Fired yet again, now what?
February 18, 2007 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I had low-level jobs before going back to school for legal secretary, graduating in 2003. I was successful at 2 legal secretary jobs after that but had to quit each one due to needing better benefits or better working conditions. But now this 3rd job I got fired from last week after 5 months, due to a combination of my poor concentration and my boss's critically obsessive perfectionism. I had been fired numerous times before going back to school, but now I thought I was headed for a real career. Since my concentration isn't the greatest, I'm wondering about a career change, but the only thing that looks good on my resume is the legal secretary stuff. I still haven't told my parents, whom I live with, that I got fired yet again. The errors I was making weren't critical, really mostly stuff like

not putting "Enclosure" on the bottom of the letter, or not catching my boss's errors before mailing stuff out.

I feel lonely pretending to go to work each day, when I'm really going to the career center, library, Starbucks etc. I'm thinking of asking to move in for a while with my brother who lives in Washington (I'm in Pittsburgh) to look for a job there, since the change may do me good. But he might feel anxious about letting me, since I can't seem to keep a job. Right now I only have $2000 to my name. (They did say they wouldn't contest unemployment.)

I've heard Borders is a great place to work, but I know I can't stand all day. I applied for a temp job and they got excited about my resume and wanted straight away to have me apply for a high-power legal secretary job. How do I tell them I want something dumber? How do I get an easy legal secretary job, or something similar? How do I break it to my family? Should I move to Washington? Aaargh!!!
posted by serena15221 to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why have you gotten fired multiple times? Is it possible you have ADHD and don't know it? The symptoms in women are different from in men - typically females lack concentration, seem spacey and forgetful, instead of acting out the way we "typically" think of an ADHD person acting. It gets diagnosed more in males because typical male ADHD behavior is more obnoxious. Just something to think about.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:57 PM on February 18, 2007

A lot of people are going to chime in on this one, but I would strongly advise you to seek professional councelling on this one, as it is highly abnormal to be fired repeatedly. Changing jobs isn't necessarily going to solve the underlying problem. You need help with this pervasive issue, although I'm at a loss as to who/what would be best suited to help you. Best of luck!
posted by furtive at 6:07 PM on February 18, 2007

Despite my lack of experience with the legal industry, I have a suspicion that "easy legal secretary jobs" are hard to come by. It sounds like you want a job where you are not under pressure to be perfect, and where the odd error is not a big deal. But doesn't the legal industry depend very strongly on being perfectly precise? For example, spelling errors of any kind in an outgoing letter would never be acceptable from any sort of legal firm. I think critically obsessive perfectionism goes with the territory.

If job-hunting and looking for something less stressful, try saying something like "After XX years of challenging work as a legal secretary I would like a change of pace. So although I may appear overqualified please be assured that this XX position is exactly what I am looking for."

On preview, I agree that counselling is worth considering. At the very least a counsellor could help you with your immediate problems (parents, potentially moving).
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:12 PM on February 18, 2007

Were you able to quit your former jobs, where you were successful, on good terms? Contact your former employers or co-workers there and let them know you're looking.

Whether you move or not, you may be dealing with a temp agency again--let them know some of what you've shared here, that an employer like Borders appeals to you but that you don't want to stand all day, that you want to get out of legal secretary work, etc., whatever the case may be.

Even if they can't get you something immediately, the more you give them about your interests and preferences (and the more you check back with them on a regular basis) the better your chances are of getting work.
posted by PY at 6:16 PM on February 18, 2007

I re-read the question to get clear on the firings. As I see it, this is the first time since graduation (2003) and going back to school that you've been fired. If feeling spacey and lacking concentration contributed to those earlier pre-school firings, then this is definitely something to get checked out as mentioned above.
posted by PY at 6:30 PM on February 18, 2007

I have to echo the possible ADD angle. I was a classic "under achiever" who had a difficult time keeping a job until I was diagnosed with ADD a number of years ago. I would really caution you against just throwing yourself into that diagnosis without some pretty extensive testing and also working with a therapist who can do some cognitive therapy to help you along with meds.

Moving to a new location won't really help you if you have some underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Good luck!
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:59 PM on February 18, 2007

Assuming that you do not have a medical problem (ADD, clinical depression, other), your job history as described makes you sound like you have some issues with taking responsibility for your own success.

