Mentors make a difference

By Cindy Weiss, CLAS Today

Al McMahon, CLAS ’75, and Eric Spose, CLAS ’12, meet at the Alumni Center.

No one in Eric Spose’s family has been a lawyer or taken the LSATs, so when the psychology major and honors student from North Haven decided to go to law school, he cast about for someone who could help direct him.

He found that person in P. Alain McMahon, ’75 CLAS, a retired lawyer from Hebron who drew on his corporate and nonprofit experience to answer Eric’s questions.

Talking with someone who has “been there and done that” was invaluable to Eric, who graduated in May.

“He told me about his experiences. I shared my interests, and he asked me questions,” he says, recalling their first mentoring meeting last fall.

The two were introduced when Eric, president of the Law Society at UConn, was referred to an alumni mentor program organized by CLAS alumni director Caitlin Trinh (formerly Caitlin Williams). She connected Eric with Al McMahon, and they met several times over Eric’s senior year.

All-round review

McMahon says that his goal was to help Eric “get from being a very competent student to the professional world.” Understanding your own weaknesses and developing interpersonal skills can be as important as intelligence and content knowledge, he says.

First, he gave Eric an exercise to work on – a 360-degree review of himself that was to be filled out by a fellow student, a family member, and someone who had supervised him.

They ranked Eric on his leadership and communication skills and his emotional awareness, among other things. Spose also filled out the survey about himself.

“I gave myself lower scores than everyone else did!” he says.

The exercise taught him what he needed to work on, but he also learned not to always expect perfection.

“I have high expectations. He told me, in law, you’re not going to get 10 out of 10 every time,” he says.

The Perry Mason myth

Lawyers can’t expect to be Perry Mason and win every case, McMahon learned early in his career. Instead, they deal with compromises.  McMahon started as a legal aid attorney, litigating. He later worked on healthcare and employee benefits issues for the Travelers Corporation and United Health Care, retiring in 2008. He oversaw a division of 300 people and did a lot of hiring over the course of his career. It taught him about managing people, insights he shared with Eric.

“Being humble is absolutely critical,” says McMahon. “How you treat people will facilitate how they behave.”

He helped Eric revise his resume to highlight achievements, because employers “have three seconds to look at a resume, usually.”  In mock interviews, he practiced with Eric the two basic interview techniques. In one, interviewers focus on fit —     whether they will want to spend 8 or 10 hours a day working with this potential employee. In the other, the interviewer looks for skills the person brings to the firm.

“It’s been great to have someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off of and get his opinion on,” says Eric. “He’s been very open to what I want to get out of this.”

Eric plans to take a year off from academics before attending law school.

McMahon, who now consults and does volunteer work locally and abroad for nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity, was glad to share his knowledge.

“There were a lot of cases where someone took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. I hope to pass it along,” he says.

To learn more about the alumni mentor program in CLAS, contact Caitlin Trinh.

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