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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: ichoosemyself on August 04, 2013, 12:59:22 AM

Title: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: ichoosemyself on August 04, 2013, 12:59:22 AM
...well, mostly unemployed.

Here's the situation:

27 year old US citizen living in China. Engaged. BA and JD degree from really good (Top 3/Top 10) but really expensive schools. $65,000 in student loans (at 6.8% - discount to 6.55% due to automatic payments) from law school. Licensed to practice law in New York State. Thank God that I had some help from my parents, and some merit scholarship help (chose my top 10 school over a top 6 school due to the significantly lower total cost), so it isn't as much as some, but definitely still a seemingly insurmountable amount for me at this point in my life. Couldn't find a job after graduating from law school (it really hurt my career that I didn't get a 2L Summer Associate position with a big firm), so did a 1-year fellowship at a non-profit in China making $30,000 per year. The fellowship is up, and there's no role for me at the nonprofit. If I wanted to stay, I would have to take a huge pay cut (!) to $25,000 per year or so, which is the local salary level, and the job has no career growth at all.

Fluent in Chinese...but it's not like 10 or even 5 years ago anymore. All the young expats I know have had huge problems getting their careers started here, unless they started their own business or somehow jumped to the mid-level in their career. Multinationals are replacing expat roles with P.R.C. citizens, and Chinese companies still don't know what to do with Westerners, except token white guys used for "face' roles. I'm not white.

I'm not totally clueless, so have been networking and interviewing pretty aggressively this year. I got a lot of leads, and advanced pretty far in many interview processes (including 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounds, so it's not like I totally can't interview), both for BIGLAW in Asia and related industries (risk consultancies, finance, etc.), and for more entrepreneurial stuff (director of China country office for major U.S. university, head of new office for Chinese college admissions company)...but I haven't gotten a single f****** offer. I've been looking in the U.S. too, but I've been getting even less leads. But that may be because I'm here, not there.

I actually got a verbal job offer (after a rigorous interview process) in the financial sector...but it got withdrawn because I'm not a Chinese citizen. That felt bad.

Fiancee is a (Chinese) attorney making $60,000 per year, but has hit a career ceiling at her firm, and is looking for a change.

I've gotten into Mustachianism this year, and have been saving and scrimping like a demon. In addition to paying off my student loans at $800 per month (sometimes a little more here and there) I have about $13,000 USD, split between the Schwab Broad Market ETF and AAPL, which I bought on the way from the mid-400s to when it hit ~400, so I have a slight profit, beyond 6.8% (my guaranteed Internal Rate of Return from repaying student loans) already. Could sell it and dump it into the ETF as well, but I think that my investment thesis has not yet changed, and also I may want to wait for the long-term capital gains period. I've also recently been moonlighting doing some teaching of legal writing and business English, making about $40/per hour, but have only been able to find work for about 2 hours per week.

I just feel totally lost and in need of some honest advice. Everyone I meet in real life says that with my background I should be able to find someone good, but I never end up actually getting anything. I know that for me in my stage of life right now the important thing is accumulation, and I've worked really hard on keeping costs at rock bottom. So I need a good job where I can develop my career and start making money, but I haven't been getting one.

I'm waiting to hear back from some places in the middle of August that I'm in various stages of interviewing at, but I just feel so futile, and am wondering if I should completely change directions or professions. I majored in Chinese in college and then went to law school because all my research indicated that doing so would set me up really well for a career doing U.S.-China work, but I was hit with the double whammy of the legal job market tanking and the huge trend towards localization in China (which is starting to seriously affect even the executive level - I meet experienced 40-50 year olds who can't find a job here - in seemingly the world's most dynamic economy, all the time). I try not to make excuses for myself and do what I'm supposed to, but life has been hard. My fiancee and I have had to put marriage and life on hold for so long now.

If I had to work or die tomorrow, I could find a job doing admissions consulting, test prep, or teaching English and probably make $25,000-$30,000 per year, probably more if I continue teaching at night too. But there's no future in that. You make pretty much the same salary 5 or 10 years out as you do at the beginning.

