Mindy Thomas

CAREER CHAT

Career Chat – Mindy Thomas Interviews Dena Leftkowtiz

Career Chat – Mindy Thomas Interviews Dena Lefowitz

Mindy Thomas interviews Dena Lefkowitz about how she made it through the last great economic meltdown and shares tips on how to make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Mindy Thomas:

Hi everybody. I’m Mindy Thomas and this is career chat and we air every Monday at 1130 and Tuesday nights at 8:00 PM today my guest is Dena Leftkowitz .a Lefkowitz, the owner of achievement by design. She is the founding principal and the go to career coach, mostly for attorneys, but she works with executives on a nationwide basis. Welcome to the show, Dina. I’m so glad that you’re able to make time for us cause I know it’s a very busy time for you.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Thank you so much for having me, Mindy. I’ve been really looking forward to this chat we’re going to have today.

Mindy Thomas:

Likewise, I remember when we met Dena, it was the financial crisis of 2008 I was an unemployed legal recruiter and you were an unemployed attorney, but what struck me about you, Dena, was that you up and quit your job in the middle of the worst financial crisis back then and took a, it took a lot of guts to do that. So what I’d love to do is go back to that career pivot if you will, and then let’s talk about tips and tricks for our unemployed workers right now, 27 million at this point, and then I’d love to go into your coaching practice, your typical client, what you offer clients right now.

Dena Leftkowitz:

2008 was an extremely pivotal year for me Monday, and it cracks me up that you’re here. We here, we were at the, at the international coach Federation, both of us in similar transition situations. Would you like me to start first with some tips with, for people who are unemployed right now or talk about my career transitions and how I successfully pivoted.

Mindy Thomas:

Well, let’s get right to it. Let’s look at the tips and tricks for our unemployed and those that are sitting on the edge. Just waiting.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Yes. First of all, there are two mindset things that I want you to be aware of. There was an expression in 1939 which was also a time of great upheaval and it went keep calm and carry on. And I can’t think of anything more important than to be calm because when you’re threatened, your anxiety goes up and your judgment goes down. And it’s hard to think of creative strategies, solutions and a way out when you’re terrified. So you need to find a way to stay calm. And that’s not just a matter of flipping the Swift as you know, you can’t just tell somebody calm down. You have to find some tools and strategies for keeping yourself in a calm state of mind. Most of the time everybody’s a little anxious these days, including me. But we have to maintain our equanimity. And the second mindset thing I want to talk about is you aware of statistics can scare the pants off of you.

Dena Leftkowitz:

And the thing about them is they’re only really good when it comes to trends and averages. Statistics won’t say whether you are going to get another job, whether you are going to have a successful career. So for things like what industries are picking up or where it might be a good place to go look at statistics, but don’t think of them in terms of defining you, whether you’re unemployed, whether you think you’re too old to get another job. I have seen people get jobs under all circumstances and in fact within the last three weeks, three clients got jobs, started new jobs, which is an interesting thing in the age of Corona virus to begin a new job. And two of my clients got promotions. So employers are always hiring. So don’t let the statistics get, get in your head too.

Mindy Thomas:

Do you know? Those are great. Those are great tips. I’d like to go back to number one was keeping calm. There are a variety of strategies to keep calm today. Meditation, truly taking the time out to breathe, getting outside, no matter if that temperature is 50 degrees here in Philadelphia or 40 degrees, wrapping up and getting outside and breathing because it does make you feel happier. I hear this right now from friends and clients that doing that little bit of exercise, even if it’s stretching, those kinds of tips are great for calming down. Do you have any other strategies you’d like to add to that list?

Dena Leftkowitz:

One of the things that’s really important now is to try to stay in the present moment. If you start thinking back where you should be, where you wish you had been or too far ahead, that could really ratchet up your anxiety because then you start thinking of the parade of possible horribles that might be coming down the pike and none of those things might happen. So the idea is to try to stay in the present moment and I have found affirmations to be very helpful in doing that because they are always stated in the present moment. Things like all as well, everything is working out for my highest good out of this experience. Only good will come and I am safe. I love all of those things are true right now. As you and I are sitting here,

Mindy Thomas:

I love affirmations. I jump out of bed. No, no lie. I kid you not and I say like Tony Robbins, yes, it’s going to be a great day. Mend and I jump out of bed no matter what is on the table on the docket here I say those words because I know that attitude has to do with everything and even though our unemployment numbers are staggering, to your point, there are people getting hired right now and I’ve had five clients in the last month, young college grads, all the way up to a CFO, a VP of HR that we interviewed last week and another operations person who landed. So although the number of positions have shrunk and yes, the competition is very keen right now. So that brings us to another point, doesn’t it?

