Women & Interviews

A Lawyer's Adventures in
Finding Meaningful Work
By Janel Bush

Women & Interviews
Chat Transcript
Beyond The Trick Question
A Lawyer's Adventures
Career Basics For Women
Career Matchmaking
Ms. Xecutive Holds Forth
Ain't No Personnel Jockey
Recruiter's Point of View
Brassy, Foolish Dames
Ask The Headhunter

Funny, how it all comes together.
At the end of 1994, with the New Year coming on, I realized it was time to start thinking about a change. I had been an attorney/lobbyist for the City for 13 years.

Within days into January I was taking time off to reconsider all my established career plans. I hated the craziness and politics, and the meanness that I saw. I took little joy from my work. I dreaded getting up each day. This was not me. I will not bore you with the endless trivia about why it got so bad, but trust me, it did. I sought employee counseling for help in dealing with the really negative stress I was feeling for the first time in my life.

My counselor asked me a simple question: "Why do you work in a place like that? It is dysfunctional." (Just the word I had used!) Well, it paid well, and had been exciting and fun for a long time. I only had a few visits under our employee assistance plan, but they helped me to decide to not be a victim, but to decide what I wanted, and to go after it.

The boom drops.
Before I got much chance to develop a plan, my position was eliminated in an amazingly swift move that left me with little recourse but to take severance and get on with my life. While all this was handled with a staggering lack of class or feeling, I realized that my biggest desire had indeed been to get out... or better, get out alive.

I admit it, I was really set back by the fact that after years of pretty devoted service, I could be so misunderstood, and treated so cavalierly for political purposes. Boy, how could I be so naive with my experience and so-called smarts? Dumb and Dumber!

Oh well, what was I going to do next?

Looking for the next happiness.
I spent more time than I thought I should just being angry and hurt, humiliated and beaten down. I could get a job doing what I had done -- lobbying -- but I really disliked the kiss-ass requirements of many such jobs. I wanted to do something new that would still put bread on the table. I would reconcile myself to "buying" happiness with a reduced salary if necessary, but I would still require creativity and excitement to be a part of any new position I took.

So, I embarked on a search. I read tons of books about "Job Shifts", "Doing What You Love and the Money Will Follow", "Transitions", etc.. I took personality tests, some of which confirmed what I had tried to hide from myself... that my work personality was too independence-oriented, entrepreneurial, and relationship-focused for me to be happy in the structure and hierarchy of government (where I had spent 20 years as a lawyer!).

I also went for employment counseling and job search training because it was a part of the severance package. I "honed" (stupid word) my resume. I networked like crazy. I found a great on-line place called the "Motley Fool" which had "Nick the Headhunter" who provided excellent advice and feedback to me about what steps I could take next. His message board, and his book about how not to interview, provided much needed confirmation of things I had been feeling about my job search.

Unfortunately, no simple answer came to me, except that I should sell my house, and make sure that I had no debt so that I would be truly free to consider a wide variety of alternatives. But, I had some new tools to continue the search.

A table spread before me.
In some ways, I felt like I had just come out of a desert, and all sorts of wonderful drinks and elixirs were being placed before me! I just didn't know where to begin and I was plenty thirsty. I really enjoyed the summer, learning the Internet, installing Windows95, creating imaginary businesses, thinking about books and ideas I cared about. But how to weave all these separate threads into something whole?

To make ends meet, I took a temporary job six months after losing my job of 13 years. I did not have a plan for where I was going next. Survival was the idea. I was even contemplating selling computers! I just did the job as well as I could, was friendly, and paid attention to the big picture around me. So, how did I find the great job I am about to begin?

Working on my own terms.
Well, there was no job listing, no classified ad. It wasn't even really a "job". When I heard about a short-term project at the County Attorney's Office, I jumped at the chance for temporary employment. I could help them with their backlog of child support and paternity orders, and work fairly flexible hours, and even a little bit at home on my own computer. It would keep the wolf at the door but not inside the house!

I enjoyed the work! It wasn't wildly exciting, but I got a real sense of accomplishment getting all those proposed orders out. More importantly, I was reminded that I did have "Excellent Work Skills" and that I could learn anything, even child support formulas and an archaic version of WordPerfect.

The cases I dealt with also reminded me that I had a great deal that many other women did not. I was educated, could make a decent income, and lived in my own comfortable home. What was best though was that people liked me, thought I was a real asset, and praised me often. I realized that I had never been in a work situation like that before. When I was gone for Thanksgiving, I returned to find all sorts of little post-its with messages saying they had missed me! Geesh if it paid real money, I could get used to this!

I cranked out over 200 hundred child support orders in a few months, and they were impressed. I also learned the system, and the problems line staff were facing. Apparently the County and the Department were beginning to realize that their new administrative system was not without its problems.