I've been learning more about entrepreneurship and talking to people who have started their own online income stream and the like recently as well. I now hate the idea of basing my life on what any given employer or boss thinks, and like the idea of being able to write my own ticket no matter what. My mindset is far different than when I entered law school and was set on climbing the ladder, a ladder I failed to get on. So...I could try to develop something myself, and I've been brainstorming ideas pretty hard. I've started writing some e-books just for fun, and could do more in this area if I had to. But this will take time to make decent money, and I have pretty hefty loans. I know the age of making lots of money just by blogging is over. The real money is now in leveraging that blog to be an expert, and leveraging that expertise to make money. But again, takes time, and I have to pay student loans every month. My fiancee has been so supportive this past year but I hate continuing to be a bum and putting an undue burden on her financially (she pays most of the rent and bills, although I do help out).

My visa is expiring so I'm going back to the U.S. in the beginning of September. If I actually get one of the positions I'm interviewing in August I'll renew my visa and get a new work permit then and then come back to China. If not, I have to start looking in the U.S. again, and I know the legal job market there sucks. If I had to retool by getting a CCNA or something like that I would do that, but I don't want to make the same mistake and just enter another saturated market. I know the market in the U.S. for anything legal related is also totally swamped. I talked to people at FINRA, and that used to be a reliable safety valve for a legal career, but have had no luck.

The problem with law is just that there seems to be no real way to set yourself apart as a young lawyer, since all the profession wants is the exact right pedigree and experience. I've networked, gotten to know a lot of lawyers, some rather well, blogged, done some writing, and none of it seems to have made any real difference. Maybe this work got me more interviews but it hasn't led to offers.

There are other problems in my life like health insurance and the like, but it all comes down to not having a job.


When I meet with people for advice or leads in real life I am definitely not this honest or forthright, and try to be much more professional and lawyerly. It's just that...I feel I need to get this off my chest and get some honest advice about my situation. Lawyers that I talk to just tell me to "keep on trying" and don't really tell me anything productive. I ask them for referrals and they mostly do give them to me, and sometimes this leads to an interview, but nothing seems to come out of it in the end.


Modified to add more details.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Freestyler on August 04, 2013, 06:16:50 AM
Wow, I must say I am impressed. Though your situation sounds mildly unfortunate (I say mildly not to disregard your problems but to try to focus instead on the positive) I am still shocked at what seems to be a pretty successful and clever guy.

Not being a lawyer myself, not being from the US and not having had extended experience in China (though I studied and passed some short periods in both countries) I can't give very specific advise. You seem to know quite well your environment and your challenges anyway. And thatīs probably whatīs getting you more stressed. I perfectly understand your concerns and wouldnīt like to be considered another of your contacts who tell you to keep trying and nothing productive. However, from my personal experience I would say the best you can do is maintain a positive attitude (which I believe you did thus far) and focus on all your haves instead of your have nots. Though itīs normal you consider your present and future situation stressful, more so once itīs not being what you expected, I canīt imagine how an american 27 yo clever, dynamic JD who speaks at least Chinese and English and has real experience in China could not do well. The fact that it hasnīt been that good thus far (probably not THAT bad neither) doesnīt mean it is going to be the same in the future.

I reckon your concerns, but wouldnīt say your situation is desperate. You are very young and with your qualifications and attitude (you are doing great) opportunities will come through. Keep doing all what you are doing right and try to "relax" also a bit, open your mind let go and enjoy a bit more the journey. Since you are apparently doing the rest so well, itīs probably investing in this last more intangible things which may provide better results.

I know it may not seem such a "productive" advice, but probably you need to focus a bit less in tangible productivity for a while.

Hope I explained myself, that helps and, above all, all the best to you.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Freestyler on August 04, 2013, 06:24:03 AM
Also, as additional info, I would say that the few times Iīve tried to actively search for opportunities (specially in the US or outside my country in general) it was quite painstaking and useless. I wasnīt as intensive as you probably are, but still it felt frustrating even though I luckily didnīt need the jobs. Conversely, some of the best opportunities that I had (particularly the one I am enjoying now, abroad) just came themselves without looking at all.

