As we’ve finalized the cover for Life After Law over the past few weeks, which my editor described as the “fun part” of the process, I’ve been thinking about the power of first impressions. We have enormous flexibility in how we present ourselves, although that is easy to forget if we interact with the same people all the time. In moving from law practice to an alternative career, much depends on your own “cover.”
Consider the difference between these two candidates for a development (fundraising) position at a major hospital. Both are soon to be former lawyers, and neither has worked in development before. Candidate A’s cover story, as expressed in his cover letter and CV, goes something like this: “I’m a patent lawyer, with five years of experience handling depositions, arguing motions, and coordinating discovery. I was Order of the Coif and on the Law Review. I’m interested in hospitals, having stayed in quite a few. I’m exploring the possibility of development because it sounds like it could be an interesting.”
Candidate B has similar experience, but her cover story goes like this: “My professional training in persuasive reasoning has made me a successful advocate for my clients, including some of the most sophisticated organizations in the country. I’m a skilled writer with years of experience persuading decision makers in matters affecting the health care and biotech fields. I work effectively in teams and independently. I will be able to use these persuasive writing and speaking experiences to advance the hospital’s interests as part of the development team.”
The most successful career changers do what Candidate B has done. She thought about the skills, experience and success she has had as a lawyer, and translated them into terms that would appeal to an employer in a different field. She learned, presumably through networking, something about the skills that development professionals might find most valuable, and illustrated her use of those skills. She makes the value proposition of hiring her quite clear. She is entirely truthful and mindful of the power of first impressions.
It takes work to get your cover story right, starting with a lot of self-assessment. In the end, however, your reward is work you love more than what you do now. Making a great first impression is a vital part of a successful career change. Employers, like readers, definitely judge a book – at least in part – by its cover.