When embarking on any journey, it’s essential to know where you’re headed. A detailed map can help you stay focused, avoid wasted time and arrive at your destination faster. That’s why career mapping is a valuable tool for attorneys. It’s especially powerful if you’ve been in a specific practice area or niche industry for a while and you’re ready to do something different.
What Is Career Mapping?
Career mapping is the creation of a personalized, long-term plan for advancement within your organization or field. It outlines where you are right now and where you’d like to ultimately end up—as well as all the steps necessary in between.
Traditionally, career maps are developed by employers for or with their employees. However, we recommend candidates take a proactive stance and perform their own career mapping. Having a solid, actionable plan for where your career could go—based on the experience you already have—can open a whole new world of possibilities.
Creating Your Own Personal Career Map
Developing your career map needn’t be stressful or tremendously time consuming. You can write it out by hand or create it in a Word document or spreadsheet. There are even career map templates available online to help guide you. Here are the basic steps you should follow to map out your own vision for what’s down the road:
- Define where you are right now in your career. This is your starting point, a professional profile of sorts. It’s a self-analysis exercise that can give you a clearer understanding of your big-picture goals. Be honest and thorough. You should include information such as:
- Professional experience: roles and responsibilities
- Professional achievements
- Hard and soft skills, with an emphasis on transferable skills
- The aspects of your job you dislike
- The aspects of your job you like the most
- Strengths and areas in which you excel
- Shortcomings and weaknesses (e.g., skills gaps)
- Decide where you want to go. Now it's time to visualize your future. Describe the type of work you want to be doing, what companies you're interested in and the kind of work-life balance you want to achieve. What title and responsibilities do you aspire to have? Think of this step like creating the description for your dream job.
At the same time, you also want to stay flexible with your goals. There will be more opportunities for you if you’re open to working in a variety of industries versus a specific one or two. For instance, if you’re solely working on commercial contracts in real estate, you could translate that experience into a contract focus that’s applicable to any industry (i.e., NDAs, SOWs, vendor Agreements, procurement contracts, etc.).
- Figure out how to connect the dots. How can you get from #1 all the way to #2? Start by finding lawyers who are already in a job you aspire to have. LinkedIn is a great tool for investigating what route someone took to wind up in their ideal job role. You can also track down attorneys who previously held your title or worked in a similar area—and follow the breadcrumbs to see where they went after they left the company. This will give you some ideas and inspiration as to what’s possible for you.
If you come across a lawyer on LinkedIn who has been successful in a career path you’re interested in, don’t be afraid to reach out. Send them a message and ask how they were able to make that move. What skills and/or experience did they leverage in order to land their current position? What keywords did they focus on in their resume? Try to get a better understanding of their company’s department structure and business model, as well as its approach to lawyer professional development. For example, if your end goal is to become a GC, companies like Procter & Gamble and The Coca Cola Company are good destinations. Based on our market intel, these organizations prepare all their attorneys with the skill set to eventually become a GC from day one. Be sure to inquire about company culture and cross-functional work as some large organizations may divide their legal teams into niche-focused silos, making it more difficult to grow within the company.
You might also benefit from some real-world insight from a mentor or trusted member of your network. Ask for clear, unfiltered advice on making yourself more marketable to your target practice area, industry niche or organization. Find out who you should be building connections with and what your resume really needs to take you where you want to go.
- Set realistic mini goals to propel you forward. Now that you have a better idea of what you need to work on, it’s time to create a plan of action. Resist the temptation to set lofty goals—instead, establish smaller and more attainable objectives and set a deadline for achieving them. Be sure that your mini-goals are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound. This will make it easier to track your progress.
For example, if you want to transition from government work to a private law firm, it helps to have hands-on experience in areas firms focus on, such as antitrust or tax crimes. Ask your supervisor about projects or training opportunities that can help you acquire knowledge in these areas. Or, if you have your sights set on being a GC, volunteer to head up an employee resource group at your organization in order to obtain leadership experience. If you're in-between jobs and at a career crossroads, consider interim opportunities. Interim work gives you the flexibility of a short-term commitment (3 to 18 months) while allowing you to gain valuable new skills and experience that you can transfer to a permanent role. Every time you reach a mini goal, take a minute to congratulate yourself! Making note of how far you’ve come will help you stay motivated along the way.
- Keep checking in. Create a regular schedule (e.g., quarterly) for reviewing your career map and evaluating the progress you’re making toward your goals. Remember that your map is a living, breathing document that’s subject to change. Your goals may shift over time along with your action steps. Be ready to adapt your plan as needed.
Having a thoughtfully planned career map can give you more confidence and a greater sense of control over your future. It can also help ensure that every decision you make brings you continually closer to the legal career you were meant for.