Not that anything can be taken out of this, but sometimes it may be better to make your way in a more autonomous way without specifically pursuing opportunities in an orthodox fashion. That didnīt usually work for me and I honestly find the way recruiting is carried on at an international level pretty stupid and disrespectful for the candidates. It feels to me like the only fact of engaging in that process makes recruiters automatically disregard your value. But thatīs probably a personal and not very useful bias that I have.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Daleth on August 04, 2013, 07:42:21 AM
When will you be married? I assume your work situation will improve then since being married to a Chinese national, you'll have an easier time getting permission to work. The same is true for her if you want to move back to the States after you're married (is that an option you guys are interested in?).
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Left on August 04, 2013, 08:04:11 AM
Could you move back to New York and practice there? Bring fiance as well, said she hit glass ceiling (not sure how easy it is to transfer law degree to US if at all possible).
Or at the very least, see if you can't find some New York companies wanting a foot into china that you can provide legal advice for. Or vice versa, Chinese company into New York. Being able to translate without another translator is pretty nice in that people can talk to you face to face without a 3rd party (builds trust IMO).

Or what about moving to Taiwan? It's more business cultured but still speaks English/Mandarin (assuming that is the dialect of Chinese you speak)
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Riceman on August 04, 2013, 08:33:30 AM
It doesn't pay as much, but you sound like a good candidate for government jobs.  The foreign service is full of Chinese speakers and ex-lawyers.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: worms on August 04, 2013, 08:56:24 AM
I would have thought your skills were more marketable in US than in China.  English speaking lawyers will be more common in China than Chinese speaking lawyers in US.

Perhaps you need to go back to US to be able to get a job working in China for a US organisation.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: ichoosemyself on August 04, 2013, 08:42:19 PM
Thanks for the replies everyone! Answers below:

Freestyler, appreciate your reply. Definitely true that the best opportunities come not from direct searching, but from side products of people noticing you due to creating value for others. The only problem - and always the biggest problem - is I need an immediate source of income! But I totally agree with your basic message. As long as I'm not literally starving, I can always afford to take just a step back and look at things more broadly.

Daleth, soon, but actually that won't really help the work situation...although it does open us some other interesting options, such as living in the countryside and doing remote work payable in USD. Work permit and residence permit are separate. It's different than in the U.S. where you can work on a green card you get from marriage. We're definitely interested in going to the US. China is ok, but the US is so much nicer, and it's easier to be Mustachian in the US. That is, it's easier to live frugally and still have a life with some comforts and in a nice area. I've spent some time in the countryside in China, and it can be ok (and still, very, very cheap, unlike the cities), but you have to be even more creative in blazing your own path. No cheap black beans and frozen blueberries. If I can find an online income stream that is an option. And definitely something blog-worthy.

Eyem, definitely looking into it. I actually wasn't into Mustachianism when I chose which bar to take. Looking back, I should've chosen Texas or Virginia! Taiwan will be an option after my fiancee gets U.S. citizenship, oddly enough. Very hard for mainlanders to legally work in Taiwan (unlike in Hong Kong, which is pretty easy for these days).

Riceman, Thanks. I went pretty deep into the Presidential Management Fellowship process, but didn't get it. Turned down an anti-trust honors division paralegal job after college (boneheaded move), which would have let me make a lot in overtime and save some money. How should I begin? Take the Foreign Service Exam? USA Jobs has been terrible to me so far.

