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Career Counselors’ Corner: Alvita Barrow

Photo of counselor Alvita BarrowWhat’s your favorite part of being in OCPD? 

I enjoy most the opportunity to develop relationships with the students – to watch them arrive, whether they think they know what they want to do or have no clue, and then watch them develop during their time here as they get a clearer sense of who they are and the things that are important to them.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

I wish someone had advised me to make the effort to reach out and talk more with my professors outside of the classroom.  Once during my 3L year, I ran into one of my favorite professors in the grocery store which led to a meeting later over lunch. I realized then how much time I had wasted in not trying to get to know some of the professors outside of class.

What’s the best career-related advice you ever received?

Many years ago, as I profusely apologized to an employer and explained my reasons for turning down a job offer, the employer stopped me and told me not to apologize. She reminded me that just as they had been checking me out, I had every right to check them out also. It is advice that has saved me time and effort in even applying for certain positions that I knew, upon reflection, would not be a good fit for me.

What’s your greatest weakness?

I love storytelling, which can be both a big weakness and a strength, particularly in a position such as mine where listening is critical. Before I dive in and share a story that I think is relevant or might be helpful to a particular student with whom I am meeting, I have to remind myself that storytelling can lead to too much talking and that I need first to seek to listen and understand.

Why did you decide to work in career services?

I served as managing director of the clinic at Catholic’s law school for about 18 years and during that time, I always enjoyed talking with the students who would seek me out for career advice. Over time, I came to enjoy those conversations more than many of the other tasks that necessarily consumed my day. When I learned of the opportunity here at Wake Forest, the timing and the fit seemed right.

Tell us something about you that’s not on your resume.

Looking at my resume, which includes time spent in excess of 30 years in New York and Washington, DC, it would surprise many people that I actually was born and grew up in a very small town in the northeastern part of North Carolina. When I left the state to attend law school, I harbored an interest and expectation that I would return to North Carolina. I just had no idea that my eventual return would be more than 30 years later and that it would be here in Winston-Salem.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

In some respects, I still consider myself a newcomer to the area and so I like exploring different area walking trails, coffee shops, and antique and consignment shops. My husband, who was born in Panama, likes to remind me that he was able to walk to the ocean when he was growing up and so we always have to include periodic trips to the beach, even if it’s just for the day. Also, and most importantly, we have twin daughters who live in Arlington, Virginia, and we travel up to the area regularly to visit with them.

What celebrity would you like to meet at Starbucks for a cup of coffee?

Even with my appreciation for a good cup of coffee from Starbucks, let’s plan the meeting at Krankies instead – that way, we are in Winston, able to enjoy a great cup of coffee, without rushing or being interrupted by a legion of other people potentially vying for a selfie or quick handshake. Now, as for the celebrity, I would say Bill Gates. I am not sure if he considers himself a celebrity, but I do know that he is a person of great influence and that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does some great work. I would love to share with him a few thoughts about how the Foundation can expand the ways it works to make a difference in people’s lives, especially in many of the poor and struggling areas of this country.

Career Counselors’ Corner: Dean Francie Scott

Get to know your career office! In this seriesPhoto of Assistant Dean Scott, we pose some of our favorite interview questions to each of the members of the Office of Career & Professional Development, as well as some general queries to learn more about their lives and interests. First up, Dean Francie Scott.

What’s your favorite part of being Dean?

I love being the visionary for an organization. I sort of consider the OCPD an independent entity within the law school – we’re part of the law school’s educational mission, but we also work to accomplish an individual mission, which is to ensure each student gains the professional skills, tools, and resources they need to pursue their chosen career paths. As the leader of the OCPD, I get to work with the team to develop our priorities, set goals, and evaluate all we’re doing to accomplish our mission. While there’s a certainty to day-to-day activities, there’s plenty of room for creativity and innovation in how we’re delivering our message and getting things done. That’s really exciting and fun for me.

What advice do you wish you had received in law school?