Dena Leftkowitz:

Yes, but I was really glad you mentioned Tony Robbins because he is the example of why statistics are not the be all and end all. If I looked at the statistics for what coaches make on average 25 to $50,000 a year, it might not have seemed like an attractive field for me to go into. But look at Tony Robbins and look at many other people who are successfully doing it. So that’s a really good example of why not to trust on statistics too much.

Mindy Thomas:

Yes, he’s one of the most masterful coaches in the world and I’ve been following him for about 30 years, believe it or not. Now Dina, other tips and tricks obviously people’s resumes have got to be fine tuned. In fact, I got a call yesterday, persons gainfully employed at a major farmer company, but guess what? She’s on the move. She wants an update now and it’s been three years. There are many skills that she has gained in the last three years and we need to update that resume as well. She wants her LinkedIn narrative rewritten because the way it was three years ago is not the same today. So I’m sure you agree the resume and LinkedIn and the photograph need to be super sharp and the resumes gotta be lean and mean. Yes.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Okay. Yeah. So your client isn’t the only one who’s on the move right now. One of the things that quarantine has brought out in people is discernment, is this really what I where I want to be? Is this really what I want to be doing? One of my clients said, I had no idea how stressful my hour long commute has been on a daily basis and still I until I stopped doing it. People are starting to notice what they’re tolerating and there is going to be a lot of movement in the career arena. Exactly what you said. Take stock of your skills, assess

Dena Leftkowitz:

Write down what has happened since the last time you did a resume and update your resume. Take stock of your values. What do you really love to do? Just because you need a job doesn’t mean that you’re not in the career management business anymore. We’re still looking at the big picture, the long term, what a next good step might be for you. Refine your technology skills. When Mindy and I first planned this interview, it was going to be live in a studio. We were both going to have our hair done and here we are now in our homes using, so before this interview I sat in front of my computer and I figured out a good height, the good color, the good lighting. And if you’re going to a zoom interview, you need to do the same thing. You need to become comfortable with the technology so that you can manage it.

Mindy Thomas:

Yes. And Dena, if you see my hair lopsided, cause I’m like Anderson Cooper, I’ve been cutting my own hair and drilling my gel manicure off, trying to, anyway let me ask you I, I hate to interrupt, but I do want to ask you about survival jobs. Do people take a job right now that is not even in their lane? We call that back in the Oh eight crisis. The survival job, right? Do they do that right now? I know everybody needs a paycheck. So what do you say?

Dena Leftkowitz:

I say don’t take the first thing that comes down the pike. If you can help it because this is still your career and if he takes something that you know you’re going to hate, that the idea of starting just makes you feel like crying that makes you feel dispirited. It’s not going to be the best move for you. I understand that you have a mortgage to pay and you have responsibilities, but it’s still a time to think about, even if you take a survival job, like I’ll skip forward to to the job I took in 2008 I was, I left a job right before the financial crisis hit because I was so certain I would get another one and land, well, I was network, I was an expert in my field. I was known. I was being courted by firms and I just didn’t have any concerns that I would find another job.

Dena Leftkowitz:

A couple months later, I’m sorry, very shortly after that Lehman brothers filed for bankruptcy and everything dried up and there weren’t any jobs. So here I was 20 years out of law school, unemployed, no offers, and also feeling like I didn’t want to spend another 20 years as a lawyer. I took a job that was in a way a survival job because it was lower salary than I was making before. It was a lower title than I had before. It was two hours away and it was outside of my field. But here’s the thing, that job represented an interesting opportunity. It was a brand new office opening in Harrisburg and it was going to create a lot of new law and it was a chance to do something that I hadn’t done before. So I was picked for that job, not because I had the ideal experience, but because I had a lot of experience.

Dena Leftkowitz:

I had talent, I had a skillset and I was interested so that at the time I saw it as a survival job because less money, less title, less everything. But sometimes when you pivot you have to take a side step or even a step backwards. And at the end of the day in that job, I ended up being the general counsel. I ended up having opportunities to lobby lobby Congress and the Senate for funding. I testified before the Senate, I argued before the Supreme court and I, I, excuse me, I accumulated a lot of the skills and confidence that I would need to become an entrepreneur, which is what I’m doing now. So that survival job had a tidbit of momentum in it, in that being part of a startup was an opportunity that ended up giving me a lot of chances to do things that I wouldn’t have gotten in a big ongoing concern.

