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Professor Lenni Benson specializes in immigration law and political asylum and is nationally recognized in the field. In 2008 she was honored with other members of the Safe Passage Project[…]

Law professor Lenni Benson encourages young people not to be tied down by the few job titles they know, and to start cold calling.

Question: What is your career advice to young people?

Lenni Benson: I think a lot of us know a few job titles; we know teacher, nurse, flight attendant, doctor, lawyer. The thing I would encourage everyone to do when they're thinking about a career, is just go meet people. You can use the Internet now. So many people are very positive in web sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook, where someone will describe where they work and their education and their background. So if you think you're interested in working, let's say as an engineer in a company, start reading the backgrounds and profiles of all those engineers. Then write a very respectful e-mail or pick up the phone—the phone is really effective—and call someone and say, "Would you mind talking to me about yourself?"

Most people are so flattered to talk about themselves. And you can [ask], "Was it a straight line? Did I have to take these courses then get this first job, then that job?" I think what is so wonderfully liberating, particularly in the United States, is we'll find many people didn't pursue a career path that was a direct ladder but instead have a patchwork quilt of relationships, opportunities, failures, and it can make you see that the world is yours. And you can talk to people who love what they do and suddenly say to yourself, "You know, I really enjoy being in a shipping department in a large international company because look at all the people you talk to and the complexities and linguistics you have to solve. Who knew that being in the US military was a way to prepare for a career in linguistics management?"

Recorded on: August 31, 2009

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