Three tips for making your summer job successful

By Hillary Mantis

Maria stopped by my office on the last day of classes. She was excited to start her summer associate position. But also nervous. “I’ve never worked at a law firm before,” she said. “I’m not sure what to expect. I’m hoping to get asked back for after I graduate.”

Law firms may be different in terms of their culture, but the basic advice for succeeding is the same, wherever you are working this summer.

- Figure out your boss’s preferred communication style: Getting along with your boss during a summer job requires that you figure out their preferences quickly. Do you email them or come talk to them in person? Are they OK with being interrupted or would they rather be approached at the end of the day? Do they want frequent updates on what they have assigned, or prefer that you mainly work on your own? Ask them, ask around, and also see what clues you can come up with on your own.

For example, do they often work with the door closed or only slightly ajar? Or is it always an open door policy? If you have ever had the opportunity to take a career inventory like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (and if not, I highly recommend it), you will know that introverts need a lot of time to work alone, without interruption, while extroverts welcome in person communication, and are OK with interruptions or unscheduled meetings.

Spend time with your colleagues, not just at your desk: Law firms are hard work, right? So if you work hard, that’s enough? Early in my career one of my bosses, who was a great networker, instructed me that I was spending too much time at my desk and really needed to get out and talk to people. She was right. I needed to do some networking and get to know people.

When you are at a summer associate position, take advantage of all of the social activities and networking events that you can. Even if you are working on a big assignment, take a break to circulate. Many studies cite the number one reason for hiring a candidate is that they think it would be nice to work with the person who is interviewing. Especially at law firms, people tend to spend a lot of time at the office. So, work hard but also make sure to try and talk to at least one new person every day. But be careful as well-make sure you are not posting anything on social media that you would not want any of your colleagues or bosses to see.

- Follow up before you leave the job at the end of the summer: You have had a good summer, learned a lot, made some new friends, and long story short really want to come back to the firm as a permanent hire. Follow up with your boss and with the hiring department before you leave to reiterate your interest in the firm, thank them, and find out the timing of job offers.  Ask for feedback before you leave. You can also ask if they need anyone to work part-time during the school year.  

Hillary Mantis consults with law students, pre-law students, and lawyers. She is author of career books, including "Alternative Careers for Lawyers," and director of the pre-law advising program at Fordham University. You can reach her at