I wish someone had convinced me to pursue work I really enjoyed. Right out of law school, I took a high-paying job with great prestige, working with some really smart people, but I was completely unfulfilled by the day-to-day work. Looking back, though, I don’t regret the path I took. There were a lot of outside factors that made it the right choice at the time, and it’s hard to say it was the wrong choice, because I’m very happy with where I ended up.

What’s your greatest weakness?

I can be a little thin-skinned. I tend to take criticism personally, even though I try to let it roll off my back. I think it’s because I’m really passionate about my work and about having an impact, so it’s hard on me when I find that something hasn’t worked out how I intended.

Why did you decide to work in career services?

I really love working with people. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick, what brought them to a particular place in their lives, what motivates them. This work combines my interest in developing strong relationships with my desire to help people achieve their goals. I consider it a great privilege.

Tell us something about you that’s not on your resume.

I played the French horn for four years, from fifth through eighth grade. I was terrible – like, really terrible – but my parents made me stick with it for FOUR YEARS. Looking back, I actually think that was a smart decision, it taught me that not everything would come easily to me, and that sometimes you have to work hard to be good at something.

What do you do when you’re not in the office?

I have two sons who are 7 and 10 years old, so right now I spend a lot of time watching Little League games or hanging out at the pool. I also teach cycling classes at the local YMCA. In any free time left I can be found reading a good book – I especially love character-driven novels about families and relationships.

What are your favorite restaurants in Winston-Salem?

Mozelle’s. 18 Malaysia. Prissy Polly’s Barbecue in Kernersville. Kitchen Roselli in East Bend.

What is your favorite zoo animal?

Chimps, or really any kind of primate. They remind me of my children.

Five Takeaways from Speed Networking 101

1.  Be Yourself – Although it sounds cliché, many of the employers at this event remarked on how they enjoy seeing students resemble themselves; not someone else’s idea of who they should be. Being relaxed at social or networking events will help you carry on some great conversations and stories. Storytelling is as old as the Stone Age and as current as Tom Clancy. People are always telling each other stories, whether at the office copier, over late-Friday-afternoon drinks, or around the dinner table. Storytelling can be a powerful tool during a self-marketing opportunity such as campus events, or when interviewing with prospective employers. Although storytelling during job interviews has become something of a lost art from what some employers mentioned, it is still something they seek. Instead of the usual 20 questions or a lengthy recitation of your school and work history, try telling a story about one of your accomplishments or how you decided on a law career. While many job seekers already have attractive resumes, know how to dress for success, and have well-rehearsed answers to tricky interview questions; few are skilled at marketing themselves using accomplishment-storytelling techniques. Be sure to practice these important skills at each networking event you attend!

2.  Be confident – Speak confidently when relating your school and career successes. You may not know everything about a particular area of practice, so don’t be afraid to admit it. On the same token, be confident in the way you talk about the things in which you are well-verse, such as your favorite practice area or extracurricular interests. Still unsure of what to talk about at social events? Don’t be afraid to simply ask honest questions to the person with whom you are speaking. They are in front of you as a resource, so take advantage by ask probing questions – questions that can help guide your career path. You never know where you’ll be years from now in your career, so make sure you exhibit your “can do” attitude all throughout your law career path as it will carry you the distance.

3.  Sell Yourself – Several employers mentioned how it is very beneficial at networking functions to come prepared with a 30-second elevator speech. Don’t have an elevator speech? Be sure to do your research and create one that describes you and your goals, then rehearse it over and over – out loud! Some great examples of elevator speeches are:

a. ”Hello, I’m Tom Smith. I’m pursuing a joint JD/ M.B.A. degree here at Wake Forest.  I want to pursue a career in corporate mergers and acquisitions, because I feel that my business background gives me an additional understanding of the needs of corporate clients. I’m originally from the Washington, D.C. area and hope to return there after graduation.”

b. ”Hi, my name is Mary Jones. I am currently a second year student attending Wake Forest Law School, focusing on public interest work. This past summer I completed an internship with Human Rights Watch where I researched issues of human trafficking. After that experience, I’m committed to a career with a nonprofit or advocacy group focused on issues affecting women’s rights.”

