Are You Riding the Horse in the Direction It Is Going? How inability to change can bust your career.
By Chere B. Estrin
COVID 19. It is, or was here, and it may never, or might, go away. It’s the great unknown. To say that this horrendous virus brought significant changes to our work and personal lives is clearly underrating it. Work life changed – working remotely is no longer considered taboo; flexible work schedules seem to produce more work product; that corner office is still yours but on rotation; and a tremendous amount of stress either remains or has decreased, depending on how you deal with it.
"Work life changed – working remotely is no longer considered taboo; flexible work schedules seem to produce more work product."
On the other hand, these changes have been happening for a very long time. Instead of the legal field’s usual methodology of always being last on the band wagon when it comes to change, we just sped everything up. If you are someone who can adapt easily to change, you are in the winner’s circle. If you can’t, I have news: you are most likely going to be left behind. And that, my friends, amounts to nothing less than career suicide.
Recently, I have been in the midst of career changing drama with a few candidates. And I mean drama. I have witnessed legal professionals who refuse to change with the world, who turn a blind eye and deaf ear to today’s workplace and consequently, have suffered setbacks. Of course, there are many who change easily, and I have seen their careers soar.
The other day, I placed a senior attorney at a very large non-profit organization. The company was seeking a Director/Corporate Secretary. When the candidate accepted, there were congratulations all around. Everybody is happy – the non-profit, the candidate, and my team. That is, until the procedure for reference checks came about. About 30 years ago, the candidate had been a Sr. Partner in two major law firms. She left the major firms and went to work in non-profits as a Corporate Secretary and in fund raising. Her work background seemed stable and quite a fit for this position.
In today’s market, almost all organizations and firms have strict policies regarding background checks. The candidate at first provided three references. Now, I will tell you how I feel about those type of references. Sure, they are necessary. But who on earth is going to provide a reference who will bad-mouth you? I mean, really. In all the time I have been working, I have never witnessed any candidate say, “Gee, let me give Jane Doe as a reference. She really hated me.” Not going to happen.
So, I always take those references with a grain of salt. They do give some insight as the candidate’s skills and abilities but you never hear anything like, “Well, when she cite-checked, she always screwed up.” And in particular, in this day and age of litigation, no employer will give a bad reference. Instead, they only give name, dates of employment and whether the candidates are eligible for rehire. To say safe from potential litigation, they instruct their employees on pain of walking on ground glass, to never give out a reference. Those are usually done on the sly.
“In all the time I have been working, I have never witnessed any candidate say, “Gee, let me give them Jane Doe as a reference. She really hated me.”
Anyway, as we progressed, things started to get prickly. The non-profit was going through its’ normal background check and asked for verification of good standing in the Bar; diplomas; and were checking every employer listed going back about 10-15 years. I started getting threatening emails from the candidate that they were going to pull out if this didn’t stop immediately.
Never, she said, had she had to go through such disrespectful procedures. She felt that she had an established career and no one should be checking that thoroughly. She was outraged. In an email to me she said, “I am being treated like a low-level healthcare worker.” WHAT? I let her know that her ego was getting in the way and she had to let go. She was not better than anyone else and what was being asked was standard procedure for every candidate. Clearly, we are talking about a huge ego, bias and perhaps prejudice. It was an ‘I am better than thou” attitude. I did let her know she had to curb her ego if she wanted this job. She’s behaving like this on a routine background check? Oh, god. A few days later, I got this:
“This has become a three-ring circus and has nothing to do with my ego. Today I was told I had misrepresented my position at [Acme Company] and was asked to explain the discrepancy, and was then asked for copies of my two degrees from undergrad and law school and verification that I am an active member of the Bar in good standing. This was followed by [the HR Manager] asking me to let her know when I had given notice to my current employer so she could call my current manager and ask about me.” Huh??
Are we talking about someone who is extremely out of touch with today’s market? In the “old days”, you could practically get a job based on three references you chose to give and a handshake. That was 30 years ago. Today, almost all substantial employers will ask the same background procedure of each candidate. Additionally, she wanted me to apologize for being straight with her.
I explained to her that the world has changed. Checking the Bar to see if the candidate is in good standing relates to seeing if there are any disciplinary actions. Checking dates is standard procedure. I once had a candidate who said she had been at a firm for 12 years when in fact she hadn’t been there for a year. I also knew an attorney who was in three major law firms. A couple of months after starting the third firm, he was fired because he had lied on his resume. When asked, he said, “Yep. I lied on my resume.” He just finally got caught.
A candidate has their current position referenced checked after they give notice to find out if indeed, the candidate performed the duties stated on the resume. Many people simply copy a job description. That does not mean that you actually performed those duties. Diplomas in lieu of transcripts are asked for as some college offices remain closed. Transcripts are required to see if the candidate placed where they said they did: i.e., magna cum laude, etc. Many times, what is stated on the resume is not exactly kosher, partner or not, major firm or not.