Mindy Thomas:

Well that is a really interesting twist how you pivoted from that survival job into being an entrepreneur. And we have to take a short break. Dina, we’re going to come back and talk about what you offer in your private practice right now to your clients who they are, that niche that you have. I know that I read on your website that you teach lawyers what they didn’t learn in law school. We’ll be right back. We’ll take a short break. How do I look? Do I look good? I to play hard. My nails done once a month. I want, I want, I want a home, I guess learner mood. Last year, more than 30,000 companion animals came to us without home. 20,000 of them were feed lines. Let’s make some home.

Mindy Thomas:

Hi everybody. We are back at career chat with Dena Lefkowitz from achievement by design. She is a powerhouse attorney, a former litigator, if you will, who turned into an entrepreneur and she has a private boutique coaching practice based out immediate Pennsylvania, but she works nationwide. Welcome back everybody. Dena, we still have some tips and tricks for our job hunters out there. Let’s get right back to that. What else would you like to recommend right now?

Dena Leftkowitz:

The first thing is your resume has to be able to survive the applicant tracking program. And many people aren’t aware of that. If you’ve ever heard a commercial for zip recruiter, it talks about their fabulous matching technology and how they scan thousands of resumes and minutes to find the perfect match. And what that means is human beings are not reading your resume. Computers are so you either you have to become familiar with the applicant tracking system or you have to hire a certified resume writer. Who is because here’s an example. I have a friend who is in a very unique area. Not many people do what she does. She was invited to apply for a job I, a friend of hers, and a few weeks later he asked her why she never replied. Well, she did apply, but her resume didn’t make it through the applicant tracking system, even though she was perfect for the job and had been invited to apply. So it’s very important that your resume past the applicant tracking system and you have to be prepared to adapt your resume for every single job you applied for so that it has those matching words in it. It’s costing you to go through.

Mindy Thomas:

Customization is key. And as many of you know, I am a certified professional resume writer and the trick is, is to really read the job postings like their recipes. That’s how I read a job, posting underlining the keywords, the competencies and the requirements, and then inserting them in your resume to make you look like you were made for that job. Okay, Dena, great, great recommendation. Next point.

Dena Leftkowitz:

That’s perfect. I love the recipe, the recipe. Okay. On LinkedIn, give recommendations, give endorsements, ask for recommendations and endorsements, post information that’s relevant to your industry. Comment meaningfully on other people’s content. Engage recruiters. Spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. Look at your connections and their connections. You can explore your connections on LinkedIn and create a spreadsheet and determine who you want to connect with and engage with. Now, make introductions, ask for introductions, and always curate, create thought leadership. People want to see that you are engaged with the industry that you’re serving. I love all everybody, you know a crisis is a get out of jail free free card for somebody that you haven’t, that you’ve been meaning to call and having to coach people on marketing or or jobs. They’ll say, Oh, you know, a month went by and I was supposed to follow up on that and I didn’t do it and now it’s too late. And that’s the fallacy. It’s not too late then. And particularly in a pandemic, it’s a time to call, connect with people, see how they’re doing. It’s the best time in some ways to reach out and really make a meaningful contact with.

Mindy Thomas:

I love the get out of free jail card right now that you can call someone, but let’s walk it back to LinkedIn for one second. People like posts on LinkedIn, but when we talk about engagement specifically, what do you mean? When someone needs to engage rather than just like the comment?

Dena Leftkowitz:

One of my pet peeves on LinkedIn is when someone posts an article and they don’t say why they’re just posting it. Well, what am I supposed to think about that? Is it something you like cause it’s something you hated is something you agree with. So I look for content that is specific to the industry. I serve lawyers and it’s specific to what I do coaching, helping people overcome mindsets, helping them become more confident. So I’m always looking for content that’s interesting and relevant to the people I want to engage with. And when I introduce it, that’s the key word. I introduced the content by saying something about it. Here’s an article about such and such that I found to be interesting or make it snappier than that. Here’s some tips on how to get a new job in this economy. Yes. Excellent.

Mindy Thomas:

Excellent.

Dena Leftkowitz:

So say something about what you’re posting. Don’t just post it and then comment on what other people are posting in a meaningful and relevant way.

