Episode 02: What I Did When I Realized My Career Wasn’t For Me Anymore, with Maria Paula Muñoz

Episode 02: What I Did When I Realized My Career Wasn’t For Me Anymore, with Maria Paula Muñoz

Show Notes:

After graduating as a civil engineer major at Rice University in 2014, Maria Paula Muñoz opted for a stable career path within the oil and gas industry, only to soon realize that the role wasn’t exactly the best fit for her. On this episode, Maria Paula talks about what it was like to start and go through a challenging yearlong job search process only months after taking her first job after college, what it took to pivot into a brand new industry and function, and how she used her MBA to later break into a career at Google in the tech industry. This episode is a refreshing story for the job-searcher who is seeking career fulfillment or for anyone who has ever felt alone at work.

Check out the Highlights:

2:37 – Choosing engineering as a major, and the pressure of being a child of immigrants

4:44 – Something missing in her first job out of college

7:02- Being the only Latina engineer on her team, and not feeling a sense of belonging at work

10:33 – Pivoting into an internal consulting strategy role, but it doesn’t last long

14:50 – Maria-Paula gets engaged, decides to move to New Jersey, and her yearlong job search process begins

18:40 – Landing a Product Specialist role at Google

19:47- What it takes to succeed in a career in tech

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Transcription:

Maria Paula: Being an engineering major in college, the way my classroom looked most of the time, it skewed male. And, I was pretty used to that, to be honest with you. And that didn’t really phase me, but I think being out in that environment every single day of your job when you’re thinking, okay, I guess this is my life now… I think it did get to me!

Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killin’ it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos.Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.

Priscilla: Hey! On this episode, you get to hear from Maria Paula Munoz, who graduated from Rice University in 2014 and now works as a product specialist at Google. She talks about what it was like being the only Latina engineer on her team when she worked in the oil & gas industry, going through a grueling year-long job search process, and what it’s been like to break into tech and finally find a role that suits her strengths best.

Priscilla: Hey everyone! Today, we have Maria Paula Munoz who’s a product specialist at Google and she was my MBA classmate at UT Austin. She’s an amazing Colombian Latina from Houston, Texas. We’re both from Houston. So, Maria Paula, welcome to the show and, just super excited to jump into your early career story.

Maria-Paula: Yeah, I’m excited to jump in.

Priscilla: Great. So I know that you went to Rice University and you were a civil engineering major. I’m curious if you went into college knowing that that’s what you were going to major in and if you had a dream job when you were growing up?

Maria-Paula: Yeah, so I went in thinking I would go into something STEM related and I thought engineering would probably be a good field. So I don’t know that I ever had a dream job…was definitely not one of those people. And my dad is a petroleum engineer. And I grew up in a household where engineering was always seen as a great career option. It was stable, it was high paying. It was something that if I wanted to, I could just be very comfortable in that type of role and I could be in Houston and anybody from Houston knows that oil and gas is pervasive and most people in some way or another either work in the industry or somehow work in something related to it. So for me, I applied as a biomedical engineer, that took about a week for me to realize I wasn’t really sure I wanted to go down that path and I ended up choosing civil engineering. For me, I was really thinking more about the end goal, less so about, “Oh, do I find this super interesting?”… I did…I can’t say that I didn’t think engineering was interesting, but was it like, did the classes just absolutely light me up? Probably not. Like to me it was more about getting a good job at the end of the four years. And that was definitely something that I think my parents had a lot to do with. And especially, I know we were chatting about being an immigrant child. You just, you constantly think, okay, like my parents have done so much for me, what can I do? Or, how do I make their sacrifices worth it? And so I think that probably was also part of it, too.

Priscilla: Oh, totally. I feel like as a child of immigrants, you always carry that with you. You’re always wondering if what you’re doing is good enough or that it justifies the tremendous risk that they’ve taken. How hard was it to overcome those years doing civil engineering coursework? Like, it just seems so intense.

Maria-Paula: Yeah, it really was survival…(laughs). I think definitely the first two years, especially my freshman year, I had so much imposter syndrome because I think when you do go to a school that attracts great talent you tend to be surrounded by people maybe for the first time in your life that are just incredible at what they do. So for the first time for me, I was certainly not the valedictorian of my class, but I was definitely in the top 20 people. I was now going to school where most of my classes were filled with people who were valedictorians and who had been student president and had done all these things in high school. And now I was sitting next to them taking a really difficult class and some people like you’re always going to have the freaks of nature who don’t study and somehow ace every single test. And, you had that, you definitely had people who struggled. I definitely commiserated with people in my residential college who were in those classes with me. And you end up bonding through those things, but it was tough.

Priscilla: So, luckily you survived, you graduated. Tell us about what was your first job out of college and what was that experience like for you?

