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Career Advice for Kirstjen Nielsen

Vivia Chen

April 9, 2019

440px-Kirstjen_Nielsen_official_photoDear Kirstjen,

In light of your recent firing by President Donald Trump, I’m guessing that you’re not feeling too chipper at the moment. One minute you were hailed as the youngest person (at age 46) to lead Homeland Security, and the next minute you’re just another Trump discard.

It can’t be easy for you to figure out your next act, so permit me to offer you some career advice in my official capacity as The Careerist.

May I dispense with the niceties and get right to the point? (You’ve been described as “brusque” and “no-nonsense” by The New York Times so I’m guessing it’s OK if I bypass the sympathy stuff.) I know some of what I’m about to say comes too late to do you much good, but let’s keep in mind all the young people out there who can learn from your teachable moments. They might not look to you as a role model, but you can still shine as an example of how not to handle a career.

First, it should be obvious that you should have left your job a year ago when you could have salvaged your self-respect and reputation. As we all know, Trump took an early dislike to you and berated you in front of his cabinet for your hesitation to sign an order separating children from their parents at the border. (Gosh, is it true that you once hesitated?) You felt so humiliated by Trump that you offered your resignation. A week later, however, you decided to stay on. Apparently, you had a change of heart (maybe “heart” is not the right word), morphing into an ardent supporter of family separations.

From a career strategy point of view (let’s put aside the issue of whether yanking babies from their parents is the right thing to do), didn’t anyone ever tell you that when a boss shows displeasure toward you, it’s time to start looking for another job?

More confusing is why you stuck around after your mentor John Kelly bailed out. It’s not like Jared Kushner or Stephen Miller took you under their wings afterwards; in fact, they didn’t seem to like you either. Didn’t it occur to you that you’re a dead duck without a protector in that viper’s nest?

But enough of the past; let’s talk about your future. Again, to be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure what you can bring to the table. I know that you graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1999 and worked briefly as an associate at Haynes and Boone in Dallas. But that was many moons ago. Besides, I’m not sure what firm would want to feature the Baby Snatcher on its website. I mean, firms are very keen on being family-friendly these days.

There was a time when I thought you could join Fox News as a commentator. You, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter could have been the Three Blond Furies. Alas, Fox is unlikely to hire someone whom Trump has scorned, so I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

I suppose you can go back to your old consulting firm, Sunesis Consulting, which advises on governance and compliance. Again, the question is whether a corporate entity would want to associate with someone who pries kids away from their parents.

I’m afraid the options are not good. So my suggestion is for you to think outside the box.

What about doing something radical—like renouncing everything you’ve done as the leader of Homeland Security and being an advocate for abandoned children or orphans? Perhaps an entry-level job at Save the Children? UNICEF? Operation Smile?

Too much of a stretch? Well, it was just a thought.

With all good wishes,

The Careerist


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Vivia- you have posted some of my comments in the past. I LOVE your posts. I am tasked with doing a session on Women and The Law at the INTA Leadership meeting in the fall of 2019. Would you consider being a speaker? My contact information is below. I will be in NYC in June if you are available to meet then. Thank you for speaking up. Courage calls to courage everywhere. Keri Johnston

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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