The Old Girls' Network.
Here is where another of the Ask The Headhunter precepts came into play. I had friends I had kept over the years, from when I had helped with the hiring of new lawyers at the Senate Counsel. Two women in particular became my best friends... the kind that are forged over 20 hour workdays, crazy stress and late night legislative shenanigans.

Well, I didn't know it, but I had created an old girls network. The network came into play with the temporary job, and then, as I succeeded at that beyond my employer's expectations, both the County and the State agency people began to see ways to really use my skills to solve some problems of their own caused by the massive changes in the judicial and administrative system. And I made sure they knew I could handle the work and that I would love a new challenge. . .in an area unrelated to my prior experience! I showed them that I could fit in, and that I had a unique mix of skills that just might create the miracle they said they needed.

Basically, I talked with one woman and gave her my resume as an afterthought for the HR people. True to Nick's precepts, I convinced people that I could do something that they needed to have done... that they hadn't focused on until I came along.

Luckily, another of my friends is now a senior commissioner type in the Department of Human Services, on loan from the Attorney General's office. The new position that I have accepted is several levels down from her, but she too, supported the idea of hiring me for this new position.

I think that it is interesting that both of my friends did not fear hiring me for positions that ultimately reported to them. I think there are some real differences between men and women in this area.

The flying carpet... er, rug.
I will begin work next week with the [State] Dept. of Human Services. They simply want a miracle worker, and I said I'd give it a good shot. I will earn lots less than I did as a lobbyist, but lots more than I earn currently, and I will be in the running again, and have benefits.

Having grown up with zero money, I was absolutely enamored with security, and here I am pulling the rug out from under my own feet. Or am I?

Nick deals with a lot of people on Ask The Headhunter who don't know how to get out of what they are currently doing, and who want to make real career changes. I have especially enjoyed the letters from the lawyers... maybe the malaise is contagious in that profession? It IS hard to change, especially if you are heavily invested in being a "Professional Anything", but you first have to let go, float a bit and then start swimming toward your goals! In my case, I had a network of friends who shouted encouragement, and when I appeared to be floundering a bit, threw out some water wings.

Rules? We don't need no stinking rules!
At my lowest point, when the employment counselors from the outplacement firm were calling me asking when I would redo my resume or use their list of jobs or whatever, I kept reminding myself that it was not laziness on my part, but my conviction that their methods wouldn't work that pulled me through. If I hadn't read Nick's book and suggestions, I might have chickened out!

This was a problem I faced with my friends as well... as in, "How many jobs have you applied for this week?"

I did apply for jobs, usually variations of government relations positions because that was what I was "qualified for", but in other government organizations or in the private sector.

I think my subterranean dread of going back to that life came through in the interviews. I always got to the finals, but couldn't pump myself up enough to truly convince them that I could do the job they wanted done. I just didn't want to do it, and I couldn't quite believe this of myself! I just did not want to end my search with one of those jobs. I am not even sure that the new job I will be taking is just IT either, but I can admit that from the start, and see what I DO want from it, and my expectation is to always be "in the market" (more Headhunter lessons).

Planting the next seeds.
I have kept in contact with some other people because one of my long term ideas is to get government to use the Internet and other new communication systems creatively. I know I could be a great consultant in this area because what government needs is someone to help them imagine all the possibilities and also help them make it real.

One particular contact is head of a planning agency in the State, and I suggested to him that he should be concerned with where our local utilities were laying fiber optic cable because it was a form of the "new infrastructure". If suburban sprawl and segregation came from unrestricted sewer, highway, and school construction, what on earth were the potential impacts of this new infrastructure? I don't think he had seen the issue in quite that way recently. . .airports, wastewater, and sports arenas had been on his latest list of problems.

I am just planting seeds wherever I can. I think that over the long haul, this man and a few others will discover (with my help!) that they have problems that I can help solve. I basically have to figure out for myself what I like to do before I can go out and sell myself!

I now know that, at heart, I want to be a change agent. I would prefer to be a consultant, and that is why I am taking this job -- because it is very close to being an internal consultant. The new job will deal with bureaucracy and change as well as the trend toward non-judicial resolution of legal problems.

I can't wait to see what I think of it once I am actually in the middle of it!

Please tell us what you think of this article.

Janel Bush is an attorney. She is now focusing on being a "midwife to change" in the public sector. She is especially interested in the potential for high tech communications (including the Internet) to play a special role in 21st century democratic discourse.


The contents of this site are Copyright (c) 1995-2015 North Bridge Group LLC.
All rights reserved. This material is for personal use only. Republication and redissemination, including posting to news groups, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Ask The Headhunter, Fearless Job Hunting, the ATH logo and other ATH titles are trademarks or registered trademarks of North Bridge Group LLC and Nick A. Corcodilos.

User agreement, legal information and disclaimer.

Visit the Ask The Headhunter Blog and sign up for your free subscription to the weekly Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.

We welcome comments and
suggestions. Please email to
Ask The Headhunter.