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posted: 2/2/2014 6:03 AM

Career Coach: How to get partners to listen; escaping a career

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Q: I am a paralegal who has worked with the same three partners for more than 10 years. None of them exhibits any leadership skills, and they all blame everyone else for any shortcomings. They have developed only minimal relationships with lawyers in other offices around the country who could share work with us. Nor are they interested in hearing my suggestions and questions concerning business development. Short of leaving for a winning team, do you think there is anything else I could do?

A: Are they making money and still successful? If so, it will be hard to get them to think about doing things differently. In that case, you might share with them data on how law firms are collaborating more and gaining more clients this way, but it may fall on deaf ears. They need an incentive to listen to your ideas.

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Q: How do you escape a career path that you have just started to hate? I have always been a writer, but the more I do it, the less I like it. I keep going from writing job to writing job (the last one was five years long) in government contracting because that's all I know. But I am getting quite jaded with contracting, and frankly, tired of the hours and the stress. I also really hate sitting in an office writing when I could be out and about, talking to people or working with clients. I think I need to get out of this back end of contracting and go into some other line of work, but I don't know where to start. All the career tests I have taken say I should be in media and writing, but I hate it!

A: Sometimes the career tests indicate a field is a good one and yet it could just be the industry itself is a good place for you. In other words, maybe working in a marketing or communications department is appealing while the actual writing is no longer interesting to you. Did you ever take the Career Leader? This is a good career tool that also looks at your interests and can help to map your interests with a variety of fields.

Q: I am a 53-year-old professional female who is planning to begin a combined graduate program in cybersecurity and business management this fall. I know that I will have to work until I am at least 70, and since there is a critical need for cybersecurity professionals, this will update my skills and knowledge base for the available career opportunities. Moreover, I enjoy learning and I am pretty tech savvy. So this a field that I am genuinely interested in and I have a real interest in performing this type of work. My question is this: Do you think that I might be too old at 55 (when I graduate) to start a new career in cybersecurity?

A: Let me start by saying that I do not think people are generally too old to start in a new field. Research shows that many of us will be working well into our 60-70s, so this is fairly common. It also shows that individuals change career paths numerous times over their lives, so we should expect this. You said you are pretty tech savvy, so I would say you should go for it.

Q: I'm an attorney looking to move into an industry in a practice sector in which I just received an LLM. How do I handle questions about leaving? Morale in my office is beyond low, work is nonsensical paper pushing and there is no upward mobility or opportunities for leadership. Plus, authorization for details are being denied by paranoid managers worried about losing resources . . . in other words, I'm miserable. Five of seven hires behind me are trying to get out, too. How do you spin that?

A: I would focus on what you see as new opportunities at prospective firms (when you interview) rather than focus on what problems are at the current firm. No one really wants you to focus on the bad aspects of your firm. They really just want to hear how excited you are about working at their firm. So do your research on the new companies, and then share with them your views about how you are looking forward to working at their company in order to fully contribute to their goals, mission, etc.

• Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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