Generation Neurotic

Every generation, it seems, gets a label. It’s what older, grouchier people like to do -- label those younger than themselves as worse at something than they are. And it makes life more simple. For my generation, Generation X, we were dubbed “lackluster.” We lacked passion and focus. In many ways, I believe that was accurate. When I was 20, I wasn’t focused on, or worried about, graduate school or my career. Indeed, the only career thoughts I had was of opening some small business at a ski town. But mostly we played video games, pickup basketball, and grudgingly went to class.

The most recent generation, dubbed Millennials, are most often called “entitled” and “whiney” by those older-- including my generation (who are now both more focused now and more grouchy). For years, I couldn’t go to a legal education conference without hearing about how entitled law school applicants and law students were. Law School Administrators would lament this fact and use these gatherings as a cathartic experience. There were entire sessions dedicated to it. Hiring Partners at National Association of Law Placement (NALP) conferences were more clear: “send us an entitled student and we will stop interviewing at your school” was a takeaway often expressed. More specifically, in visiting hiring partners on their home turf, they would often tell me which schools they has nixed because of violations of this first order. I can say firsthand that a number of highly qualified students at some of the most elite law schools in the world were kept out of the hiring equation because of demands they would make on others during the hiring process. This was a sensitive issue at a sensitive time, and it really hurt some.

I’m here to (1) posit that we have moved past the entitlement to a new generation (and this is a very good thing) and to (2) offer some suggestions on how to not let the new stigma of this generation hurt those looking for jobs and law school acceptances.

Enter Generation Neurotic.

First, a quick few notes about Generation Neurotic (and all generations for that matter). We focus on the “do nots” way too often when we stigmatize. Those applying to law school, the vast majority of whom are 21-24 years old and represent my deepest association with this generation, are incredible skilled. Much more so than mine. They are energetic. They are, at least the overwhelming majority, NOT entitled. Indeed, they are both respectful and appreciative. Not a week has gone by in the past 4 years where I have not received a call, email or message from someone with the words “thank you” in them. This means a great deal to me and reflects so well on the next group of future lawyers. And if you are going to have a stigma, I would happily argue that "neurotic" is much better than "entitled" or "lackluster" -- and it probably exists for a reason.

Which brings me to my second note; the anxiety is likely caused by the atmospheric conditions that many grew up with during the great recession. If you think about it, my generation was lackluster because we, for the first time, had the opportunity to drift for a bit longer. The vast majority were now going to college -- we did not have to pick a vocation or profession until our mid 20's -- and even then we could change it with much more ease. And more recently, the students that hiring partners complained incessantly as being entitled, they grew up in the go-go years and saw precisely what success could bring. They often simply wanted to succeed to the same extent that those before them had.

My point is this, I am not writing this post to judge anyone who is getting hyper-anxious through the admissions or hiring process. If I, or the mealy-mouthed others of my generation, had grown up under the same conditions we would share the same heightened anxiety about this process. It is natural to be concerned. BUT, I would certainly want to know how it could be hurting me. Which is what I hope to share with you. So here are things we are seeing and hearing time and time again from admissions decision-makers and hiring partners that are hurting this newest generation, at times keeping people with strong applications or law school grades out of the success they should be enjoying.

1. Demand for Hyper Responsiveness

My first memories of making phone calls were on a rotary phone (google an image of one for a good laugh). But most people applying to law school or for jobs today have grown up with the ability to text message and receive an immediate response on their cell phones. Similarly, it has long been the age of email versus old-fashioned snail mail (I didn't have email in college). Unfortunately, admissions and hiring is not a quick process. I had a client last cycle apply to a top 10 law school in September 2014 and get admitted to said school (his dream/reach school) in September, 2015. No joke. Nor are hiring partners and admissions deans part of the hyper responsive generation. For many, returning an email 5 days after receiving it is normal. They are busy and that is how mail once worked.

What can you do?

(1) Unless something in horribly on fire, don't call and if the other person doesn't answer keep calling back immediately. Please NEVER DO THIS AGAIN (I get these calls every week). It is such a tremendous professional turn-off this is the kind of activity that takes someone with medians above both 75ths or a GPA in the top 10% of their law school and gets them shut out.

All you ever need to do is leave a message with the reason for your call. In fact you should ALWAYS leave a message. People return messages, they don't return blank calls or the aforementioned 'repeat ad infinitum' call.