Maria-Paula: Yeah. So as I mentioned, oil and gas was just where I thought I was supposed to go. And I was lucky enough, I got an offer from Exxonmobil. And that was really through career services, so that’s how I got the job. I was working within their Projects organizations. So Exxonmobil is a huge corporation. It’s made up of smaller companies if you will, within it. And I was within the Projects org. So we basically worked for the chemicals and the refining organizations and built plants or refineries or worked on projects to improve the existing ones. And my job was as a cost engineer. So basically that was the first step towards a project management career path. And eventually, to be a major project manager. So for me, I think I was very happy with the offer. It was a great offer. Obviously it’s a great company, very well known. My parents were thrilled, it was like this big well-known very stable company.  And I think for me, like I worked with some great people. I made some great friends, a couple of mentors I still stay in touch with, but generally I could not find it in myself to really love what I was doing and that, to be completely honest, probably took a month.

Priscilla: Wow, that’s not very long at all!

Maria-Paula: Not at all. And I think to explain a little bit more, my role was basically to work on projects, improvement projects or new projects and come up with a cost estimate. So the reason you need an engineer for those types of rules is because we worked very closely with  process design and the engineers out in the field, like the construction engineers. And it’s not just inputting numbers based on what’s going on out there. You really have to understand the labor and the area you’re in and are their existing operations? And how do we work around that? It’s a very cross-functional role, but a lot of your time is out in the field. And I just don’t, I don’t think I realized how much time I’d be on the field, but I also just really didn’t like the environment, yes, in the field, but also even in the office. Being an engineering major in college, like you grow up in a pretty male dominated classroom experience, like the way my classroom looked most of the time, it skewed male. And, I was pretty used to that, to be honest with you. And that didn’t really phase me, but I think being out in that environment every single day of your job when you’re thinking, okay, I guess this is my life now… I think it did get to me! I was, in my team, there were three new hires and I was the only female. I want to say the team maybe had 30, 40 people, there were two other female engineers and that was it, and then me, and so it’s hard to find comradery in that environment where you really are the only one of you and especially being a Latina female…I was the only one. Like there were no others like me. Like I honestly had more in common with some of the admins than the people that I worked with. And so I just don’t really ever feel that I felt that I belonged. And I think that contributed to it. I didn’t love the work. I didn’t find it to be super stimulating. Like I got into engineering because I wanted to think creatively and I wanted to problem solve. And a lot of the work that I was doing was very like, “Look it up in the manual, Look up the, whatever the specs say,” things that had already been planned out. And it was more I was just locating something and putting it in place. There was no creative thought there, so I just didn’t really ever feel at home there. And I never really felt, “Oh, I’m excited to go to work today.” And so that was something that I think, after a month and the first couple of times I said that my friends, my family was like, you’ve just started working, it’s hard to adjust, you’re just adjusting to life after college. Six months in, a year in, when I’m still feeling pretty motivated? That’s when I started really seriously thinking, okay, what am I doing wrong here? Like, why am I not happy with what I’m doing?

Priscilla: Gosh, I feel like so many people do reach this point where they’re like, yeah, this ain’t it. And this isn’t it, what do I do? what’s next? And it seems like you reached that point a lot sooner than most people do. So what did you end up doing? What was your action plan after that?

Maria-Paula: Yeah, so, I think one of the best things I did was try to talk to people around me, whether they were at Exxon or not, and just be like, what do you do? So I started figuring out okay, what do other people do? Is there somewhere else within Exxon that I could move to, like what are my options basically? And I do think one of the best things I did was really just voiced some of this to my manager, which I was pretty apprehensive about. And I think a lot of people feel this way. If you don’t have a level of trust with your manager, it can be really hard to open up. And I think what was difficult for me at Exxon, or really at any company that might have a more rigid career path, was that there were essentially three roles that I could move into after my initial cost engineer role. And none of them were things I really wanted to do. And I believe, if I remember correctly, they were all going to be a hundred percent time out in the field. And it’s just being out in the field in and of itself can be difficult. Just being a woman, you’re around a lot of craft who tend to be male, craft, the people who are out building these things who might be, pipe fitters, or who might be, whatever they’re actually working on building these things out there. And so it can be a tough environment because there are very few women, if any, represented out there. And so for you to be out there, you’re an anomaly. They don’t always take you seriously. Vulgar language is definitely much more acceptable there. It’s not like an office environment. So I just didn’t love the field. And to me, those next roles that were available to me, just were not enticing at all. So as we started getting closer to a year of me being with the team and then closer to a year and a half, like generally, they like to start moving you between a year and a half and two years in your first role. So I started talking to my manager, I was like, what are my options? what do you think? I started being more transparent that I wanted to be in the office, and, if possible, I’d love to be closer to something on the business side. And I think my manager actually listened, which I was not used to or I guess I hadn’t expected. And what ended up happening was after saying, Hey, I want to be closer to the business side, my manager finally came to me at one of our monthly one-on-ones or whatever and was like, hey,  there was something that opened up and I think you might actually be a great candidate for it. There’s this strategic project going on between the projects, chemicals and refining companies and they brought in a consulting team, and they want an analyst. Is that something you’d be interested in? And so after I found out more about it, I was like, yeah, sign me up! How do I go do that? And so that was really how I ended up pivoting while I was at Exxon into more of a strategy business related role.

