To those of you who view your job as a necessary evil or daily drudgery, the phrase “dream job” can seem just that – a dream, unattainable and unrealistic. Yet there are a handful of people who, against all odds, manage to reach this golden standard.
Caesar Lopez is one of those people. As a first year law student at Pace University School of Law and former Division 1 soccer player, Caesar had clear goals for his career. He was set on practicing law in sports, which would allow him to wed his two passions under one title. Additionally, against traditional wisdom, he was determined to move in-house immediately after law school.
As Legal Counsel at Major League Soccer, Caesar has achieved both of these goals. Even more impressive is that he has done so at just 30 years old. However, the unconventional career path that Caesar took to reach his dream was fraught with several challenges.
Caesar overcame those obstacles, and along the way, he learned many valuable lessons about what it takes to achieve your dream job. Here are his top six tips.
1. Don’t be afraid to be different and stand out.
“Avoid becoming a robot – if you’re doing what everyone else is doing, your chances of success diminish,” says Caesar. “But if you break from the status quo, you can accomplish great things.”
That’s why he encourages law students to approach the job hunt creatively. “They should do whatever they have to do to be visible, whether that means forging connections with people or publishing an article,” he says.
“There’s simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”
As a first year law student, Caesar left class early once to attend a sports law CLE event in New York City. “The event was geared toward seasoned attorneys. I had a feeling that only a few students would be in attendance, so I took the event as an opportunity to establish important connections in the sports industry,” he says. “I was one of only two students. That made me stand out.”
Caesar identifies this as one of the defining moments of his career.
At that event, he got the chance to introduce himself to the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Major League Soccer, and their ensuing conversation was the catalyst Caesar needed to propel him into the world of sports law.
2. Network, network, network.
Throughout his career, Caesar has spared no effort to network. He attends as many networking events as he possibly can, and once drove two hours from Connecticut to New York City and back in order to connect with someone he wanted to meet. He also makes sure to keep in touch with former colleagues, classmates and job interviewers, whether or not he ultimately took the job.
Why the emphasis on networking? “When people heard my name, I wanted it to sound familiar to them and more importantly, have a positive impression,” says Caesar. “I didn’t want to be just another resume on their desk.”
Impressively, he never has been. He made it a point to build professional relationships with potential employers before completing any official applications, and as a result, he has never had to throw his resume into a “proverbial black hole.”
Caesar credits his personal network with helping him secure many jobs, including his dream job. “It was probably one of the biggest advantages I had,” he says. “There’s simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”
3. Follow your passion.
“Figure out what you want to do and embrace it,” says Caesar. “We all get caught up in what we think we’re supposed to be doing, but at the end of the day, you’ll be happiest doing something you’re most passionate about.”
Not only does passion lead to happiness, but for Caesar, it’s crucial for success. “If you don’t have the passion, you’re probably not going to put in the necessary work,” he says. “You’re less likely to be successful.”
4. Never settle, but be willing to make necessary concessions.
After just one year of law school, Caesar knew exactly what he wanted from his career. He also knew what he did not want. “Everyone told me that I would have to spend some time at a law firm, and then go in-house, if I got lucky,” he remembers. “Frankly, that was never going to work for me. I’m pretty ambitious and I needed my dream to come true faster.”
True to this, Caesar never worked at a law firm. “Although I saw the advantages of a firm, I was fortunate enough to jump immediately into an in-house role,” he says. But he also didn’t go directly into sports law. He understood that in order to one day achieve his dream job, he would have to understand different areas of businesses.
Indeed, his first job out of law school was a far cry from practicing law in sports. For more than four years, he worked in the legal department at a global consumer products skin care company, where he learned about all areas of the business and developed into a true business affairs attorney. “That experience was vital because it helped prepare me for my true passion,” he says. “It helped get me to where I am today.”
5. Take risks, as long as they’re calculated risks.
Caesar is no stranger to risk and can easily name two big ones he took over the course of his career. One was “putting all of [his] eggs in one basket,” so to speak. From law school onward, he focused nearly all of his energy on obtaining an in-house position in sports. Moreover, he did so at a time when legal jobs, especially those in the sports industry, were scarce.
Caesar also took a risk by interning in a non-traditional legal role. While his fellow law students worked as summer interns at big law firms or even, in the in-house legal departments, he took on a role in Major League Soccer’s Player Relations Department as a law student.
“If you have a plan B, you might not be as focused on plan A.”
Fortunately, both of those risks paid off. Ultimately, Caesar secured a job in sports, and the year he spent as an intern proved to be an advantage. Not only did he get his foot in the door at Major League Soccer, but he also received training in contract negotiation and drafting, skills that impressed his future employers.
However, Caesar is quick to note that the risks he took were calculated risks. “I made risky choices, but they were strategic moves that I thought through,” he says. “I absolutely considered all of the pros and cons, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t sweat a bit.”
6. Make a plan and stick to it.
“I definitely had a strategic plan in place which drove all of my decision making,” says Caesar. “I expected to practice law in sports.” He also refused to develop a contingency plan, even when his sister, who is also an in-house attorney, advised him to do so. His reason? “If you have a plan B, you might not be as focused on plan A,” he says.
That’s not to say that Caesar was never tempted to stray from his plan. “There were definitely times when I felt like I needed to find a job doing anything, just so that I could pay off my student loans,” he says. As a result, he sent his resume to handful of law firms. “But ultimately, in the back of my mind I always knew what I needed to do to reach my goal,” he affirms. “That’s what made things work out for me. I was very positive, put in the work and I believed in myself.”