How I Got My Job: Barbara Dickey, Associate Dean for Student Affairs (SJQ 1987)


1.      Where are you from and why did you go to law school?

I spent my childhood in Seattle and moved to Utah when I was a teenager.  I went to Brighton High and received both my B.A. and M.A. from the U.  I decided on law school after working as a paralegal at Holme Roberts & Owen.  My thinking was, I’m already doing this law stuff anyway, so I might as well get the law degree.

2.      What kinds of activities did you do in law school?  (Classes, jobs, clinics, externships)

During law school, I put myself on a track to specialize in bankruptcy, mainly because I had done bankruptcy as a paralegal and thought that was what I wanted to continue doing.  I did a Judicial Clinic with then-Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Zimmerman.  I clerked in Salt Lake City at Snow Christensen & Martineau after my first year, then went to Lillick McHose & Charles in Los Angeles after my second year.  L.A. was a really fun summer—back when firms wined and dined you.  I got to go to baseball games, beach parties, see Johnny Carson—it was great.  Following graduation I decided to join Snow Christensen in their bankruptcy group. I assumed it would be good because it was familiar.  I found, however, that bankruptcy practice and I were not a good fit.  I don’t have a business mind.  A definite lesson I learned is that being too narrowed and focused can preclude you from exploring other possibilities.

After practicing for awhile, I decided to do a judicial clerkship with U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins.  Then I had another baby (I had my first as a 3L) and took some time off.  I did another judicial clerkship with U.S. District Judge David Sam.  I ultimately joined American Stores Corporation as in-house counsel, doing dispute resolution in the real estate division.   When American Stores got bought out by Albertsons, the corporate  headquarters moved to Boise.  My life was here and I wanted to stay in Salt Lake.  So, I was looking for yet another job when this (dean of students) opened up.

3.      What are you doing now?  What do you love about it? How did you first make contact with your employer?  (May want to describe the things you did before you got this jobs).

My job title is Associate Dean for Student Affairs. I talk to students about personal and academic problems and try to help them find solutions.   I also manage a lot of specific issues and programs: student organizations, the London Consortium, study abroad, student awards and fellowships, ADA accommodations, exam reschedules, grades, the school’s ABA questionnaire, graduation reviews, bar certification, character & fitness, and general student disciplinary matters.   My favorite thing about this job is working with the students.  I really like helping them find creative solutions to their problems.   I also like the fact that I’m not tied to my desk doing paper work all the time.  I enjoy the variety of issues I deal with – getting to interact with people, helping to decide policy issues – and the fact that there are no billable hours, of course.  I loved being a law student, so it was very gratifying to be able to come back to a place where I had been so happy.  Before this job, I did something different every three years.  I’ve been doing this for 12 years now, so that tells you how much I like being here.  I remember meeting the dean of students during intro week of my first year and listening to him talk about his job. I thought it sounded like he had the greatest job ever – and I knew that someday I wanted his job.  And it happened.

4. How did you get this job?   What kinds of things gave you an edge?  (grades, work experience, connections/networking?)

I was a former student and had previously applied for a couple of other positions with the school, so people knew who I was. When this job opened up, someone forwarded me a notice and I applied.  My interview was with about eight faculty members and administrators sitting around a table.  They asked me a series of hypotheticals – how I would handle a variety of scenarios with students.  It was like the Socratic Method all over again.  Despite the fact that it was nerve racking, I felt comfortable with my answers.  I knew this job would be a good fit.

I think coming in with a lot of different experiences really helped, and knowing and being on good terms with some of the faculty helped (never burn bridges).  I doubt they cared one way or the other about how I had done academically.  They were much more interested in other things I could bring to the position.

5.      What tips do you have for students and alums who are job seeking? 

Don’t become so focused on what you think you want that you miss out on other interests and opportunities.  Don’t limit yourself.

Remember, it’s not a marriage, it’s a date.  If you don’t like what you’re doing, keep your eyes open for something else.

Even if your first job isn’t your dream job, it’s a first step.  Do that for a while, then take a second step.

Don’t give up if you initially don’t get a job where you want.  Just because they didn’t hire you for a specific job doesn’t mean they didn’t like you. They may actually end up hiring you for something even better.

Even if the obstacles seem insurmountable now, things have a way of working out in the end.  Be patient, but at the same time, keep moving forward.