Priscilla: At this point you moved into an internal consulting strategy role at Exxon which is super cool but I know that you ended up still looking to leave pretty quickly…so, tell us why you ended up deciding to leave that role?

Maria-Paula: It was really great, but the reason I left and there were really two was one, once I hit, let’s see, a year with that team, it was about time for me to start looking for a different role. And the thing is that role, that analyst role that I was pulled into was never meant to be a career switcher for my time at ExxonMobil. They called it a once in a career role. And I was basically going to be moved right back to the team that I was on into one of those other roles that I was supposed to be looking at a year before. And so I was like, absolutely not! Like, I did not find something that I really enjoy, something I really find interesting just to go right back to where I used to be.

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INTERVIEW CONTINUED

Maria Paula: So I was not very happy from a career perspective. And then personally, I actually got engaged. At the time my fiance lived in New Jersey. He’s a Lieutenant in the Coast Guard. And in the military, you move around every two to four years. And so I always struggled with, why would I move for you right now when I know you’re going to have to move again? And I’m so early in my career, like I can’t just pick up and move. Something like engineering is not something you can just move around every two years and have a career with the right trajectory, because you haven’t built up time with these people. Once we did get engaged though, that’s when I knew, okay, like we had talked about it and it was like, okay, I wasn’t happy with where I was going with my job at ExxonMobil. We were now engaged. I should probably actually really start thinking about what are my next steps from here. I started looking for jobs, and it was very slow going and I was very, pretty much completely lost. Like I think finding a job when you’re in school is one thing, especially when you have a really strong career services office, when you maybe have tons of other people around you who are also recruiting for the same thing, it’s so different when you have that support network compared to doing it by yourself. I was very much just like going on LinkedIn and looking for openings or going on Indeed or Google jobs or whatever it is that I could find online and just starting to drop resumes. I just started going at it alone and it probably took eight or nine months before I got any kind of traction.

Priscilla: It’s a very isolating experience to start job searching in your early mid twenties when it’s been a few years since you’ve graduated. What did you do? How did you end up getting your next role?

Maria-Paula: It was tough because I had basically just hit two years of work experience. And it’s still, it’s so little time, I was essentially looking at like entry level jobs still. So it was definitely discouraging. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I’d found a few sites, like, I found Vault, I found some other sites like that basically gave career advice and how to prepare yourself better, how to make your resume stand out, that sort of thing. But I didn’t really start getting traction until later, later when I started actually telling more people that I knew what I was doing. So my close friends had already known for a while, but I just started talking about it more and I think that’s what helped. One of my best friends was like, hey, I actually have a friend at BCG. I think maybe he could submit a recommendation for you, do you want me to try that? Little things like that started helping. So I think I really learned firsthand…that lesson was so important for me that your network and your connections are almost more than half the battle, because that is really what can help get your resume on the top of the pile and not in there with the other thousands. Just getting someone to look at it can be the biggest hurdle.

The way I actually got my next role was through this, think of LinkedIn, but for Rice alumni, called Sally Portal and I just started looking there. I updated a profile there and so remember my fiance is in New Jersey, and I see a posting for a senior project analyst, doing what I was doing, strategic project work in an internal consulting arm in Hoboken, New Jersey, which is the exact city that my fiance was living in. And then it was just like, you’ve gotta be kidding me! What? And so that is literally how I got my job. I reached out to her, the hiring manager, the person who posted that ended up being my manager and she did a phone screen. She had me talk to somebody else, another director. And once I had passed those, I flew up, and interviewed in person with three or four different people that were on her team. And within a week or two, I found out that I got an offer and it was just wild because it was like nothing had happened. I was so frustrated for so long. And then all of a sudden, by just continuing to scour my network, I found someone and I think I was really expedited through this process because she was a Rice alum and she was definitely looking for someone with a STEM background and someone who had that consulting toolkit, even if it wasn’t necessarily the role. But yeah, she put a lot of faith in me and gave me the job and I was able to start, that basically two, three months later. So the end of May, and that is how I made that transition. So I pivoted from oil and gas into consumer packaged goods.