You've had three jobs since 2003. Two jobs you willingly quit after only a year or so each, which is really not a lot of time to give a job (that you thought would be a career!) a chance before jumping ship. Third job you get fired after only 5 months for clerical errors? That's...odd. Clerical errors alone don't usually get someone fired. Not giving a damn about making clerical errors, however, is a very very good way to get fired.

You'd rather lie to your folks, with whom you live, than be honest about losing your job. You don't want to stand all day. You don't want to work for any perfectionists. You don't want even a temp job for which you're qualified (again, in the field that you thought would be a career) because it sounds like a challenging position.

You seem to want job that you will find enjoyable, that doesn't require you to do anything that you don't want to do, that also does not require you to put forth any effort. That's going to be a tall order.

Sorry to sound harsh. Look, I sympathise. It took me a number of years after college to find my way into a long-term professional position. But I wanted to work; I wanted to be challenged. You can make the time fly at boring jobs by working hard and being very thorough, you can learn new things and get variety by offering to do tasks beyond your job description. How do you think you will keep a job if you're not willing to be proactive and try to make it work?
posted by desuetude at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2007

PercussivePaul has a great idea for what to say to the temp agency. Also, before you go talk to them, think about what your strengths are, so you can describe them. Maybe the people at the agency can help you with ideas.

Also, maybe the school where you got your legal secretary degree has a career counselling office, where you could go talk with someone about options that would play to your strengths more?

About DC: In general, be wary of moving to a town where you don't know people and don't have a job. That can be a recipe for loneliness and depression. Unless you want a change of scene. Maybe you really just want to get out of your parents' house -- if so, could you get a temp job and then find housemates to split a place with in Pittsburgh?
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:30 PM on February 18, 2007

It sounds to me like you've been trying to do a type of job you're just not very good at. There's nothing wrong with that, I can't do the obsessive detail checking thing either (I've had jobs like that in the past) and would probably have been fired before five months, yet I'm currently doing a PhD in biochemistry so can't be totally thick. So stop trying to do that kind of job, move away from the legal secretary thing altogether if you can.

I bet there are aspects of your previous jobs that you were good at and that you did enjoy. Sit down and think about it, make a list. Jobs generally use a wider range of skills than you'd expect, even just turning up each day shows a level of organisation and commitment. Maybe you did research or interacted with people, something a bit more stimulating and a bit less obsessive detail oriented. Stop looking at your resume as a list of types of jobs you've done and focus on it as a list of skills you have and things you're good at.

You should then be able to spin those aspects of the old jobs into a different type of temping position. Talk to your recruiters about this. Let them know that you didn't like/weren't good at what's on your CV (so they stop getting excited about that) then emphasize the parts of it that did work for you and that you want to keep doing (I suck at w but I'm really great at x, y and z). They should be able to help find a better fit. Career counseling can also be good, I know a few people who have benefited from it.

I think you're a bit too early in your post-college career to get too worried yet. You just need to stop trying to succeed at jobs that play to your weaknesses and work out some strengths instead.

And talk to your parents. It's part of their parental job thingy to support you through stuff like this and outside input can be really good when trying to work out where to go next. It's better than running away (which is what your DC plans sounds like) and you'll feel better telling them I reckon.
posted by shelleycat at 8:00 PM on February 18, 2007

Look at my handle. I could have been your boss, but I wasn't (I didn't fire any secretaries recently and there's no Borders within 100 miles of here). While I don't necessarily think it's fair to be fired for not catching the boss' errors on his correspondence or pleadings, I rely on my secretary to be that extra pair of eyes I need to make sure my output is accurate. I've had secretaries who weren't detail-oriented and I encouraged them to find other work if they couldn't learn how to do it better. And if they knew they were supposed to put "enclosure" on the letter and didn't do it, I would wonder what else they were omitting.

If you want to leave the law entirely-- it's certainly not for everyone-- then fine. But you should have picked up a skill set that could be useful in related law jobs-- perhaps an entry-level paralegal job, or in one of those temp document coding positions. I think I would go crazy in a coding job, but while it does demand a certain amount of accuracy, it's not going to be as anal-retentive as preparing correspondence or pleadings.

