[By Milou Lammers]
About two years ago, I went to speak to my advisor and law professor, Andy Spalding, who taught corporate compliance at the University of Richmond School of Law and I asked him “how do I get a job in compliance?” To which he replied, “honestly, I have no idea.”
How does one get a job in compliance?
I have spent the past two years asking different compliance professionals ranging from analysts, managers, and chief compliance officers in different fields this exact question. Surprisingly, they all had quite similar answers along the lines of: “I kind of ended up here in compliance, but I love it and I’m not leaving.” Then I would ask them how I could get a job in compliance and the answers were usually along the lines of, “I’m not sure, I would encourage others to enter the field, but I’m not sure how you get a job in compliance.”
I am a recent law graduate from the University of Richmond School of Law and figured out quite early on in law school that corporate compliance was the career path that I wanted to go into after law school. I recently moved to Houston, Texas where I met Tom Fox, the Compliance Evangelist, who said Houston is the “epicenter of FCPA enforcement” (this should mean there are plentiful resources – right?).
He encouraged me to share my experience as a new professional trying to enter the compliance field, so I shared my experience in four blog posts during October and November 2018 before landing a job in December. I have complied these posts into a longer source to help prospective candidates looking for a job in the field and have added a current update looking back on the experience a few months into my first job post-graduate.
How did you land your job in compliance?
My job search approach or strategy can be divided into three categories: apply online, attend local events, and network one on one. Please feel free to join and further this conversation because I have found that if you ask politely for help or advice, most people are ready and willing to offer theirs and usually they have helpful things to say.
When I was searching for my first job, I spent each morning searching a variety of job sites such as career builder, LinkedIn, indeed, Lensa, and many more and I applied to any and every entry-level to more experienced compliance job in a variety of fields. I particularly found Lensa’s daily recommendations beneficial as they pulled job postings from multiple sites in my area. In Houston, there are primarily compliance jobs in the oil & gas, healthcare, financial, and manufacturing industries. During my search, my email inbox was full of potential opportunities I had either applied to or had flagged to submit my resume to.
I call this the “hustle” phase of hunting for a job because it takes a lot of time and patience. Do not be afraid to tell people that you are having a hard time finding success just submitting hundreds of applications online and hoping and waiting to hear back.
For example, there is one particular job I have mind that I submitted my resume to in March 2018 and I am still awaiting a reply, almost a year later – whether it is a no or a come talk to us – I would still like to know. This part of the job hunt process may be the most time consuming and least rewarding because it involves a lot of filling in the same information over and over again and it often takes companies a long time to review all of these apps which means you are left in limbo waiting. So for those of you sharing this experience – continue applying your butt off but also focus on meeting local professionals.
I find this part, meeting the compliance folks, the most rewarding part of my strategy or job hunt process. I found local events by searching online for compliance roundtables, conferences, and conventions in my area. Even if the events took place a while back, I looked at the information about the speakers and tried to find them on LinkedIn or via email and then if I thought they may be interesting to my job search I reached out and asked if they were willing to meet with me.
This is exactly how I met Tom Fox. I sent him an email after I had seen that he was a frequent compliance speaker in my area and he replied that he would be happy to meet with me. I encourage you to reach out to those professionals you think may have a strong network. Even if it is a bit nerve wracking to send that email, you would be surprised how many people are happy and willing to make the time to meet with you. Sending that email shows initiative and a commitment to network with professionals in the field that you want to enter. Plus, the worst thing that could happen is that they do not respond or they say no and then there is no harm. I have found more often than not though, that reaching and asking others for advice and help will get you really far.
The last part of my job application strategy is to ask for help. At the events I attended in the compliance field I introduced myself to professionals and asked them for tips or if we had a connection or mutual interest I asked them if they would be willing to meet with me one on one to offer advice. While some may be too busy, I was pleasantly surprised that most were willing and open to meet with me to talk about their experience and connect me with others in their networks that may have more insight or connections applicable to my career goals.
Also, if you have a marketable skill, like a specialty in a particular area, use that to your advantage. For example, at a local roundtable I attended I heard a compliance professional express some struggle with the G.D.P.R. – I have worked on this particular regulation in compliance for two different companies and feel comfortable enough to talk about it and offer advice. I went to her at the end of the meeting and offered to do a bit of research for her and her company’s program over lunch. She really appreciated the work I did for her and through that I made a meaningful professional connection and another resource for help. Through my marketable skill set I was able to freshen up my knowledge, talk to her about her work, and offer help; this felt useful and beneficial for both of us.
Even as a “freshman” in the field, rely on the resources and knowledge you have that brought you to the conclusion that you want to enter the compliance field. Use your free time to research and build out your expertise or broaden your knowledge base so that you have information to offer and can “talk the talk” when you get your chance to speak to those professionals who may be impressed by your knowledge and feel inclined to help you get a job.