Priscilla: Such a huge accomplishment. I do think those moves are really hard to make early in your career without a master’s degree. And so I’m going to fast-forward a little bit through your early career journey…we know that you did really well at Newell Brands, we know that you went to business school, that’s where we met, but you landed a full-time offer with Google while you were in business school and so I really want to talk about what is it that you do at Google, what does that look like, what does it mean?

Maria-Paula: Yeah, so I am a product specialist at Google. I’m essentially within the customer support organization and I’m like the product arm within that organization. So I describe myself as the support lead on different devices. So within hardware, I’m on Google Home. So that’s  the smart speakers, smart displays, the things that people have in their home that they can use to talk to their assistant and, as the product specialist, I support the product team and any new launches, any new products that come out, any new features that come out, and I make sure that our customer support organization is prepared to support that launch or that new feature, whatever it is, successfully so that when customers have a problem with that feature or that product, we are ready and up to speed on anything and everything that is going on with that product so that we can help them make the most out of their products.

Priscilla: Very cool! So what are the things that you’re thinking about on a daily basis and what would someone need to really enjoy doing to be able to be successful?

Maria-Paula:  I think bottom line to enjoy this type of role, you really need to want to be close to a product roadmap. And what is it that we’re putting out there for people? If I put myself in the shoes of a customer, what do I want in these products that I’m working on? What do I want in a smart speaker? Or what do I want in a display or this casting thing for my TV? I think you have to really empathize and really think about the customer and their journey with a product to enjoy this type of work, because it’s very much about thinking about how a customer uses this in their day-to-day? And what are the issues they might commonly run into? Or what are the things that they constantly voice that they want to see? And how do we feed that back into the product team? How do we make this product more delightful for a user? And so I really think when you’re in something tangible like hardware and you’re in something that works around the product, you have to really want to make this product better for the users that have them in their homes.

Priscilla: So many people dream about working at Google and really want to break into the tech industry. What are some of the skills that you’re really using on a daily basis to be successful, and that you really need to be able to to really survive and do well in tech?

Maria-Paula: As simple as it sounds, just great communication. Like, so much of my work and because Google is such a huge company, is just tracking down who might know something about what you’re trying to find out. So, “Hey, what are we doing? Do we support this music partner? And if we do, what countries are they in? And, what information can I get about this particular partner that I think we should work with? or, Hey, did we ever actually launch this feature? Who’s responsible for it now? Hey, we’re seeing this issue, who do I need to talk to make sure that we fix it? So much of it is just communication. And I think the next thing is just time management, in this type of work, especially something ongoing, like support. You’re never going to get everything done on your to-do list. So you need to learn how to prioritize and manage your time and figure out, okay, here are the 10 things I need to do in the next two days. What are the three most important things that I absolutely have to do today? And what is okay for me to push further back? And especially when you think about things in customer support, like you might have an issue going on that is like “drop everything and take care of it right now”, and then there might be things where, “oh, we’re tracking down this thing that people are complaining about, but the system isn’t necessarily broken. We just need to improve something.” So it’s really about being a time manager and also someone who can drive themselves, but also just working in ambiguity. And I think that’s true for any role you can think of in tech. I think in tech and particularly in the space of smart assistants and where we’re going with artificial intelligence in the home….it’s so unknown for most people. Most people have no idea. And so I’m constantly working on things where there isn’t a blueprint. We don’t really know. And so I’m coming up with it. It’s, it can be hard, but I really love that. And I think that was the missing piece for me in what I was doing before. Like now I’m really driving my own work and while I’m still an individual contributor, I’m definitely taking a lot of initiative and ownership of my work because so much of it, I just have to come up with on my own. No one else is going to do it for me. And so I think it can be really helpful to be that kind of person who is willing to look at a problem that there’s not necessarily an obvious answer to, but be able to be like, okay, I’m going to do some research. I think this might be the right path. I’m not sure, but I’m just going to do it. And if there’s somebody that can help me, I’m going to reach out. I know who to talk to, but I’m just going to go forth and do, and I think that is probably the biggest thing that anybody could do to have a successful career in tech.

Priscilla: Thank you Maria Paula, for being with us today, it’s been such a joy to talk to you!

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves podcast! Be sure to visit ECMPodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community! And if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Have a great week!

Episode 01: How I Got To Stanford Law and Why I Became a Public Defender, with Annick Jordan

Episode 01: How I Got To Stanford Law and Why I Became a Public Defender, with Annick Jordan

Show Notes:

On this episode, Annick Jordan shares what it was like to work as a paralegal at a big law firm and Spotify before going to Stanford Law School. She breaks down her longer-than-expected law school application process and what it was like to overcome the LSAT and self-imposed expectations on her law school application timeline. She also shares what it was like to be one of the few Black women in her Stanford Law class, and her path to becoming a public defender in New Orleans, Louisiana – the mass incarceration capital in the world. Annick’s story is a wonderful reminder to set big goals and go after our dreams – no matter how long it takes to get there.