Mindy Thomas:

I even sometimes I don’t know people that are getting promoted, but I will like that, that particular content and then I will write, I won’t even use the pre formed. Congratulations. I will write something else in the box just because I’m happy for them. I’m glad that they got promoted. I’m glad they landed, especially in the middle of Corona. So I do agree with them.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Great tip. Mindy, don’t let LinkedIn write your message.

Mindy Thomas:

Yeah, no, I love how it’s all populated right now and it’s just like, that’s pretty clean. That’s pretty cool. Dena, you spent many years in law. You were you majored in, in English. I know that. I want to first ask you why to go to law school. Why did you pick law where your parents, lawyers?

Dena Leftkowitz:

No, my parents weren’t lawyers. I was the youngest of five and the first to go to college, I put myself through college. I was the kid who always wanted more. I got my first job when I was 10 years old. My family didn’t have a lot of money and when I graduated from college with my English degree, of course I wasn’t really that marketable. And so I thought about what could I do where I would make good money and have status and I thought the lawyer doctor, those were the two professions that I knew about and I didn’t have any interest in being a doctor. So I went to law school. I think this is really important for people to understand. I didn’t even know myself until I was in my thirties and by then I was already a lawyer. I’m not crazy about conflict. I don’t even like to send food back in a restaurant. And here I was a litigator in conflict every day. So in some ways Monday I sent myself to prison and I spent many years figuring out a way to get out of it.

Mindy Thomas:

Oh my. Oh my. You know, it must have been really scary to jump into your own business. You started achievement by design, your boutique coaching firm in what year was that? When did you

Dena Leftkowitz:

Well I started it in 2009 and I was still, I was still a full time lawyer at that point and I started at part time. Well first I went to coaching school. Let me, let me just take you back a little bit. In 2008, I had this turning point moment where I was 20 years in. I couldn’t face another 20 years of, but just like when I graduated from college, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. So I began a period of discernment. I started looking at my values, what was important to me, listening to what people said I was good at and I was searching. So one day I was volunteering at an event and a stranger was telling me his problems as used to always happen to me and still does. And I was listening and asking questions. And he turned to me and said, you know what?

Dena Leftkowitz:

You would make a great life coach. And I said, but I don’t have any credentials for that, which is the typical diminishing response when someone suggests something to you. But it stuck, stuck in my head and I decided I would look into it. And I asked for an informational interview with a professional coach who graciously spent several hours with me talking about the profession. Not many people would do that, and by the time I was done with that, I knew that that was what I wanted to do. However, I still had to make a living. So I enrolled in coaching school. I went, I did that while I was still practicing law. And while I was still practicing law, I started my business and I called it achievement by design because achievement doesn’t happen by default. Only by design. Great. I coach people part time for six years before I really started full time. My coaching does not. And that was in 2015

Mindy Thomas:

Fantastic. It’s a great story and it’s you’ve had a fabulous career even though as an attorney you weren’t so it, it seemed like you enjoyed it though.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Well, here’s the thing and I, and this is another thing I think is really important. I made a couple of steps within the field of law that made practicing law so much more powerful to me. My first real career pivot was taking a job at a general practice firm instead of a litigation firm there. I got the opportunity to do some different things that I hadn’t done before including school law. That led to a job at the school district of Philadelphia and that was a huge improvement for me. I felt like I was buying my life back. I worked with a career coach myself at that point and he was helping me explore my values and what was important to me. I took a $15,000 pay cut when I went to the school district of Philadelphia and I was happy to do it because I was going to be doing work. That was interesting with people that with academics and all sorts of interesting administrators, I was going to be helping people with problems and I was, I was happy to take the pay cut at that time because as I said earlier, sometimes when you’re pivoting you need to side or take a step backwards because you don’t start out at the top when you’re pivoting. Within five years I was making a lot more money. I was known in my field and it was a career rebirth for me.

Mindy Thomas:

Wonderful. Hey Dean, and let me ask you this. It seems that the information interview that you reached out to that, that particular coach, just to find out more about what does it mean to be a coach, how did you get that and how does one go about securing an information interview?

Dena Leftkowitz:

I was lucky in my case, a lawyer I had worked for had a wife who was a coach and I called her butt in. But I had also done informational interviews with complete strangers when I was still a lawyer practicing law and miserable, really miserable. I mean, I used to cry on Sunday nights and here’s a tip. If you’re miserable, you’re meant for something else. If you’re miserable, you’re meant for something else.