Looking for a job is not an easy task. It takes time, requires patience, and can create a decent amount of anxiety. However, every time I heard another compliance professional tell me that they love what they are doing and encourage others to join them in the field, I was reminded why I wanted to work in compliance.
By sharing this experience and asking for advice I hoped I could make it a bit easier for other professionals the next time someone asks you “so how do I get a job in compliance?”
What are Interviewers Asking Today?
Once I started getting interviews and started hearing back from companies about my applications, I realized that interviewers were asking similar questions and I would touch on what interviewers were asking me in 2018 and what you should be asking them now.
A few years ago, when I was in my second year of law school, I flew out to New York to interview for a summer associate position at a finance firm and the first question one of the interviewers asked was “what is 1 million divided by 100 divided by 100?” I quickly blurted out 100 and we moved on. After that stress-inducing experience, I hoped that as long as I steered clear from finance firms that I would avoid the more challenging interview questions, however that did not seem to be the case.
During the interview phase of my job hunt I was asked to complete math assessments, logical reasoning tests, video recording interviews, and challenging questions during in-person interviews. The questions interviewers asked me ranged from: How do your skills and past experiences translate into a good fit for this role? What attracted you to this position? What speaks to you about our mission?
The questions were challenging because they aimed to ask about your experience and reveal how much research you had done about the position and the company beforehand. In order to be most prepared I would recommend that you know exactly what the job description is, what the company’s core values are, and think about a few key experiences you have had that you think they should hear because it applies to why you are a good fit for the job.
I would also recommend that you brush up on your improv skills. During my search, after I arrived for an interview and got settled into a conference room, the recruiter came in and handed me a presentation prompt and gave me about 15 minutes to prepare a presentation on the topic before my interview began with the team members. Fortunately the prompt was a neutral topic that most everyone would be able to prepare something on, which meant that this interview tactic was less about seeing if you crack under pressure but more focused on assessing your public speaking skills and creative quick thinking. Make sure you think about how you would deal with that scenario and prepare ahead of time by asking others to pose random questions or scenarios to you so that you can prepare. Then I would try to be as confident as possible in yourself because you have made it this far in the process and you can trust that you are there for a reason.
What Questions Should You be Asking Interviewers?
If you search online what to ask in an interview you might actually get some good advice. The Google hits will tell you to ask what the day-to-day responsibilities of the job look like, what the company’s core values are, and what the best part of the job is. These are all strong questions that you should be asking. However, if you are interviewing for compliance specific roles I would urge you to ask these additional three questions:
1. How important is culture to this organization and how does your work fit into building and supporting that culture?
Compliance professionals should be knowledgeable about creating a culture of compliance and understanding the importance of building a brand within the organization that is compliant and encourages everyone to do the right thing. I have had some interesting conversations after posing this question in interviews and would encourage you to try it and see what the answer is. If building a culture of compliance is important to you, ask your interviewer about the organization’s culture and how it has changed in recent years and how they are working to maintain and improve the culture within the organization.
2. How does the rest of the organization view your compliance department?
I find optics important in that I hope to work for a team that is seen as approachable and helpful in the compliance field and is not considered the “police” of the organization. Most companies have tried to move away from that negative connotation of always saying no to becoming a more “yes” friendly department. If you get the chance, ask your interviewer about how their team is viewed in the rest of the organization. Further, you can ask how often their helplines are used or if employees feel comfortable reaching out to the compliance department directly. These questions should give you some solid inside information about the compliance team and will show the interviewers that you understand how compliance has changed in recent years.
3. How do you see your compliance work evolving in the next few years?
Finally, I would urge you to ask your interviewer how they think the compliance space or their specific group will evolve in the coming years. I believe that asking forward thinking questions shows that you are interested in the future of the company and want to be a part of that goal and understand how that goal may evolve and change over time.
I hope that these tips have been helpful. I am starting out in my career so I am learning from my experience but I just recently lived through this experience and chose to share it publically to help others in the future. I found that few people know how to answer the question “how do I get a job in compliance?” and I would like to help you answer that by sharing my experience and help you best prepare when you do get the chance to interview for that job. If you are currently applying or gearing up to apply to a new position I would also like to wish you the best of luck – rely on your background and expertise and you will be great.
Looking Back on my Job Search
It seems that on average it takes around 6 months to get a job, however it may take some less or more (hence why it is an average). I personally had friends and peers who started clerkships and law firm jobs two to three weeks after sitting for the bar exam and those that are still studying for their second bar exam or are still looking for work. I myself, graduated this past May in 2018 and spent May – July 2018 studying for the bar exam. I took the bar exam at the end of July, moved to Houston, TX in August 2018, and started working full time for my first post-graduate job in December 2018.