4.  Be Memorable – As employers pointed out, they are looking for memorable experiences when cruising the networking scene or during interviews. They remarked that especially during interviews, they are looking for candidates that will stand out from a crowd. They don’t like hearing the same old “I can help your firm by doing this or by doing that.” They want to see someone who can be a part of their team and get along with the office atmosphere. One particular employer stated that he interviewed 54 candidates and had to quickly narrow the choices down to only 3. The candidates only had 15 minutes to make a lasting impression, which seems like a hard task to complete. However, he was excited to state that the 3 candidates he narrowed it down to were all outgoing, memorable, and reflected a true desire to be on his team.

5.  Be Enthusiastic – To piggyback on point #4, being enthusiastic goes along with being memorable. Enthusiasm and a positive attitude are also contagious. One attorney mentioned that he likes to hear all about the student, but then enjoys how the conversation pivots to excited remarks and stories about what the student wants to do with their law career and where they would like to go. This excitement makes a lasting impression on this particular attorney. Try to answer questions in an upbeat way, conveying that you are enthusiastic and pleasant to be around. You don’t have to lay it on thick and go overboard, but your attitude can go a long way in social events and especially during interviews. In an interview, enthusiastic candidates indicate their enjoyment of their work and their interest in the employer by their behavior. Students looking for their first job are enthusiastic about their academic work, their college, their professors and fellow students.

They Say Talk is Cheap

They say talk is cheap. Perhaps for some, but not for law students who have a boat-load of networking events filling up their social calendar. These students are playing it smart and taking advantage of the many social and networking event opportunities our office is offering in the coming months. All throughout the Fall you can:

  • Learn from students on how they landed their summer job
  • Hear great advice and stories from local practicing attorneys
  • Receive countless wisdom with fellow Wake Forest alumni

You’ll probably want to brush up on your networking skills… again?

Can you ever get enough networking advice?

Of course not!

When it comes to mingling, socializing, and meeting new people, small talk can be a big problem. You want to be friendly and polite, but you just can’t think of a thing to say. Mastering those ice-breakers could mean the start of a lifelong connection, vital to your career. But how do you start, what do you say, and how do you say it – what are the tricks of the trade?

Gretchin Rubin, from the Happiness Project, has highlighted some strategies to try when your mind is a blank:

1. Comment on a topic common to both of you at the moment: the food, the room, the occasion, the weather (yes, talking about the weather is a cliché, but it works). “How do you know our host?” “What brings you to this event?” But keep it on the positive side! Unless you can be hilariously funny, the first time you come in contact with a person isn’t a good time to complain.

2. Comment on a topic of general interest. A friend scans Google News right before he goes anywhere where he needs to make small talk, so he can say, “Did you hear that Jeff Bezos is buying The Washington Post?” or whatever.

3. Ask a question that people can answer as they please. My favorite question is:  “What’s keeping you busy these days?” It’s useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) — preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): “What do you do?”

A variant: “What are you working on these days?” This is an especially useful dodge if you ought to know what the person does for a living, but can’t remember.

4. Ask open questions that can’t be answered with a single word.

5. If you do ask a question that can be answered in a single word, instead of just supplying your own information in response, ask a follow-up question. For example, if you ask, “Where are you from?” or “What areas of law to you practice?” some interesting follow-up questions might be, “What would your life be like if you still lived there?”, “What made you move here?” or “What made you decide to choose that practice area?”

6. Ask getting-to-know-you questions. “What newspapers and magazines do you subscribe to? What internet sites do you visit regularly?” These questions often reveal a hidden passion, which can make for great conversation.

7. React to what a person says in the spirit in which that that comment was offered. If he makes a joke, even if it’s not very funny, try to laugh. If she offers some surprising information (“Did you know that the Harry Potter series have sold more than 450 million copies?”), react with surprise.

8. Follow someone’s conversational lead. If someone obviously drops in a reference to a subject, pick up on that thread.

9. Along the same lines, counter-intuitively, don’t try to talk about your favorite topic, because you’ll be tempted to talk too much.

