“Second Chances” was the theme for the reality show “The Apprentice” this past season. The contestants were jobless, once-successful professionals hit hard by the economy. All were looking to prove themselves, competing to be the one to hear “You’re hired!” Notably, five of the 16 were lawyers (including the season’s ultimate winner).
Of course, their job quest was edited for entertainment value and big ratings. Still, there are some key lessons for every job seeker, or for anyone who wants to advance their career — and avoid ever hearing “You’re fired!” Here are a few:
- Follow the rules. One “Apprentice” contestant was fired for seeking outside help with an assignment. He said he thought he was just “bending the rules.”
- Be honest. That contestant might have survived the cut had he told the truth about the incident. Instead he chose to lie. An entire career of integrity, excellent work product and reliability can be flushed away by one deceitful statement or act. Always tell the truth—you will be found out eventually. And while you may be excused for making a bad decision, it is unlikely you will be excused for lying.
- Own up to your mistakes. “It’s my fault, and I take full responsibility. It won’t happen again.” You would be amazed at how much power these simple words can carry. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes the mistakes are serious, but you still need to own up to them. Your employer will lose all respect for you if you blame someone else or attempt a cover-up.
- Demonstrate leadership tendencies. Nearly all law firms and in-house legal departments want their lawyers to have leadership potential, even if they are not being hired to lead. So, it is critical to demonstrate it. Firms can find plenty of candidates with the required skills, but it is a lot more difficult to find someone who knows how to delegate and inspire others.
- Be nice. No one wants an employee who causes tension. Even if you have top-notch skills, it’s unlikely that you’ll be hired if the employer suspects you may bring heightened drama and conflict to the group. Do not be rude or abrasive or try to intimidate people. (This includes your fellow attorneys, support staff, vendors and the people who deliver things to the office.) Lawyers are not professional athletes, movie stars or titans of industry, where bad behavior is tolerated. If an employer senses that a potential new hire could bring trouble, she will likely be scratched from the candidate pool.
- View every meeting as an opportunity. No matter how accomplished you are at interviewing, you will not get every job you want. You may not have the exact substantive skills or the personality fit just isn’t there. What is under your control, however, is the quality of the interaction. Interviews are meetings, and every meeting is an opportunity. Treat everyone you meet with respect and do your best to ensure they form favorable impressions of you and your skills.
Lauren Egan and Michael Sachs are Managing Directors at global legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. Prior to joining MLA, Michael was an in-house counsel for NBC and a litigation and IP associate at Sonnenschein. Earlier in her career, Lauren was a real estate associate at Winston & Strawn and an in-house counsel for Aon Corporation.