Thus from graduation to start date it took me 7 months to get a job, about 4.5 months after sitting for the bar exam. This waiting period was one of the most challenging times for me. After graduation I do not think I was appropriately prepared about how realistic I needed to be about how challenging it may be to get a job. Nobody warned me that it may take this long and no one really gave me a roadmap on how to strategize my job search and so I would like to reflect on mine. If it worked for me, it may not work for you but at least it may give you other ideas on how to improve your approach or learn from my mistakes.
1. Ask for help
You have made it this far in your educational or professional career and so you should have some resources built up either from school or past summer jobs. Use those resources, those people to your advantage and ask them for help. Find a professor, a career counselor, or family friend, etc. who you trust and who will give you candid advice. The most valuable thing I took away from my law school experience was my experience and relationship with my professor and advisor at my law school. If you are still in school, try to find a professor who you really connect with and ask them for help with your career search, with a networking strategy, etc.
Further, if you are still in school reach out to your career counselors, see if they have resources for you and if you have a personal connection with them. If you have graduated, reach out to old professors who you enjoyed working with or the career person who is dedicated to help the alumni community – ask them for help. Try to find an advocate in a mentor who is willing to give you candid advice and knows your priorities. After I had received job offers, I called my mentors to ask for their advice on how best to proceed and to weigh my options with me. If you have not found these mentors at your law school, reach out to old family friends or join local network associations and mentoring programs. Try to seek individuals who take an interest in you and then ask them for help.
2. Reach out to people
Jumping off this previous notion, reach out to people you want to meet. I have been told repeatedly by senior professionals that they like when students or young professionals reach out to them via LinkedIn, email, etc. to get to know them. If you see someone with a very interesting career path – send them a note and ask if they may have time to meet for coffee if they are local or have time for a phone call. Ask them about their career paths and what they thought were career-defining moments. If you reach out and they do not respond, that is okay – there was no harm in asking or reaching out. As long as you are polite and genuine, you will be surprised how many people are willing to talk to you and give you advice. Soak up this advice up and stay in touch with these professionals who inspired you.
I once walked up to a partner at a law firm and said, “Hi my name is Milou – you have my dream job, do you think you would ever have time to tell me how you got to where you are today?” He was flattered and we met for coffee a few weeks later and discussed his background and steps I should be taking in my career trajectory. I asked him how I should ask professionals to meet me and he said just be yourself and keep doing exactly what you are doing. Be polite and sincere and reach out to those who inspire you or those who have a career path that speaks to your future goals.
To those professionals who may inspire others, if a student or young professional does reach out, try to dedicate some time to answering their questions. Our lives always seem too busy and chaotic and we can always find reasons not to respond to someone asking for help, but if someone does and you think you may have resources or time for them, respond to them when you get a chance and help them in any way you can. Consider it a means to pay it forward for the future work force in the hopes that people will continue to help young professionals as they enter their careers.
3. Be persistent
No, please do not send your idol multiple requests on LinkedIn – they will not like that. But do reach out to recruiters about jobs you are interested in, send the job posters on LinkedIn notes expressing interest, and follow up. Send thank you notes to those who interview you, thank you notes to those who have decided not to pursue your application, and those who have advocated for you. If you asked someone to help as an internal reference, if you find out you were not selected for the position, send them a thank you note anyways. They still advocated for you and they may still be a reference later on for the next job.
Follow up with those who emailed you back but then did not respond when you replied. Be persistent in a polite and up front way. Tell people you are interested in the position (if you really are) and check in on status updates if it will not jeopardize your application. If a recruiter or H.R. professional told you they would give you information on Friday but you have not heard anything by Monday or Tuesday, call them and check in to see if they have any more information. Be persistent in a way that shows that you are interested in the position you applied for and are eager to hear about next steps.
4. Find local events and networking groups
Do your homework. If you were like me, I was at home most of my days during unemployment so use your time wisely. Research local professional networking events, roundtables, and groups that you may want to join and go to their events. If you cannot afford to pay membership dues like most individuals post-graduate, reach out to the event organizers and ask if you may be able to join anyway. I found that most of these organizers were impressed that I reached out and were happy to help a recent graduate find their way. Register for any events you find interesting and attend these events with a goal to meet two to three individuals. Ideally these events will have many participants and while it would be amazing if you could meet all of them, try to focus on a few who you can really connect with versus just idly networking with all of them.
