The daily life of an in-house lawyer is all-consuming and finding time to thoughtfully and strategically consider your next career move can be daunting. While I am a proponent of being deeply engaged in work and fully present with your co-workers and family, I also believe that carving out time to creatively think about the future—beyond your next job—will benefit you and help inform the choices you make when you set out to make a change in your career.
Take the time to creatively visualize your life and career. Keep in the forefront of your mind what you want them to look like in, say, 20 years, and then imagine the steps you might take to get there.
Painting the Picture of Your Future
Begin this iterative and creative exercise with intentional brainstorming, envisioning how your career may grow, expand or change and focus on your goals and objectives to get there. Consider these things:
Company size— Will moving to a company that is larger or smaller positively benefit your career? Both have pros and cons and can help define your career path. Are you looking for more leadership and management opportunities? Would you like to broaden your practice area expertise? If this sounds like you, then moving to a larger company may afford you more opportunities for the growth you are seeking. If, however, you would prefer to focus on deepening your expertise in a specific practice area or working with a more intimate team, a smaller company may be for you.
Skill set—Do you have the right skills to get where you want to go? Look at your current skill set and consider how you can use it to your advantage. If your goal is to change your industry sector, consider which skills are transferable and how you might leverage your expertise to provide a bridge to an entirely different company and industry. Will enhancing your soft skills such as communication, relationship building and leadership open doors to the kind of opportunity you seek? If you want to change directions altogether, now may be the time to explore additional education that might benefit you in your next role. Expanding your skill set can make you more marketable to your targeted opportunities.
Location—Where do you physically see yourself living and working in the future? What if you had an opportunity to work within a different culture or country—would you take it? If your objective is to ultimately move to a new geography, research which companies in that location could use someone with your background and experience. Maybe moving is not right for your immediate next move, but when children no longer live at home, relocation is a greater possibility. Think about what you must do to prepare, qualify and increase the possibility of relocating five or 10 years down the road.
Compensation—What part of your overall portfolio does your annual compensation play today? Do you have specific compensation goals within a certain timeframe? What kind of career advancement will help you achieve them? If you are on track and meeting your current goals, what might the next financial goal be for you in 5–10 years? Compensation plays into the overall equation for everyone. There are some of you who have been practicing law for more than a couple of decades, have met your financial requirements and are now in a different risk/reward category. Now may be the time for you to leverage your expertise within a smaller company that has less cash compensation but an exit strategy with a potential payout.
Interests—What are you passionate about? Have you considered incorporating those interests into your career goals? Now may be the right time to choose an opportunity that syncs up with your values and/or is more mission oriented. Or, perhaps it is time to incorporate your personal interests (think food, cinema and environment) into your next professional role. Take a moment to consider and explore which professional opportunities will bring you closer to the things you enjoy while not at work. Marrying your interests and passions with your career can make your day-to-day even more fulfilling.
Navigating Your Path
As you consider these questions and what matters most to you, write down your answers. Map them out into a timeline with the most pressing priorities associated with your next move and the more idealistic requirements placed farther out at the 10- or even 20-year marks. Keep in mind, however, that life will take unexpected turns that will affect your goals and influence the direction you want to take, sometimes in surprisingly wonderful ways. So grant yourself permission to redesign and reimagine your journey from time to time.
While this is not as complicated as a chess game, it is definitely worth thinking two or three moves ahead. Be intentional in the choices you make as each step on your path should bring you closer to where you want to be in the long run. Try to be creative and forward thinking in a manner that won't stifle your ability to pivot to something new or to accept a change that may have limitations. Use the guides and mentors you encounter along the way to help you map out your career. Their experiences can be good blueprints to review as you shape your career.
Ultimately, there are no wrong turns on your career journey when you have a destination in mind. By creating an actual roadmap, you are putting yourself in control of the design and direction of your unique road to success.
* * * * * * *
Judy Allen is a partner in our Northern California offices (San Francisco and Palo Alto). Her search practice is focused on senior level and General Counsel positions within Fortune 1000 companies as well as on rapidly growing companies for whom she has created and developed in-house legal departments. Judy has consulted with clients throughout California and across the nation in collaboration with her colleagues.