those around me. Through the telling of the “Dishwasher” story, I was able to highlight what made me unique as a candidate and what personal qualities I would bring to the firm.
As you prepare for interviews, think about your own life experiences and stories and see how you can make them applicable to an interview. Again, this is your moment to present what makes you special and unique and what you would bring to the firm, its clients and your colleagues. Through the art of storytelling, you goal should be to make a connection with the interviewer so that they understand who you are and the value you will add to their business. Good luck with your job search!