Introduce yourself and tell them your elevator pitch (hi I just recently graduated from <insert law school name> and am passionate about <insert your passion [like compliance or regulatory work]> and I am here today to meet professionals like yourself in my local network). People will respond to your proactive nature and will most likely want to help you in your job search. I spent the past 4.5 months after taking the bar exam stressing about my bar results and working my butt off to network, meet professionals, and apply for jobs. I tried my best to be patient, but it was not easy.
Everyone kept telling me that I was doing all of the right things and that it would all work out. This is true, but in the moment when you are stressing about student loans, bills, etc. it can be hard to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But trust in yourself and in your network. You worked hard to get where you are and you need to keep working hard to advocate for yourself. Get your name out there, meet people, and tell them your story. You will be surprised how many people will tell you that they went through the same thing and how willing they are to help you.
I would like to thank my family, friends, past colleagues, mentors, and new professionals I have met during my job hunt. Thank you for helping me, meeting with me, and giving me advice as it was hugely valuable and helped me get my job. Best of luck to all of those still searching, you will look back at this period of unemployment one day and ask yourself why you were stressing out so much and think you should have enjoyed your free time more, but finding a job is stressful and as long as you are trying your best it will work out. For now though, enjoy sleeping in because I will miss that and walking my dog in the middle of the day the most.
Two Months into My First Job
Now I am two months into my first post-graduate position. I decided to compile all of content into one source for future professionals looking to enter the compliance field after law school. I ended up taking a job at a consulting firm, which focuses more on regulatory compliance than traditional corporate compliance work. Ultimately I am happy with my decision and am settling into my job well. I definitely had to get used to waking up at a reasonable time to get dressed, but now that I have found a tolerable drive to work during rush hour traffic, I feel like I am thriving.
I am enjoying getting to know my co-workers, my company’s culture and the ins and outs of the new regulatory landscape I am working in. However, it is unbelievable how quickly you forget how challenging it was to search for a job once you have become accustomed to getting a paycheck every other week. I have only been working in my position since the beginning of December and yet I notice that I am already looking back on my application experience with rose-colored glasses. I am starting to forget what the application anxiety felt like - waiting to hear from job applications, waiting to hear back from recruiters, and waiting until you knew for certain that you got the job.
Just this past week, I got a phone call from a recruiter about the next steps from an interview I had back in October. Naturally, I politely declined because I was no longer interested in the job since I have taken a full-time opportunity that I am enjoying, but I was shocked that it took them that long to get back to me. The recruiter asked me why I did not let her know that I was considering another job offer and it was honestly because I figured they had passed on my application because it took so long to get back to me otherwise I would have sent a note sooner. But it just goes to show that it may take months for recruiters to get back to you with next steps, which can be incredibly frustrating. I am using this as a reminder that it takes time to get a job and I need to dedicate resources to help others if and when they ask for my help.
What I have taken away from the experience is the reality that you quickly forgot how stressful it is to find a job. I do not want to forget how challenging it is to land a job because I do not want to take my role for granted or lose touch with those going through the job application experience. I am thankful that I got to write my thoughts down to share with others looking for a job but I am also thankful because I will use it for my own use to remind me what it was like.
I want to remember that looking for a job is challenging and scary but also an exciting life experience. In my career I hope that professionals always come ask me for my advice and ask for help when they need it. I want others to feel compelled to share what they are going through and I want to advocate for others like so many professionals advocated for me during my job search.
A week into my first job, I sent hand written notes to my professional references who had answered a few too many questions on my behalf about my experience, my personality, and my work ethic to thank them for helping me in such an impactful way. Those sponsors and mentors answered questions on my behalf and took time out of their schedules to help me get my first job. These individuals inspired me to continue to help others. Once you get that first job, try to do the same in your own way – send a LinkedIn update, an email, or something that reminds your references how grateful you are for their help.
I hope that when I get a chance to make an introduction, review a resume, or discuss a candidate for a job I make my mentors, sponsors, and larger network proud. I will continue to try my best to help future professionals when they send me an email or LinkedIn request because of the many individuals that helped me land my first job. I will try my best not to forget what it was like to apply for jobs and am very thankful I have this resource to remind myself about the challenges of searching for a job and I hope it is read by people going through the experience and helps in some way.
Good luck with your job hunt – you are doing the right thing and it will certainly pay off. Do not forget to thank those who help you get the job and keep them close for the next time they need your help or you are ready for your next position.
[Milou Lammers is an Associate Attorney at alliantgroup in Houston, Texas. She holds a Juris Doctor from the University of Richmond School of Law and a B.A. from Middlebury College. She has prior work experience in global compliance and ethics in the U.S. and the E.U. from work assignments with large international companies in a variety of industries including defense, manufacturing, and banking. She has created compliance policies and programs for different companies with a particular focus on the G.D.P.R. She lives in Houston, Texas and can be reached at email@example.com.]