(2) Similarly, NEVER send an email and if you do not get an immediate response (ie: in an hour or within 24 hours) forward your exact same sent email or copy said sent mail, eg: "Dean Spivey could you text me I have a quick question"...and 45 minutes later "FWD: "Dean Spivey could you text me I have a quick question"

My rule for email is to let people know that you realize they are busy and thank them for their time. it is a bit of a neat passive aggressive trick to get them to respond without it seeming anything of the sort. If you have something legitimately important to discuss, say "I will also try you by phone because of the time sensitivity of the topic" and, if not, give them days to respond. Please don't email them every day for 65 consecutive days thinking it makes you seem cool and persistent like Bud Fox in Wall Street (the older, better version). It makes you seem nutty and no one wants to hire or admit a nut.

(3) Don't text someone in a professional setting unless they ask you to (and they highly likely won't).

If they DO ask you to text them, please say who you are in the text. This is a highly common mistake we see time and time again, e.g., "Hey Spivey thanks for talking to me last month I'm ready to roll send me a contract!"...send who a contract?

(4) Most importantly, be honest with yourself and ask: "am I contacting the hiring authority or law school admissions office because it helps to make my case -- even after I have submitted everything I can submit -- or am I doing it to make ME feel better?" No matter how anxious you are to hear something this is the most important thing you can do. I have had to talk Associate Deans applying for Deanships at law school out of calling the hiring committee by using this exact advice. The majority of the time, when the process is very important to us, we reach out to the decision makers to make ourselves simply feel better.

2. Over-doing it.

See the "Bud Fox" example above. This happens time and time again in law admissions, i.e., the applicant does one nice thing but then repeats it beyond the creepy level. Ease up on the gas pedal if you send an email or call and you get a positive response, because said response doesn't mean you should repeat 100 times over.

What to do?

(1) As a general rule, never send presents. A shoe with a note "now that my foot is in the door let's talk about my admissions decision..." isn't even a present. it is a cheap and stinky trick.

(2) Don't show up unannounced if you aren't admitted. Let them know you are coming! Schools often have structured visits, policies, or some other best practice for prospective and admitted students.

(3) Don't wait for someone at their car (has happened to me multiple times in my career)

(4) Don't send them something to their home address. Boundaries!

(5) Don't friend them on Facebook or LinkedIn. You don’t have a professional relationship or a friendship with them

(6) Don't tell them personal things about them OR YOU (unless asked) after the admission/application process UNLESS it is salient to said admissions process.

(7) Always ask yourself this most important question: "Is what I am doing going to help my chance of admission (or a job), or am I honestly asking it because I want an answer to make ME feel good or less anxious?"

3. Venting online

Anxiety loves company and the easiest thing to do is share with others online to get confirmation that they too are sick of waiting for a school. Guess what though, said school could easily be monitoring message boards and twitter accounts. EVERY.SINGLE.YEAR we have to talk to people who receive a horrible call/email from a school along the lines of "hey we have admitted you but we are reassessing our scholarship needs/speaking with LSAC about misconduct/etc. because of things we seen you say online that are contradictory to what you have told us." This is the worst call in the world to get and it is 100% preventable. Why risk it

In summation:

  1. My generation depressed all of those above us, because we seemed aimlessly wandering without purpose.

  2. The generation right above those applying to law school now pissed off people, because they demanded way too much way too often

  3. You are freaking people out, because you yourselves are freaking out.

The good news is you are doing better than those above you on this list if you are in (3). And if you that group, it is understandable. The more important something is to us, the more anxious it makes us having to wait for it. I have seen this apply to college presidents, managing partners at BigLaw, law professors, myself, and likely just about every human who has lived. The waiting, as we have blogged before, is the hardest part. But that doesn't mean you should ever let the wait make you act irrationally to the very people you are waiting on. Think about it. No one wants to be around a Nervous Nellie. We invariably gravitate to the calm person. Need to see this very phenomena first hand? Go watch Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is a reason government and business leaders are known to tweet “What would Picard do” (I swear I am not playing that law school game where I was told I had to insert either “Star Trek” or “Picard” into this blog. Still don’t believe me, just follow Senator Cory Booker who frequently tweets just that: https://twitter.com/CoryBooker

The point being this phenomenon is so strong, even real life leaders are drawn to fictional people who are calm under intense situations.

YOU are in an intense situation. That word cloud at the top of this blog...guess what? It was made by a 1L. Want to stand out? Always stay (or just appear) calm to an admissions office. It’s that simple and that can make all the difference in the world. Indeed, it does in a really good way for hundreds upon hundreds of applicants every cycle. Let those around you lose it, because they may very well lose something else; what would have been an admit. And that very spot may go straight to you.