Worms, Seems you're right. China is at a weird stage right now - past the days of "if you are an expat you are golden" but not quite yet to the "Chinese companies know what to do with foreign employees" stage. Still a lot of opportunities for people that are cunning and creative enough, of course, as in most economies. Going to the US may be what I must do. Maybe I don't focus on China either. No reason I have to, just that I thought it gave me the best chances and made me less fungible. But I think that my true strengths are creativity and vision. Have to find a way to demonstrate that though..
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Riceman on August 04, 2013, 08:52:34 PM
Applying for the foreign service is a long and frustrating process that begins by taking the written exam.  The best information is on their website:

You could also apply for jobs with other 3-letter agencies and services that are currently getting beaten up in the media.  I imagine Chinese speakers with law degrees (i.e., analytic skills) are in demand there as well.

If you do decide to pursue these kinds of careers, thing of the applications as long-term goals--they can take years, so you'll need a job in the meantime.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: chesebert on August 04, 2013, 09:33:57 PM
How good is your Chinese? Can you do China-only work? Have you thought about applying for China consultant or paralegal job with an international firm? Have you applied to domestic firms? Did you graduate in the top 1/2 of your class? Have you thought about Hong Kong/Singapore?

Do you have any marketable legal skills? What made you go to China without biglaw?
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: ichoosemyself on August 04, 2013, 09:56:41 PM
Riceman, thanks. That's probably the right attitude to have. No guarantees of anything, and takes a lot of work, but could make sense to do.

Chesebert, Good enough to read annual reports in Chinese. I had a written test in finance where I went to a company's office, read a publicly traded company's annual report, CSR report, and some other documents, all in Chinese, and then wrote a written risk report (in English) in 2 hours. It was very doable, and they said my submission was one of the best they ever got. That was the job I didn't get due to the wrong passport. I've also blown a company president away with a business plan written completely in Chinese (though edited of course by some friends for grammar mistakes).

...that said, I'm not a native speaker and never will be. The above tasks are about what I can do. I probably couldn't have written that report in Chinese in 2 hours, or submitted a business plan in Chinese with zero grammatical edits from native Chinese speakers. Standard business correspondence, cover letters, meetings, that kind of stuff: totally ok.

I've thought about it, but the weird thing is I keep on getting some progress for actual attorney positions with the firms...just no offers at all. I worked for one of the bigger domestic firms (Jun He/Fang Da/Zhong Lun/KWM/etc.) my 2L summer because I didn't get a real summer associate position. Not a good experience at all, and none of the foreign associates I know at such firms learn much at all or get to do much substantive legal work at all. Good place to a foreign partner. Bad place to be a foreign associate. But yeah, a Chinese firm is an option, too.

I did not. Graduated somewhere between bottom 1/3 and median. Probably a bit closer to bottom 1/3 on that spectrum. Didn't do law review. I did TA a class. Definitely thought about Hong Kong and Singapore and have been looking there, especially in U.S. Capital Markets work. Have had a few interviews...but haven't gotten as far there as I have on the mainland, actually.

The question of whether I have any marketable skills is definitely the million dollar question here. Could I ask what level of specificity I should present on this front? I have pretty good background in foreign direct investment law and internet and technology law, with some background in trademark law, too, but keep in mind that I graduated in 2012, so I don't have a long list of transactions. At my current organization I do some general counsel work as well as program development and platform building.

I came here because I wanted to be on the ground here, and because of my fiancee, of course. I also thought my chances of getting BIGLAW here were higher than in the US, which I still think is true (although other career prospects generally may be stronger in the US). I've gotten interviews here, and didn't get them at all in the US, after 2L OCI and that recruiting season. I actually thought about dropping out of law school after I didn't get a 2L SA. Not sure if that was correct or not.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: impaire on August 04, 2013, 10:07:31 PM
Have you been able to debrief some of your interviews, esp. with the firms you went deep with? Any idea why nothing panned out?

Just want to wish you luck... Sounds like you found your focus after law school, hope it pays off!
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: chesebert on August 04, 2013, 10:30:10 PM
OP, to be honest, your grades are probably what's holding you back. For the layman here, law is a pedigree game and lawfirms in general care a great deal about where you went to law school and what your grades were. Attorneys who have been practicing for years have been asked to submit their law school grades.