All of this was to no avail. A day later, the candidate emailed me to say that she was being “disrespected” and that everyone should know she was a successful career person. She withdrew her acceptance of the offer.
Unfortunately, when I explained this to the non-profit, they held me responsible for someone with an inflated ego, bias and mostly, that the candidate was not in touch with today’s world. She had failed to change over the years. Sadly to say, they informed me that they were no longer going to use our services. I guess you could say I was fired. Nothing like shooting the messenger. Should I have found out about things such as inflated ego, prejudice and arrogance coupled with a strong resistance to change with the world? Not a pretty picture and I am not quite sure if there is a test for that.
Recruiters are responsible for presenting qualified candidates. We do not choose the candidate. The employer chooses the candidate. The Recruiter does not choose for them. Recruiters are responsible for seeing that the candidate has the right skills, background, personality and desire to have the job. We are not responsible for emerging personality problems. We are not psychologists and do not have the power to change someone or to predict the future.
While this is one of the more extreme cases of failure to change, I have had other experiences with employees, temps and candidates. Recently, a temp was told by the Firm that her predecessor, “Lakesha” left unexpectedly. The temp says, “Lakesha? Was she black?” Oh, geez. Not only are we talking about inappropriate remarks, bias and prejudice, we are talking about failure to change out-of-date and harmful attitudes. The temp was removed from the job immediately.
On a less severe topic, I frequently come across litigation paralegals who refuse to stay on top of technology and then wonder why they are not getting a job. Relativity is the software of choice in just about every firm. I hear candidates say over and over that their firm does not use it, will not train them but they expect to find a new position and get trained by the new employer. Uh, uh. Employers have changed. They no longer have the time nor the people power to train someone from the very beginning. They expect you to land in the job ready to go. Yet, these candidates want to blame their firms for their lack of expertise and that they are stuck. All you really have to do is to go to the Relativity website and take their free training. Change your attitude and your victim mentality and change your life. End of story. By having some independent thinking, you can find a great opportunity for a new position and most likely, better pay if you agree to change.
Bottom-line is, if you want to succeed in this market, you have to have changed with the world. Out-dated attitudes, beliefs and prejudices do not make good employees. Turnover among change resisters is high and ability to get a new job, minimal.
How do I change? 9 Effective Tips
- Recognize the areas where you need updating. Ask a colleague, a friend, a family member – someone who will be truthful. Stay open to suggestions and criticisms. It’s possible your friends have not said anything in fear of hurting your feelings. Just ask them to spill the beans.
- Take a good solid look at the job market. Review job descriptions on the job boards. Are your qualifications equal to what is being asked of candidates today? If not, time to get crackin’.
- Read, read, read, listen to the news. We are so into instant gratification these days i.e., Instagram, Twitter, short emails, etc., that we are not reading or listening in depth anymore. Find out about new acceptable social trends, what is considered right and what is considered wrong and change. Honestly, you will probably have more friends and get a better job. Now, there’s a concept.
- Drop the ego. Inflated egos are not acceptable even for the highest-ranking partners and corporate officers. It just doesn’t fly anymore. You cannot be expected to be a team player – which is what it is all about today – if your ego is inflated. You will continue to think you are better than anyone else. I’ve got news for you.
- Go along with new requirements in the job market. This is no longer your mother’s workplace. Jobs are not given based only on your resume and sealed with a handshake. I once lied about my age years ago when to be asked your age on the application was an acceptable practice. I said I was 25 when I was 19 because you had to be 25 in order to get bonded. No one was checking. Boy, have things changed. Now, you can’t even mention age in any manner.
- Plan for change. The old saying, “the only thing constant is change” could not be more true.
- Help others. Chances are, you’re not the only one who feels uncomfortable with change in the workplace. If you can take the focus away from your own situation and direct it toward someone else’s, it will help you cope.
- Embrace new opportunities. Change often translates to possibility for those who are willing to embrace it.
- Accept rather than resist. Ultimately, the most important thing to do to cope with workplace change is to acknowledge it. Recognizing and accepting change is one of the first steps toward managing it.
Change in the workplace is here to stay. While it can be disruptive and uncomfortable, there are benefits to change, like promoting the development of new skills and bolstering innovation. With the right attitude and a specific set of actions, you can find the opportunity in any situation. Learn to embrace change, and you’ll start to appreciate it for what it is: the chance to grow.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top national and international staffing organization and MediSums, medical records summarizing. She is the Co-Founding Member and Vice-President of the Organization Legal Professionals providing online legal technology training.
Chere has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur, Above the Law and others. Chere is a recipient of the Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award, a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award and a Los Angeles Paralegal Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 100 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. She can be reached on Sundays from 3am-5am. Reach out at: email@example.com.
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