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Career Q&A | By Marie G. McIntyre, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Don't quit, but seek help learning the ropes

Q: I'm afraid that I might be fired from my first professional job. Four months ago, after finishing law school, I was hired by a very large firm that has no orientation or training program. My boss keeps saying "just figure it out" and gets angry if I ask other attorneys for help.

Unfortunately, my boss and I also seem to have a terrible communication problem. Whenever I ask a question, she gives me a long answer that I don't understand, which is very frustrating. She must be frustrated as well, because she has started rolling her eyes and sighing when I walk into her office.

I have considered quitting my job to avoid being fired for poor performance. However, I hate to give up so quickly. Is there any way out of this dilemma?

A: Feeling like a failure in your first job is a horrible experience, but don't be too hard on yourself. This law firm apparently has a sink-or-swim culture, in which new hires are largely left to fend for themselves. In such environments, the underlying management philosophy seems to be survival of the fittest, so training, coaching and peer support are virtually nonexistent.

Under normal circumstances, your immediate manager would be expected to help you conquer the learning curve, but since discussions with her are unproductive, you will need to find another suitable mentor. Fortunately, most large law firms have a human resources manager or a partner responsible for new associates, either of whom should be able to help.

Without criticizing your boss or the firm, explain the challenges you are facing and ask how other beginners have managed to learn the ropes. If it seems appropriate, consider asking your new ally to facilitate a performance-planning discussion with your manager. Having a "translator" available might help to reduce the communication barriers.

But if your adjustment continues to be difficult, don't despair. This big, impersonal organization may simply not be a good fit for you. Many attorneys who struggle in a large firm find that they thrive in a smaller, more supportive practice.

Bad credit history can hurt job hunts

Q: I'm afraid that bad credit may interfere with my getting a better job. Although I'm working with a debt settlement attorney to resolve earlier financial problems, my credit report does not look good. The attorney has offered to provide a letter explaining my circumstances to potential employers.

I'm not sure what kind of job I should be looking for or how much of an obstacle my credit score may be. My background includes positions in real estate and accounts payable, as well as general clerical work. Do you have any advice?

A: With a history of recent money problems, you are unlikely to be considered for any position involving financial transactions, since employers will worry that personal pressures might cause you to succumb to temptation. Nonfinancial administrative jobs, however, should be much easier to obtain.

Fortunately, you will know when employers are running a credit check, because federal law requires them to get your written permission. When this occurs, you should provide a heads-up about your checkered fiscal past, because you never want to surprise an interviewer with unpleasant facts.

Without going into detail, explain that recent financial troubles have affected your credit report. Indicate that you are now resolving these problems and provide a copy of the attorney's letter. But save this explanation for the end of the interview, since you want to make a positive impression before sharing negative information.

Don't quit, but seek help learning the ropes 09/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 4:31am]
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