By Nikki Datta • April 11, 2016•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Law School, Pre-Law, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
Just last week, I had the incredible opportunity to hear Delida Costin, a Ms. JD Writer-In-Residence, speak to a group of pre-law undergraduates at Columbia University. Delida has worked as general counsel at lynda.com, where she assisted with their sale to LinkedIn, and at Pandora, where she also built the legal team that took Pandora public and served as the first senior vice president and secretary. Most recently, she founded a law firm. Hearing her share with us some of this wealth of personal experience served as an amazing learning opportunity.
She spoke extensively on the difference between working in-house and at a firm and about the soft skills you need to succeed in today’s market. I found her discussion of soft skills particularly helpful because it was something no one had explicitly said to me before. In fact, she was quite frank with the group, saying that people will not often outright tell you that you lack a soft skill…So it’s to your benefit to actively search for skills where you need growth. She offered some tips that I found extremely useful:
- Use low-risk situations to identify skills that you lack by facing things that scare you. To my fellow pre-law students: she also mentioned that undergraduate years are the perfect time to try new skills out because there’s a low cost.
- Pay attention to how you come across. How do people around you perceive your work and personality? Surround yourself with people who challenge you and who will be able to point out where you are not proficient. These people won’t always be on the same career path as you, but often they will be strong mentors with connections and opportunities that you don’t already have access to, and, most importantly, they will give you the personal and professional support you need to grow.
- Know how it feels to walk into a scary situation. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to practice walking into a boardroom for the first time, you can still join a club that none of your friends are in, or go to a networking event that caters only to people with CVs that are more impressive than yours. Learning how to deal with discomfort is key.
- Stop worrying about the value you bring to the table. Don’t assume that the CEO doesn’t want to talk to you, and if given the opportunity to speak with them, always take it!
- Become familiar with the theory of learning and the 4 stages of competence (this was my favorite one!). Begin to grow from unconscious incompetence, when you don’t know what you don’t know, and lead up to unconscious competence, when you don’t have to think about what you do know. Soft skills can become second nature if you work hard on developing them.
Thank you so much to Genevieve Antono, former president of Columbia’s Pre-Law Society and a Ms. JD Writer-In-Residence, for organizing the event, and of course to Delida for coming out to speak to us – the talk was incredibly informative, and honestly, it’s quite comforting and inspiring to know that even such a successful lawyer had to go through a process of learning soft skills like public speaking. She also said, of course, to follow the fun - she was a snowboarding instructor for a few years - advice that will serve us all well as we sort out our next steps towards law school or, otherwise, our next big venture.
Nikki Datta is a first-year at Columbia University in the City of New York. She served as a lead editor for the Spring 2016 Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and is currently a casework intern at Senator Chuck Schumer’s New York City office.
Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta