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Common Pitfalls When Evaluating Your Next Career Move
By Warren Smith, LL.B.
Previously posted in Lawyers Weekly

Taking on a new position is never an easy decision – there is invariably stress around trying to assess if the role is the right fit, whether the new environment will ultimately be a match, while also facing the potential stress of leaving colleagues and a once familiar environment behind. 

As lawyers, we frequently have the added layer of bringing a very robust analytical mindset to evaluating the potential move, which in many cases leads to analysis paralysis, making an already difficult decision that much harder to navigate.  As a recruiter, I’ve had the opportunity to talk top talent through this important crossroad in their career, and seen my fair share of spreadsheets, pros & cons lists, and agonizing over trying to determine what the best and right decision is when faced with a career opportunity. 

Here are 4 common mistakes I see lawyers make when assessing a potential move in the market: 


Holding Out for the Perfect Opportunity 

One of the challenges lawyers face when assessing career options is only wanting to make a move for the ‘perfect’ opportunity.  In applying their legal analysis to an opportunity, they invariably end up focusing on the potential career risks, while failing to appreciate the great opportunity the role may afford them in developing their career.  The reality is perfect opportunities rarely come up; more often, there are great opportunities with some potential risk.  The key is recognizing there may be equal (or greater) risk by staying in your current role, and recognizing it is important to assess the potential of not only the role you may be considering, but also candidly examine your current role with the same critical lens to better assess a potential move. 


Making an Emotional Move 

At the other end of the spectrum is the emotional move, typically out of extreme frustration with your current environment.  Ironically, this commonly occurs where a lawyer has unsuccessfully been holding out for too long for the perfect opportunity.  If you sense this move may be giving you a sense of vindication, or escaping a career trap, these are signs you may be making an emotional move with your career.  While these can nonetheless yield great career opportunities, the risk here is your calculus in assessing a role may be based on the wrong variables, so it is more luck that it advances your career, than a planned approach to career development.    


Moving Away but Not Towards 

Emotional moves also are frequently good examples of career opportunities motivated by trying to move away from something, whereas I am a strong believer in career moves should be instead be about moving towards something.  You should have a clear outcome or benefit to your career (beyond getting away from a bad situation) that motivates a career move: five years from now, when you look back on your new position, what are the key skills or career milestones you expect to achieve with this role that you otherwise would not be able to accomplish in your current role?  If you can’t clearly articulate these benefits, consider whether you may be moving away, rather than towards, your new opportunity.   


Downward Spiraling  

Finally, one of the greatest challenges lawyers face in their career is what to do when you recognize you’ve made a bad career move.  Often, there becomes a temptation to immediately get out of the position, which can lead to a downward spiral – taking another risky position in the market simply to get out from the bad position you currently find yourself in.  While it may be counter-intuitive, in some circumstances it may be better to sit tight for a year while you assess your options.  Reflect on why you took this role – what lessons can you learn from this experience?  How would you approach a future opportunity differently, knowing what you know now?  What positive experiences can you take away from this current role?  By taking time to properly reflect on these issues, you will also present with much better maturity in a future interview – as it will show both wisdom and persistence on your part in how you approach your career in the market. 

In the end, it is critical to remain vigilant in approaching your career progression.  Your career is too important to leave merely to reactionary events: you should have a clear sense of what you want to accomplish, so you can better assess both your current situation, and potential opportunities that may present down the road. 

Warren Smith is the Managing Partner of The Counsel Network, Canada’s oldest and most respected lawyer recruitment and career consulting firms.  He is also the first Canadian to be elected President of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC), North America’s leading legal recruitment industry association.  You can follow him on twitter @lawheadhunter. 





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