Career Advice and the Power of Mentorship: Chrissy Willis
My sister-in-law Chrissy is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a successful lawyer, former president of the Langston Bar Association, and a part-time lecturer at USC; not to mention a new mom to my precious niece Sabrina. She’s smart, kind, and super ambitious.
I chatted with Chrissy about her career, the value in having a mentor, and why you shouldn’t be scared to just apply for that job you’ve been eyeing.
What do you do?
I'm a management-side employer lawyer at the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. I advise and support employers in a variety of industries with their employment law and HR-related issues -- from recruiting and hiring to termination.
When did you decide you wanted to be a lawyer?
I decided in my sophomore year of college. I was thinking about my major and what graduate program I wanted to pursue after college. I had a general idea that I wanted to help people. At Georgetown, wanting to become a lawyer wasn't unique. I still remember the morning of the LSAT my senior year when two of my three roommates and I went outside to catch a cab to Howard to take the test, literally hundreds of other seniors were making their way to cabs to head to various test sites throughout DC. It was a quite a sight to see! I wonder how many of them are still practicing.
What advice do you have for those on the job hunt right now?
Apply for any position that interests you and apply as soon as you see the job posting. Those reviewing applications tend to review the first batch and may never even look at the later applications. Don't be discouraged by the "requirements" and "preferences" listed in the job posting just because your background isn't a perfect match. So often hiring managers end up hiring someone that doesn't meet all of the requirements and preferences. For example, if it says they're looking for someone with at least 5 years of experience and you only have 3, but those 3 years are years of solid experience, apply anyway!
Favorite part of your job?
The gratification I receive from clients being relieved and comforted by my advice. While some may think of what I do as merely helping most large companies, those companies are made up of people, and those in leadership positions need support, as the vast majority of them sincerely want to make their company's work environment the best that it can be for the employees.
Do you have a mentor?
The most outstanding and impactful mentor I've had came into my life when I was just a child. His name is Michael Lawson. His children went to my mom's school. He was one of very few Black partners at one of the most prominent law firms in the world. I had a long talk with him when I was applying to law schools, and he encouraged me to apply to the top 5 ranked law schools, although I didn't think I had a chance of getting in. He told me, "You're right, you won't get in if you don't apply." I took his advice and ended up getting into one of the top 5 (NYU Law). Although I declined their offer because I thought USC Law was a better fit for me and offered me a scholarship, it still feels great to know that I tried and got in.
What are your best practices for networking and making the right professional connections?
Get involved in industry organizations that interest you. That's where you can make sincere connections with like-minded people. Invite professionals who you respect and who are in jobs/careers that you're pursuing to have an informational interview with you; by phone or over lunch or coffee, if they have time. Don't go into the conversation just thinking about whether that person can get you a job. Think of building the relationship as part of your long-term goal to build a network of professional support.
Thanks for your great tips, Chrissy!