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Winning the interview when switching from law to business

By Jerald Jellison

Despite your legal training, you’ve decided to pursue a career in business. This career change will immediately raise a red flag for business employers. Your answer can make or break your chance of employment.

Why do you want to work in business rather than law?

The question is especially vexing if your heart has been set on working as an attorney. That’s the reason you went to law school. Even today, if you a law firm offered you a job, you’d choose it over business. But, legal jobs are scarce in this economy.

If you voice those thoughts, the interviewer will politely thank you and usher you out the door.  You’ve touched a fear-arousing hot button.

To understand the interviewer’s concerns, consider the expenses of filling an important job. An employer’s costs of the full hiring process are roughly twice the amount of the position’s starting salary.

Employers count on recouping these expenses, so they must hire an individual who will stay long enough to justify their investment. Their greatest fear is that you’ll get bored and seek employment as an attorney.  They can’t afford the risk of hiring you if there’s the slightest suspicion you’ll bail out in a year or two.

Your answer to the key question must make them feel completely confident that you’re 100% committed to a long term career in business. How can you remove an interviewer’s doubts and still give an honest answer?

For several years your life has been centered exclusively on law school. Your education and your dreams have pointed to one goal–becoming a lawyer. As a result your current employment decision is conceived in terms of leaving the law and settling for a business job.  Try reframing the choice.

How would you like a job that: (1) utilizes your legal training; and that (2) involves you in exciting and complex business ventures? Realistically, you know that many attorneys get bored with the law after a few years and end up hating their work. Contrast that scenario with a career that will be filled with ever changing challenges and will provide financially rewards commensurate with your accomplishments.

From a long term perspective, life as an attorney isn’t necessarily more attractive than the alternative. If you reach a similar conclusion, then you have a forthright answer to the job interview question. Begin with a statement that affirms your commitment to business, such as, “I’ve realized business is the only career track that’s perfectly suited to my temperament and my drive to succeed.”

Explain that during law school you recognized you’d probably become bored with the detailed repetitiveness of legal practice.  You need to use your analytic skills and legal knowledge to real world decisions and results.  You then realized you could only find lasting fulfillment in the business world.

When phrased in your own language, your answer will remove any doubts about your commitment, and you’ll ace the interview.

Jerald Jellison, Ph.D., has been a Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California for three decades. For fifteen years he taught a skills-based course on transitioning from the university to business. Jellison is the author of Life After Grad School: Getting From A to B.

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