10 Deadly Phrases Guaranteed
to Bust Your Career
By Chere B. Estrin
As someone who teaches and gives seminars, I have met literally thousands of paralegals in all phases of their careers. Those just entering the field, some in it for a few years, a strong component that are lifers, others who are wannabees and those that are banging at the doors in a desperate attempt to get out.
Whenever someone wants to discuss their career, it’s generally because they have reached a stumbling block. Whether it’s a job move, lack of promotion, more sophisticated work, higher level assignment, more interesting and stimulating atmosphere or just indiscriminate complaints, the block is generally coming from within the person and not as a result from the surrounding environment.
How you communicate gives others the key to your thoughts. Communication governs how you behave, are perceived, and how you think. Convincing yourself of certain beliefs and conveying those beliefs to others can dictate how you take the journey from average-garden-variety-paralegal to SuperStar.
Here are the 10 biggest career blockers:
1. “I don’t know.” Deadly, deadly, deadly. The last thing an employer wants to hear is that you don’t know. Law firms hire paralegals for knowledge. This phrase is particularly annoying to supervisors in high-pressure positions who look to you as their number one assistant. You may not, in fact, know the answer. A better response might be, “I will find out” or “That’s not my area of expertise, however, I will research it and get back to you” or “I’m not familiar with that, however, I will find someone who is and get back to you by……” These answers 1) admit you don’t have a ready answer and 2) shows you will take an extra step to find out. It won’t leave your supervisor hanging.
2. “I’m not saying anything bad about them but….” Whenever you preface a statement about what you’re not doing and then proceed to do it, you’re in for trouble. First of all, you make a liar out of yourself. Second of all, you’re setting yourself up for the gossip circuit. How can anyone trust you if you’re known as someone who gossips? You may not think you’re participating in the rumor mill but believe me, you’re already there. Never rock the trust boat. It will kill your career in about two seconds.
3. “Paralegals don’t do this kind of assignment.” You might sometimes hear this remark perhaps after a paralegal takes a workshop that causes them to reach beyond their comfort level. My comment to that is: AREYOUSERIOUS????? Unless it is practicing law, giving advice or negotiating fees, paralegals can tackle just about any assignment.
4. “My firm doesn’t pay for seminars, so I can’t go.” In certain states, such as
California, there mandatory continuing legal education is required of paralegals. Either you ignore Business & Professions Code 6450 and end up in violation of the Code or, in the case of firms not paying for continuing legal education, you wind up paying for it yourself. The number of paralegals who ignore continuing education altogether because their firm or organization does not reimburse them is, unfortunately, very high.
5. “I’m really not into technology.” Uh, huh. I suppose that you are still indexing documents on 3 x 5 cards, too. Everyone is into technology. True, some more than others and some, quite frankly, better at it than the next person. This phrase is a guaranteed career buster. Even if history shows us that lawyers were the last to get on the bandwagon in terms of advanced, modern technology, the fact is that law firms now use technology to compete with other firms. You cannot exist in this world without knowing about technology on some level. This phrase only tells people you are not planning on joining us in the 21st century.
6. “I’m too old.” I don’t know what this means. You’re too old to learn something new? Too old to move to a new job? Too old to get a degree? Have you heard that the new 60 is the old 40? People are not as old at 60 as their parents were. It’s a new age. You’re not too old to go back to school, to seek a better job, to learn a new specialty, to move up the ladder. The average age of paralegal student is 36-38 years of age. The average age of paralegals responding to the NFPA (National Federation of Paralegal Associations) surveys is somewhere in their forties. This is a second and third career choice for most paralegals. The only thing you’re too old for may be a mini-skirt. For that matter, I was too “old” for that when I was 20.
7. “I’m looking for a balance of lifestyle and career.” I should hope so! I never used to have that balance. I was all about careers. Ninety-hour work weeks were the norm. I would go to a movie and not hear half of it because my mind was racing about all the work I had to do. Now that I have put balance into my life, I feel so much better about myself, my work and well, life in general.
I do guarantee you, however, that few employers, particularly in law firms mired in crisis management, want to actually hear that you are looking for “balance”. Try telling that to a haggard senior associate who just worked 425 hours, can’t remember what her kids look like or exactly the last time he saw his house and it’s only the 15th of the month. This is one phrase that may be better left unsaid.
8. “I want a raise like Susie’s.” Raises are not based on your colleague’s increase. Justifying an increase in salary because your neighbor in the next cubical is earning more than you will not cause employers to pony up. True, market rates play an important part in what you earn. However, employers pay for performance and do not feel competitive about people in their own firm. Go back to your performance, kudos, billable hours, knowledge, surveys, and gung-ho attitude to justify an increase. You’ll do much better.
9. “It’s somewhere on my desk.” Oh, dear. I can’t even tackle this one, it’s so deadly.
10. “I want to move to a corporation so I can work fewer hours, move up the corporate ladder and have less stress.” Better check out that corporation first! In some companies, the pressure is on to keep as much work in-house as they can rather than send it to outside counsel
I hear these phrases all the time and can only tell you that if you are telling yourself any of the above, you might want to scrutinize your messages to the world and to yourself. You may find out why you’re not “feeling the love”. Careers are fluid and attitude goes a long way in what happens on that journey. Take the time to change your attitude and you’ll find that you’ve changed the way you think and the way the world looks at you. Not a bad way to have a career!
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