Check out the Highlights:

3:06 – Annick’s post-grad job search

4:33 – Being a paralegal at a big law firm in New York City

6:48 – How Annick’s law school timeline shifted and moving over to Spotify

10:39- Tackling the LSAT, writing essays and preparing to apply to law school programs

16:47 – Transitioning into Stanford Law School as a Black woman, and pursuing public interest law

20:22 – What it’s like to be a public defender in New Orleans, and finding peace in not planning

Links Mentioned In Episode:

Sponsor, The Art of Applying – Get $100 off a Quick Call if you mention the ECM Podcast

Transcription:

Annick: I think that with many advisors, they tell you that you’re not going to get into top schools, which is, it’s frustrating. I wasn’t deterred by that. I was like, okay, yeah, that’s great, like, I’m still applying to all of them. So..

Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killin it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger – proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat each Friday, as we dive into a special guest’s story, and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place! Let’s get started.

Priscilla: On this episode, you get to hear from Annick Jordan who graduated from Stanford Law in 2017 and now works as a public defender in New Orleans Louisiana. She talks about deciding to take her time before going to law school, what it was like to paralegal at a big law firm and Spotify, overcoming the LSAT, believing in herself, and making it at Stanford Law as one of the few Black women in her class. 

Priscilla: Annick and I went to college together, and I just couldn’t be more excited to have you on the show. So welcome, Annick!

Annick: Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

Priscilla: Great! So I would love to hear a little bit about your personal background?

Annick: Yeah. So, I was born and raised in Los Angeles. My mom never went to college. She grew up in North Dakota and then moved to Los Angeles. My dad grew up in the segregated South and went to an HBCU.  I left when I was 18 to go to college at Wellesley and I have not lived in Los Angeles since then. I’ve just been moving around. But I still definitely call Los Angeles home and think I might move back there someday.

Priscilla: Got it. So, I know that you were a Peace and Justice Studies major in college and you focused on Latin America, you know, you traveled to Latin America a few times. I’m curious if you knew this whole time in college that you would be applying to law school?

Annick: I had always planned to go straight through from Wellesley College to law school and then discovered that that was going to be really challenging, just given studying for the LSAT and getting a score that I wanted to get to get into the law schools I wanted to get into…So, I decided that it was not the best idea or plan to go straight through the law school, which my mom was not happy about. I think a lot of parents who aren’t doing what you’re doing and didn’t have the experience of going to college don’t understand how challenging it is to just like stick to your planned path. And so, I think she was just worried I was never going to go to law school,

Priscilla: Totally. I think that’s a really hard conversation to have sometimes with our parents when our plans change and, explaining that. But yeah, so I’m curious when it came time to apply to jobs and it came time to graduation, how did you approach that job searching process?

Annick: So, I started looking, I applied to a lot of think tank jobs and nonprofit jobs in DC and New York. And then, it was the spring. I hadn’t gotten a job yet. And a Wellesley classmate of mine who had graduated the year before I talked to, and she was a paralegal at a large corporate firm in New York. And she was like, why don’t you do this? I can send your resume and you might like working in big law. And I knew then that I probably did not want to work at a large corporate law firm, after law school, but it did seem like an interesting, first job in a way for me to rule that out, before wasting time during the summer in law school or after law school to figure that out. And it also, paid well, which was also another consideration after college. I wasn’t getting any help financially. And, it excited me to move to New York and not be struggling or worrying about money. So that was a really incredible, an eye-opening experience.

Priscilla: Yeah so how was that first job experience like what was that like for you?

Annick: I worked there for two years and I really took advantage of every opportunity as a paralegal there and was actually able to work a lot in their pro bono practice, which was not that developed. So, I did immigration and housing work mostly, but that was the first time that I had ever experienced direct services, with populations in the United States around housing and immigration. So that was really eye-opening.  It was also interesting to be doing that with a firm that had endless resources. And it was basically all positive, in that respect, that I had a bunch of time and money and resources to spend on these cases. And so, yeah, that was my first experience doing that kind of work and it was very clear that that was the type of work I wanted to do after law school. Although, I still was not sure exactly what my dream job would be.

Priscilla: So, during this time as a paralegal, how were you thinking around your graduate school application plans?

Annick: When I started working as a paralegal at the law firm, I told myself, okay, I’m going to do this for two years and then go to law school, and I, again changed my timeline. My mom passed away six months after I graduated from college. And, it was just a lot more challenging to stay on track and take the LSAT, get a score that I wanted. I actually completely bombed it the first time I took it. So, that was upsetting. And I, and I was, I was just kind of like, oh my God, I just can’t do this right now. I just can’t go to law school right now, which it took me a while to get over that rigid timeline.  I was like, I have to do it. I have to prove to everyone that I’m fine. And I can do what I said I was going to do. And then I realized it really didn’t matter.