You are actually not expected to have any (or very little) substantive legal skill at this point in your career. However, the longer you are without a job doing substantive legal work the worse the situation becomes. Based on your responses, I am pretty sure you don't have any substantive legal skill at this point.

You could hang around China and see what you can do with your life or go back to the US and try to get a job with a local firm or the government. You could do doc review at first to make a living and service the debt, but need to find a real legal job asap.

I think your decision to move to China without biglaw is a major mistake, and now you need to fix that. If I were you and I want to be a laywer, I would move back to the US.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: ichoosemyself on August 05, 2013, 01:05:52 AM
Impaire, I have, but nothing really helpful. They don't want to say too much. And sometimes it's random factors that may not be under the interviewers' control, or at least that's what they say.

Chesebert, Yup, you hit the nail on the head. I fucked up, and have to fix my mistakes now as I can. I'd appreciate any substantive tips you might have about how to make the transition back to the US. Regarding document review, is the idea to just leave that off the resume completely, and pretend as if I was unemployed (but doing pro bono work, etc.) during that time? Are there any legal markets I should be looking at in particular in the US? Practice groups? I've always been interested in general corporate and commercial work, but that's not set in stone. I need to be where the jobs are, both location-wise and field-wise, I know.

...or should I drop law entirely? I think that's the problem behind my relative lack of focus as of late. I'm not in love with law as a field, and could definitely see dropping it for something else entirely and treating it as a sunk cost. If it's too late to salvage things, it's too late to salvage things. The problem is that I need to make the decision to either keep on trying for law or just to drop it and focus in on something else.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: Left on August 05, 2013, 03:03:09 AM
hm what field of law are you in? I just read a few stories about chinese real estate investors buying up houses in US. Could you somehow get into this area and use your law degree? I don't know if there is a thing as a real estate lawyer though but seeing how it is a foreign investor, I'd imagine there would be one. Also would need to get realtors license for the state too I think. This doesn't have to be with a firm but freelanced for better income/grow your own business? (then hire me to find houses in KC :D)

I just saw the other thread on here about how lawyers are oversaturated, but I still feel like it'd be easy to market yourself if your end goal wasn't to end up in a law firm per say but just a good company/government job that needs a lawyer
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: ichoosemyself on August 05, 2013, 03:13:07 AM
Eyem, The problem right now is that I haven't exactly developed a specific field yet. But that also means I'm open to change. There definitely are opportunities there, and I'm going to network hard in the major metropolitan area Chinese ethnic community once I go back to the US (I just bought my ticket last night - I need to go back soon no matter what, at least to renew my visa, but maybe for good) to see if I can join a small firm or company doing this kind of work. That will be one approach among many.
Title: Re: Spent the last decade setting myself up for a good job - currently unemployed.
Post by: lhamo on August 05, 2013, 07:47:18 AM
Do you follow/interact much with the China Law Blog folks?   Dan Harris strikes me as someone who is pretty generous with his advice -- I'd definitely try to get some from him.  While it isn't Big Law, Harris Moure seems to do some pretty interesting work and they also seem to be open to hiring people for what they can do, not where they went to school.  They only have rare openings, but he may know of other firms that are looking for similar talents.

It sounds like you aren't terribly academically inclined, but if you want to consider a Ph.D. you could apply for some of the funding the Chinese government has.  They are pretty desperate to get foreigners into their Ph.D. programs for global prestige reasons.  Stipends are not great, though check and see what Hanban is offering -- my organization pitched a proposal to them to manage parts of their new Chinese studies fellowship program and it appeared they were going to be much more generous with stipends than the Chinese Government Scholarship program is, but I'm not sure how it turned out.  Would probably be less than a non-profit job, but you'd buy some time to further network/strategize and figure out whether staying in China was viable longer term. 

Hope you can work something out.  I've been lucky enough to be able to make a pretty good living in the non-profit sector, but me and DH got into it fairly early, starting in private foundation work.  I have seen the kind of transition you speak of first hand in the non-profit sector as well -- really hard to break into the sector these days as an expat without much experience.