They may not seem the most likely sources of good career advice, but there are a few things you can learn from these oft-maligned professions.

by Jonathan Mead


I know what you’re thinking: what could I possibly learn from the three groups that have the worst reputations? Hear me out a minute. There are a few great things I think we can learn from the best of each of these professions. After all, sometimes the best lessons come from the most unexpected sources. This advice can be applied to your career—or, if you’re an entrepreneur, with clients.

Lesson 1: Lawyers

So, what can we learn from the best lawyers? How to lie through our asses? Well, sometimes lying to save someone a little embarrassment can be advantageous, but that’s not what I’d like to focus on here.

The biggest lesson we can learn from great lawyers is building a case. A few weeks ago, I approached my boss to ask for a raise. A few years ago, I would have gone in without giving what I would say a second thought. In fact, my last boss almost laughed when I asked him for a raise. Not because I didn’t deserve it, but because I didn’t beat around the bush. I just straight out asked for a raise, right after saying, “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.”

This time when I asked my boss for a raise, I took the time to sit down and build a case. I listed all of the job responsibilities I currently have, as well as new responsibilities I’ve taken on since I started a year ago. I also made a note of what had changed and how some of my new responsibilities were those of someone that would be hired at a much higher rate.

I talked about the things that I had changed in my position: how I had improved it, what I’ve done differently and the benefits I’ve been brought to the department. I also made a big note to emphasize any way that I had “revolutionized” the process and made it more streamlined. This included building a database for our employee recognition program that previously was a 7 mile long Excel spreadsheet.

I didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time creating this document, maybe an hour or two. (I’m not a member of the cult of productivity.) Most of it was already in my head, as I’d been mulling it over for a few months.

Building a case does a few things:

  • It helps you stay focused during the meeting. Instead of trailing off, you have notes that you can refer back to to make your case.
  • Your employer will be impressed that you’ve actually given this some thought.
  • By building a compelling case for why you deserve a raise, it will be very difficult for your employer to say no or not negotiate with your request.

If you’re not an office worker bee, this can also be applied to asking a client for an increased cost and listing what you’ve done to help them increase sales or marketability.

Lesson 2: Marketers

All of this talk about impact and what you’ve offered your employer leads me to a common marketing discussion: benefits.

If you’ve ever been grazed with Marketing 101, you’ll know that it’s a common mantra to sell benefits, not features. This advice is so crucial to your business that it can either make it or break it. At the very least, it can mean the difference between your highest potential and just scraping by.

When you sell benefits (to your company or client), we’re essentially talking about currency. What do they have to gain from you? What will you do to change their business, improve it, increase visibility, morale (often overlooked) or simply make things easier?

When communicating your benefits to a client or employer, it helps to think about the end effect. What will your work change? What difference will it make?

If you’re a designer, instead of communicating the snazzy look and streamlined pages, communicate memorability, increased sales, sexiness and higher search engine rankings. The biggest benefit to communicating (well, benefits) is that you’re moving from the abstract to the concrete. You’re moving from intellectual to emotional.

  • Try to get as concrete as possible without over-promising.
  • Describe how it will change their business and make things easier. Easy never goes out of style.
  • Be compelling. List past successes where what you’re going to do for them has positively impacted past clients.

Lesson 3: Politicians

Politicians? I know. I thought the same thing.

While there’s not much good (let’s face it) we can learn from politicians, there’s one great thing that politicians do that we can all learn from. It’s kind of tricky—after all, this is politics we’re talking about, right? The lesson is answering without promising, but still giving a seemingly positive response.

This seems vague; that’s because by their very nature, most politicians are. So let me give you a quick example. Say a coworker of yours wants you to help with a project she’s working on, but you really can’t take on any more work. You could say something like: “At this point in time, I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to help you. But the future does look promising.”

Or if that aunt that makes you want to hurt people calls to see if you want to have lunch, say something like: “I would love to have lunch with you. I’ve really missed talking to you and would love to catch up with everything that’s been going on with you. However, my sources are currently working on getting more information. I apologize, but I can’t make a decision at this time.

Obviously, there are some situations where this can’t work. If your boss asks you when you’ll have the multi-million-dollar contract finalized, I don’t recommend responding with “At this juncture, it looks promising.” I also don’t recommend saying “Change needs to happen, and there are many ventures that we are looking into pursuing” when your newly hospitalized friend asks you to visit him for moral support.

Basically, just use more words like “venture,” “at this point in time,” “promising” and “juncture.” Political consulting just might be in your future.

I’ve often find some of the best lessons in life come from the most unanticipated places (so I was kind of half-joking on the last lesson).

Is there anything you have learned to improve your career from an unexpected source?

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