Priscilla: I totally agree that we have these very rigid timelines for ourselves sometimes. And we really think that we have to do step A and then step B step C, and really our journeys can look a lot of different ways. That’s really cool that you were able to adjust even though in the moment it didn’t feel that great. So, I would love to hear about what happened after you decided to leave the law firm. What did, what did you do next?

Annick: Yeah, an attorney that I worked for at the law firm had left to start the litigation practice at Spotify at the New York office, which was still a very small office. And they were looking for an experienced paralegal. So that’s how I got my next job working in the legal department at Spotify, which was also very interesting and an incredible experience that I’m so happy that I had.

Priscilla: That sounds like such a cool opportunity to get to work at Spotify, especially when they were early on and growing. So, what kind of opportunities did you have at Spotify?

Annick: Given the fact that it was such a small a company at the time, especially in their New York office, (most of their lawyers worked in Sweden and in the UK), I was the only non-lawyer in the legal department in New York. I spent the bulk of my time working with the attorney who worked in the marketing and ad sales, editing contracts between other companies. And I had no experience whatsoever editing contracts and she spent the time teaching me how to do that, which I found really interesting. So, I would often take the first stab at editing contracts with other major companies before she would take the final look at it. What I spent most of my time doing was working on, new market launches. While I was there, Spotify launched in over 50 countries and so there’s a lot of legal implications of launching in a new country. And so, I mostly worked on those projects specifically with the attorneys in Sweden. So, I got to travel a lot to the UK and Sweden and India because we were launching in India. And I really felt like I was treated like another lawyer, which was really amazing. And I think is a huge benefit of working at a smaller company or a company that’s just starting to build itself, the legal department, because you are just given incredible opportunities that you don’t get at a large firm.

Priscilla: So, how was your experience as a paralegal at the big law firm like what was that like before you joined Spotify?

Annick:  I worked at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, which is known as being like one of the most elite law firms in New York City and represents most of the big banks and corporations, and being a paralegal there was not glamorous. You basically spend all of your time researching, creating binders of materials for associates and partners to review. Basically, you’re there to make the lives of associates and partners easier to actually write important legal documents and present things in court or to clients.

And so, I spent hours every day at a copy machine, you’re often cite checking and making sure that specific documents that were cited in, and legal briefs for the correct document. It was very boring work. And then there were times where you’re running around, like rushing to do things and working really late.

Priscilla: It’s so cool that you were able to get these two very different experiences before you went to law school. One of them was very conservative and there was a lot of hierarchy and then you were able to go to a place that was way more casual.

Annick: Yeah, so casual. I think they were two different extremes, honestly. I had to wear a full suit to the law firm, which is pretty rare these days. I think a lot of corporate firms it’s business casual, so this was business formal, everyone, including paralegals were full seats. and it was very hierarchical as you said, which was something that you could feel on a daily basis, just the way you interacted with associates and partners. And then Spotify, it was an amazing place to work after working at the law firm. But I did discover like, Oh, I wouldn’t really want to be a lawyer in a place like Spotify where it is hard to concentrate. There’s so much going on. We would have artists performing on the Spotify stage, when I’m trying to have a conference call, for example, and all the conference rooms are booked. It did give me a lot of flexibility. So, I could work from home if I wanted to…no one was really looking over my shoulder. I did realize that I do like having a lot more freedom in my work, which is a huge thing in my current job. It was really helpful to get both of those experiences and it really helped me figure out the type of work environment I wanted for going to law school, which was helpful and saved me a lot of time.

Priscilla: So, backing up a little here. I know during this time you were applying to law school. What was the whole LSAT and applying to law school process like for you?

Annick: Yeah, it felt like it was never ending for me personally. I think that some people do it really quickly. And because I was thinking about it for so many years, like I went into college knowing what I wanted to go to law school. And then I think I signed up for the LSAT the first time, my junior year of college because I was taking an LSAT prep course at Harvard and they were like, oh yeah, you should sign up for this because it’s good to just have a goal, even if you’re not prepared. And then I was totally not prepared to take that class, and no one told me to withdraw from it. So, then I just had like a no-show on my record, and then I was freaking out about that. And then I realized I didn’t have enough time to study for the LSAT while I was in college. And so, I basically studied for the LSAT for like four years…and not, some periods are more intense than others, but it was something that was on my mind for four years, which was a lot, and I don’t really recommend, not that it was like bad, it was just stressful to be thinking about it all the time. I just really think that you have to give yourself a break and not hold yourself to these rigid deadlines and timelines, and really do what is best for you. I wish that I would have done that. So, I took it again. I did it a lot better and it ended up not mattering that I bombed it the first time, because you can actually explain in your applications, like if there’s a LSAT score or something in your application, that seems off that you want to explain.