Mindy Thomas:

Wow. Well, there’s a lot of career dissatisfaction in the legal industry and as you know, I was a patent recruiter for a couple of years and I used to talk to many people about the dissatisfaction I would see. And there’s a lot of underemployment. I mean, as a legal recruiter, I was making more money than attorneys. Like, are you kidding? Really? but let’s talk about your practice right now and the types of clients that you have, who, who would hire you? What kind of person, what, what’s going on in their life?

Dena Leftkowitz:

My work generally divides into three buckets and it’s, and it’s all the things that we don’t learn in school, how to get business. They don’t teach you that in law school. And in fact, most lawyers don’t even focus on that until they’re five, six, maybe even 10 years into their practice. And at that point, it’s a new habit that they have to cultivate somehow. So I help, I help lawyers develop a marketing plan and implement that. I also help them acquire the skills necessary to lead executive presence, confidence, managing others. And the third bucket is managing your career successfully. In my view, it’s never about getting the next job, if what makes sense for my career, let me look down the chess board and see where I am now, where I want to be and what might get me there. And it might be necessary to take a side step, a pivot and interim position to acquire skills that you need to move on.

Mindy Thomas:

Well it seems like you have this trifecta. You have those analytical and legal skills that allow you to dissect, you have this common sense and very practical mindset and at the time you are a strategist. You are a big picture thinker and highly intuitive and I’ve got to hand it to you have just made a tremendous success of achievement by design and it’s just a beautiful transition out of a career where you were so happily employed but you developed all the skillsets. You know Oprah and I know some people aren’t big fans. I am. I happened to be, she always said that what you’re doing right now will prepare you for the future. It will prepare you for the next chapter. You may not know what that chapter looks like until years later and I think that you agree Dena, that that

Dena Leftkowitz:

Exactly, absolutely agree with that. That is, that’s a huge point you just made there, Mindy, because it’s not like I sat there in 2008 and figured out everything that was going to happen. I took it one step at a time. What makes sense for me right now? What might lead me in the direction that I want to go? What are people saying I’m good at and what do I love? What’s important to me? That’s probably the most important question you can ever ask yourself. Because our values are why we do everything in life. And when you’re in a position that isn’t aligned with your values, that’s going to bring misery. That’s going to bring the Sunday night blues.

Mindy Thomas:

Yes, yes. And when you’re not using the skills that you love, well that’s the perfect storm. Having a values conflict and having a skills conflict that is in fact the perfect storm. So I think that you were using in CR, you know the skills you loved, but you were in the wrong environment. Right? And I mean you were very successful as a litigator. I and I still can’t get over. You’re the kind of person that doesn’t send food back in the restaurant. That’s really,

Dena Leftkowitz:

I had a, I had an orientation toward the work that I would strap on my armor and go in and do the job and then fall apart afterwards.

Mindy Thomas:

Oh my goodness. Dana, Dana. So what other kinds of clients do you work with besides attorneys?

Dena Leftkowitz:

I also have a fair number of accountants and auditors that I work with and there’s some similarities. They’re both professional service providers. They both have to be superior technicians. They both have a lot of regulatory issues in their, in their work and they have to balance being a technician with being an entrepreneur. And I also have coached a best selling author who had her book published and did very well and a smattering of executives that are either making a career move or want to up level their leadership or executive skills. Yes.

Mindy Thomas:

[Inaudible] Dena, it is just been such a pleasure to have you on the show today. Tell my audience how they can find you if they’re interested in working with you. And I’m sure you’ve got a COVID19 discount because we all do right now. How do they find you?

Dena Leftkowitz:

My company is called achievement by design, so that’s achievement by design.com and you can also see my articles and the legal Intelligencer and thrive global. And I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to help you with your career.

Mindy Thomas:

Thank you so much Dena. It’s been, it’s again, it’s been a real pleasure.

Dena Leftkowitz:

Thanks very much.

Mindy Thomas:

Oh you are, you’re welcome. In closing, I’d like to reach out and, and really a shout out to the medical field for their service and sacrifice as well as the essential workers. And I do wish everyone a happy and safe week with their loved ones. We’ll see you next week. Nice job.

Your Career is Your Business. Isn’t it Time For You to Manage it Like a CEO?

Please call Professional Career Counselor Mindy Thomas, MS, CPRW, CLC, CJC, CJDC directly at 610.937.5632 or send us a message. Our offices are located in suburban Philadelphia at 221 North Olive Street in Media, PA, close to Wilmington DE, NYC and Washington DC.