We have all been told that staying at a job for a long time is an asset. In past generations, people were known to spend the entirety of their careers at the same organization. In current times, however, the landscape has changed and it is recognized that most of us will likely make several career moves. The reality of the marketplace is different than it once was, and the stigma that was once attached to making a career move has decreased.
Staying at the same company or law firm merely because you do not want to be perceived as a “job-hopper” is not a sound strategy. If you are making an informed and well-reasoned job change to advance your career, you cannot be held back by your fear of being thought of as a job-hopper. A job-hopper is someone who cannot successfully keep a job long-term, and is running away from something. Conversely, if you are proactively seeking a new challenge and judiciously evaluating your career options, you are not aimlessly jumping from one job to the next.
In deciding whether to stay or leave your current role or position, you need to conduct some internal analysis about your current employment situation, and consider the following questions:
Are you engaged in challenging work that keeps you motivated? Put simply, are you happy with your job duties? This is a good first step towards the introspection you need in order to assess, and ultimately guide, your professional life. Are you happy with the work that is assigned to you, or do you feel stagnant, bored or frustrated by the work?
Do you have room to grow? I cannot emphasize this question enough because it forces you to think into the future a bit and take ownership of your own career. If you are content now, do you anticipate that your contentment will increase or at least continue at this current law firm/company? If and when you decide that you really want to grow your role/stature at the organization, are there opportunities to do so?
Do you envision yourself taking on new roles/responsibilities in the future at your company/firm? This goes hand-in-hand with the preceding question, but it takes into account the notion that growth at your company does not have to mean traditional upward mobility. Growth at your company can mean lateral growth, as in working with a new business unit, taking on work outside of your niched practice area, or working with new internal business clients. Moving laterally within a company or firm can be very satisfying and help keep your creative juices flowing, so do not think of “growth” as merely ascending to become the General Counsel and/or Managing Partner.
Are you perceived by your employer as someone who is essential to the team? Interestingly, this question can often cut both ways: your employer may find you essential (especially if you are a long-term employee), yet, ironically, you may feel restricted by your “essential” role. For example, our company was working with an experienced healthcare lawyer who handled a lot of promotional review work for his pharmaceutical company. He was certainly viewed as “essential” to the company for that work, but he longed to branch outside of that work and felt that he was unable to stretch beyond that role at his company. In essence, he realized that his company’s perception of him was no longer aligned with his motivations and goals – in order to branch out of this “essential” role, he felt that he needed to make a career move.
Frequently, people stay at jobs because it is easier than making a move! Change is scary and lawyers are especially risk adverse. It can be daunting to start over at a new place and prove yourself again – you need to ascertain the culture of the new organization, find people with whom you connect, and figure out all of the unwritten rules that govern a workplace. So is the fear of starting over why you are staying? Are you staying merely because you feel that there is inherent utility in being a “homegrown” employee?
Staying at your current position merely because you “grew up” there is not going to benefit you in the long term. Ironically, this concept of being “homegrown” can actually do you a disservice because sometimes, your long-term employer cannot view you in the here and now, but rather always envisions you as you were years ago. This is analogous to the parent/child dynamic when a parent refuses to step back and really see that his/her child is no longer a toddler, and invariably has different likes/dislikes and skills than he/she previously encompassed. We have worked with many lawyers whose primary reason for making a move was to shed this concept of being “homegrown” so that they can be viewed in an objective light. Specifically, we have worked with lawyers who started at their firms right out of law school who believe that they were pigeonholed by their tenure – some feel that they are not viewed as potential rainmakers because the elder partners still see a young associate in them; others note that because they were successful in handling a certain type of work, the firm just kept feeding them that type of work without variation; others describe a dynamic in which management at the company will not consider them for a higher-level position/promotion because they have always been viewed as a “steady Eddie” who consistently gets the job done but is not ambitious and is not seeking a challenge.
Considering a career move is not easy – it takes time, introspection, and courage. If you start with the above-mentioned questions, you may find that your answers point you in the direction of staying put at your current employer. If not, then perhaps you should allow yourself to selectively explore exciting opportunities. Regardless of the outcome, you cannot be afraid to conduct some “internal inventory” in order to determine the best course for your career.
Melissa A. Peters, Esq. is Managing Director at Princeton Legal Search Group. She focuses exclusively on the permanent placement of lawyers in law firm and in-house settings. She can be reached at 732.744.3400 and firstname.lastname@example.org.