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INTERVIEW CONTINUED

Annick: So, I explained that. I think a lot of undergrads and law school prep classes make it seem like it’s not okay for you to fail at all. And that they average your scores and everything’s ruined if that happens. And I just don’t think that’s really that true. The actual application part was, less stressful than the LSAT, and really exciting. I enjoyed working on my personal statements. I started writing them months in advance and sent drafts to different friends who knew me in different phases of my lives and who I knew would give me different feedback. And I really just wanted as many people as possible to give me feedback. I also reached out to the pre-law advisor at Wellesley College who was really helpful. I think that with many advisors, they tell you that you’re not going to get into top schools, which is, it’s frustrating. I wasn’t deterred by that. I was like, okay, yeah, that’s great, like, I’m still applying to all of them. So, but I think it does affect a lot of people and it makes them think that they can’t even apply to schools. And I applied to over ten schools, which is really expensive. The whole process of applying to law school is just so incredibly expensive. It’s really problematic. You get a lot of fee waivers based on your LSAT score, which is really great, but obviously all of the top schools are not going to give you a fee waivers. So, I just spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on applications. But for me, it was really important to apply to every school that I wanted to apply to because it is such a crap shoot and you never know what schools you are going to get into just based on conversations I had with people applying the law school. So, I really wanted to apply to every school that I was excited about. But I was really terrified that I wasn’t going to get into any law school when I applied. And I had all these like backup plans in my mind, just to make me less stressed about if I didn’t get into law school, which obviously everything worked out, but it was stressful.

Priscilla: Hearing you just talk about this process makes me think about just all of the undue stress that’s placed on applicants and how top-notch people like you are like, so overwhelmed and feel a lot of imposter syndrome. And you were worried about getting into any law school and you got into Stanford! Like, it’s just kind of crazy to me.

Annick: A lot of people that work in career offices at schools, they really think that it all comes down to your GPA and your LSAT score, which are obviously very important, but a lot of these top schools, also just want smart, really incredible people to go to their schools and people who have interesting life perspectives and want to make a difference in the world because a lot of these top schools are filled with. People who only want to make money and work at corporate law firms. And so, I really think having an amazing personal statement and an adversity statement that you can write a lot of optional statements that I think a lot of people don’t take advantage of. And I just wrote an essay for every possible thing I could and spent so much time writing them. And I really do think that that played a huge role in me getting into schools. Obviously, there’s like a threshold you have to meet with your GPA and LSAT score. But I do think there’s so much room in these applications to show who you are and to really pitch yourself.

Priscilla: What was it like getting to Stanford, like, was it a really big culture shock?

Annick: Yeah. So it was, it was intense. I think I was less stressed out than people who went straight through and Stanford didn’t really have many students who went straight through from undergrad, whereas other law schools have a lot. I think that gave me a lot of perspective. I was pretty clear when I arrived at Stanford, that I was not going to get distracted with any corporate big law BS, basically. I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I was pretty clear in the fact that I wanted to do public interest law. So, I immediately sought out those communities and resources, which I think really saved me a lot of time and stress compared to classmates who are unsure about that. I will say that I…I was overwhelmed by just the whiteness and the amount of privilege and entitlement. I mostly was surrounded by white men who I found incredibly irritating. And I will say it was the first time that I ever felt a sense of imposter syndrome, I mean the first law school class the professor made a speech at the beginning of class about how we were all the smartest students in our undergrad, but that we wouldn’t, you know, be the smartest at this law school…basically, to scare us. That is what they do in your first year in law school, and I think it’s a lot worse than other schools. I did feel like, Oh shit, like…I don’t know, should I not be here? Like that definitely went through my mind and I was more timid to speak up in class. And, definitely went through an initial period of feeling uncomfortable, which is what the first year of law school is really designed to do – break you down and make you think in a certain way. And, looking back, and now that I’ve talked to classmates of mine all felt that way. But I do think that experience was heightened by the fact that I was like…one of 17 black students in my first year in my entire class at Stanford and very few people of color in my class. So that was jarring. And, my entire life I was used to being in mostly white spaces, but for some reason, I felt that more at Stanford.

Priscilla: I’ve also heard that there’s a tendency in law school for people to hide behind logic and reasoning and people don’t really hear more of the emotional appeals, was that part of your experience too?