Or you could find a more laid-back lawyer, probably a solo or in a small firm, and see if there's a match there. A lot of lawyers are miserable people to work for generally, because the stress of the job and the self-selection involved in the process turns some already marginal personalities into bosses from hell. But a good lawyer/secretary combo can be a terrific thing for both parties, both lucrative and fulfilling.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 8:11 PM on February 18, 2007

I agree with missouri_lawyer. Good lawyers are perfectionists and legal secretaries are expected to be more highly skilled than ordinary administrative staff. There's nothing wrong with a career change, and skills picked up at a law firm are easily translatable elsewhere.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:37 PM on February 18, 2007

I'm a lawyer too and I totally nitpick on that stuff all day long. It just has to be right.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 PM on February 18, 2007

The errors I was making weren't critical

Except that your boss thought they were. It's important to remember (and I have to remind myself of this regularly) that no matter what your job title and official responsibilities, it's an important part of your job to keep the boss happy. Sometimes the boss will want things that seem stupid or a waste of time, but they're the boss. Do it and smile. If you find you cannot fulfill the basic functions of your job (and it sounds as though the mistakes listed in your question could be included) without feeling a lot of anger, it's very possible you are in the wrong field for your temperment.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:12 AM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was successful at 2 legal secretary jobs after that but had to quit each one due to needing better benefits or better working conditions.

Better benefits and better working conditions normally go hand in hand with a more demanding jobs - that's how they compensate you for having to be better than average!

The last time I changed jobs I moved from a small friendly local firm to a large multinational. I almost doubled my pay and got a very nice benefits package to boot - but I am also working a lot more hours, have a lot more demanding work to do in general with a lot more time pressure and the standard of work I produce has to be much higher than would have been acceptable in my old job!

Don't get me wrong - I love my current job and I thrive under the pressure and I want a career but there is a trade-off...

You might want to become realistic about what you kind of work you want to do and what an employer might want to pay you to do that...
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:35 PM on February 19, 2007

As you can tell at the end of the day I am tired and my sentences go funny :)
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:39 PM on February 19, 2007

I think I am being realistic. The more I think about it, it's a little ridiculous to switch careers at this point. My last job was fine as far as job security went. I worked for 2 partners, but almost any of the lawyers there would have been all right for me because that place knew who the difficult attorneys were and made sure they didn't have to share a secretary. If a secretary was overwhelmed, a floater took up the slack, and if you were slow for once, you helped somebody else. No one obsessed over piddly errors except those couple of difficult attorneys, who were given the most experienced secretaries to keep them quiet. The non-obsessive attorneys were still perfectly good attorneys and several of them made partner in the firm.

There were four lawyers in my current office. So one of them fired me. One of them might or might not have fired me. One of them probably would not have fired me, and the fourth one definitely would not have. And with all these other lawyers, I would have had the same benefits and working conditions, since we all worked in the same office.

My concentration may not always be the best, but my skills can still make up for it. It's not like I have Alzheimer's or something. Just wait till you guys get menopausal or whatever, I hope you'll be a little more tolerant then.
posted by serena15221 at 6:51 PM on February 19, 2007

I just wanted to chime in and make you feel better by relating my own experience. Seriously, you'll feel better about forgetting the word "Enclosure" on a letter after this.

Like you, I am not details oriented. I am easily discouraged if I'm not immediately comfortable with where I work. I've been at my current job for two years. But, the job before this one, I really screwed it up. I worked with these older women who were constantly interrupting my work to chat about their dying husbands. Since I'm not focused anyway, this was hugely distracting for me. Long story short, on a particularly chatty and unfocused day, I charged the US Military $13,000 for $1,300 worth of screws and bolts. It turns out the if you type in too many zeroes, Mastercard will not necessarily be like, "Hey. That doesn't seem right. Correct or confirm please!" They're more like, "It's the military, and this number seems low. We'll take it."

I'm not sure who caught the error first, but someone was on my ass like white on rice within hours. Yeah, they fired me. No, I did not feel bad about it. Why? One, do not chat with me about stuff that makes you cry at work. Two, and more importantly, I had wanted to quit from day one. I know that for me, environment is everything. This sounds true for you, too. I'm not sure what attracted you to being a legal secretary, but if it's money, then I really suggest looking for a different career. Not because you can't do the job, but maybe the environment is toxic to the way you want to live.

If you were getting paid a worthy salary and still couldn't make yourself care enough to keep the job, then you just didn't want to be there. I get paid less at this job than my last one, but at least I'm comfortable there.
posted by fujiko at 11:58 PM on February 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

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