So what will it be? Table Talk? Speed Networking? A Law Alumni program? Take your pick or pick them all and try out these new found tips and tricks. You’re in school to practice what you’ve learned from your books, but you are also in school to practice the networking skills that will keep you climbing to the top of your career ladder. There is no one without the other.

Good luck!

Make It A Great Year

So you started law school this year. Yay!

You’ve finished 1L orientation. *whew*

(Wait for it)

Have the nerves started to set in yet? Well, STOP!

Before you let your emotions take over and put you into a stress-induced panic attack, take the time to review these simple tips that may seem straightforward, but are often overlooked by first year law students each year:

    1. Start thinking about your law career path. Criminal law. Family law. Tax law. Corporate law. The law practice areas of today seem endless, don’t they? Make your transition from college to career as seamless as possible by thinking about what area of practice would best suit you. Start thinking about your strengths and interests. Research different areas of practice online and write notes about each one. This tool can give you an idea of what’s out there. Would you like to represent large corporations or individual clients? Is land use & zoning up your alley or is insurance law more your thing? Do you think you’ll work best in a small firm or a large firm? Get your ideas flowing.  Schedule an appointment with your career advisor to brainstorm about options and get detailed career insight for your personal strengths and interests.

    2. Network. Network. Network. Some 1L students make the mistake of not doing this the first semester and miss out on great available help. Meet professors during office hours. Go to networking events. Apply to on-campus interviews. Connect with the Office of Career and Professional Development. Network with whomever possible during first semester, especially different alumni: Alumni now at law firms, alumni at firms in which you are interested in working, alumni you know in your neighborhood, etc. Even a small connection can give you a huge leg up in looking for 1L or 2L summer employment, and best part? People are naturally willing to help! A simple conversation about their experiences on campus or their careers after graduation can lead into the formation of the core base of contacts that will help you in your future law career.

    3. Health is wealth. Maintain a balanced diet. Get regular exercise. Drink plenty of water. Sounds like an elementary school lecture on the food pyramid, right? Healthy living isn’t just instilled in young children anymore. It’s preached throughout your lifespan. So why stop while attending law school? Keeping a proper diet, exercising regularly, and having a regular sleep schedule will give you more energy than that caffeine-laced energy drink. Good health is long-term. Quick fixes like espresso, sugar, and brief cat naps before exams will only work short-term. Before you know it, those late afternoon runs to the coffee shop and stacks of take-out boxes will be taking a toll on your body and mind.  Use the gym on campus. Take a walk with an audiobook. Ditch the greasy food for some quinoa and greens. Mmmmmm.

    4. Be kind and courteous to your classmates. Everyone already feels that it is one big competition in law school, which can create pointless tension. Instead, practice kindness, consideration, and helpfulness each day. Sounds so easy, right? Try it then — EVERY day. The legal community is small so it’s good to be known as a genuine and pleasant person. Your classmates are the first group of contacts you will make in your law career, so be sure to get your reputation in the legal world off on the right foot. Don’t forget that you’ll be around the same group of people on a daily basis for over a year, so be sure to be nice to your new family of 100+. Offer to share notes or outlines. Make sure you try and get to know 2Ls and 3Ls, too. They are great allies when it comes to advice and tricks of the trade. They might even give away their old outlines and study aids, or even give advice on specific professors’ teaching or grading style.

    5. Have Fun! Be sure to take some time out for yourself each week and enjoy the benefits and opportunities that are in store for you at Wake Forest University. Walking paths, world-class gyms, adventure trips, sporting events, and so many more activities are waiting to fill your (albeit limited) free time and reduce the stress levels in your body. Get involved with the various social clubs on campus, SBA fundraisers, and happy hours which can be fun and relaxing as well as circle back to the all-powerful networking rule.

You’ve made it this far along the long law school path, so keep on trucking! Congratulations to you. Excitement and fun (and yes, lots of studying) await you this year. Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride each step of the way!