Annick: Definitely. I felt that so much, especially in the first year, when most of your classes are doctrinal classes that you have to get out of the way before you can take. Classes that you’re more interested in and so, everything just falls so cold and, as you said, with a focus on logic and reason, and I often felt incredibly disconnected from what I was reading and studying. And luckily, I was able to get involved in pro bono projects my first year at Stanford. So, I was really involved in the immigration pro bono and I just became really involved in as many public interest things as I could my first year, and really just focused on my doctrinal classes last, I was fortunate to do that because Stanford doesn’t have grades, which I highly recommend going to law school that doesn’t have grades. It’s basically just honors and pass and only 30% of students in each class can get an honors grade and it’s all anonymous grading. And so that really gave me a lot of room to actually explore things that I was interested in, while doing the bare minimum in things that I was not interested in, which I feel very grateful for.

Priscilla: So, let’s switch gears and talk a little bit about what you’re doing today, which is, you know, you’re a public defender in New Orleans. What made you consider this career path and what has it been like for the last three years?

Annick: Yeah, it’s been…very intense and emotionally and physically exhausting, but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. So, this is actually my dream job out of law school. I’m very lucky to have gotten it.  I knew after my first year of law school that I wanted to be a public defender. I did not know that when I started law school, but just based on my interactions with students and conversations, my public interest mentor was going down that road. And he encouraged me to spend my first summer working at a public defender’s office, even though I thought I was more interested in impact litigation, so, working for the ACLU actively filing lawsuits against entities. I thought I was going to do that, but public defense was not really on my radar at all. I didn’t really know what it was about. And so, I’m really glad I spent my first summer working at the public defender’s office in Harlem and I was pretty sure after a few weeks that that was exactly what I wanted to do because it had an incredible combination of direct services and legal work, and oral advocacy being in court every day, which was exciting to me, but also having, connections with clients. And you really feel like an investigator and a social worker and a lawyer…every day is completely different. It’s really fast paced, and you also have a lot of autonomy. You are completely responsible for all of your cases, which I really liked. And so, I thought I was going to move back to New York after law school, because I had heard a lot of great things about the public defender’s office in New Orleans. And I thought it would be really fun to just live there for a summer. So that’s how I ended up in New Orleans for a summer. And I did everything I could to get back there. And I started the interview process that summer and knew that I got a job there in September of my third year of law school, which is so amazing, and took a lot of stress off of my last year of law school, you know, having to participate in the general job search.

Priscilla: I can imagine that being a public defender in New Orleans would be pretty challenging. What has that experience been like for you?

Annick: It is, it’s a lot. New Orleans, Louisiana is the mass incarceration capital of the world and has the highest rate of wrongful convictions in the country, which is a huge reason why I wanted to do this work in New Orleans, where it just seems like the most unjust places in the country. And I knew that I wanted to do something with criminal justice reform going into law school. And I thought that I could make more of a difference doing larger strategic litigation, but I quickly learned that there was so much work to be done on the ground level, representing individual people. I strongly believe that being a public defender on the ground gives me a better perspective on what needs to change, and the best way to do that. I just love that I interact with clients on a daily basis, that I’m in court every single day, making arguments for those people. And the challenging thing about the job is, often it feels like everything that you do makes no difference in the outcome for your clients, which is really sad. We are just forced to work within this incredibly unjust environment. And often the only thing you can do is stand beside your client when something really terrible is happening to them, which I think that alone is really significant and important, and that alone makes me grateful for what I do.

But you know, it can get really draining to constantly on a daily basis see really terrible things happening to your clients. It’s really important to figure out what you can do to detach from the work and prioritize self-care, to keep yourself sane, because there’s just an endless amount of work. And there’s always more that you could do that you don’t have time for…Our case loads are some of the highest in the country and it’s just impossible to do everything you can do for your clients. And the weight of that is a lot sometimes. But, it’s just important to figure out how you can remove yourself from that so that you can keep going basically.

Priscilla: So, my last question for you, Annick, is what excites you about what you’re doing now and what comes next for you and your future?

Annick: I’ve been very fortunate to work in the strategic litigation department in my office because it’s really opened up other opportunities. I’ve spent the last year working on these resentencings and so I’m interested in possibly doing that kind of work for other organizations or working for like an ACLU and doing impact litigation. I think, what excites me is that there is so much room to grow, even in my current position, even though I’ve been doing this for three years and it’s technically the same work that I’ve been doing for the last three years, they’re very quick to move you up to the next practice level as the new class of attorneys come in. So every year, I’m starting to take cases, different charges and people who are facing different circumstances. And also, the strategic litigation allows a lot of room for growth. It’s kind of exciting not to think about the next step, because I feel like my entire life I’ve been planning for the next step. And so, I’m really just trying to live in the moment and the present. And, really just try to excel in this job and, learn as much as I can before I go onto the next chapter.

Priscilla: Annick, it has been such a joy to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for sharing your story and for being here. So many people will get a lot from your story in terms of pushing through challenges and staying resilient and finding your own path, thank you.

Annick: Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed talking to you.

Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves podcast! Be sure to visit ECMPodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community! And if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Have a great week!