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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 17, 2016

I’m leaving a miserable job and need a break to decompress. Can I take it or will the employment gap hurt my career?

Julie Q. Brush

Any kind of change in one’s life causes stress and at times, anxiety. Sometimes change is positive, and other times it’s not. You’re currently leaving a job that has caused you misery and need some time off to decompress. And while your decision to leave a bad job creates positive change, there is also anxiety regarding how your current personal needs may compromise your future career.

When determining whether to take the time to charge your batteries…or charge ahead, you must understand the current market dynamics regarding employment gap tolerance and take inventory of your health and welfare. Then, prioritize and weigh the factors. Let’s examine them below.

Current Market Dynamics

The legal profession of old was far more static than it is today. The in house legal department was not as ubiquitous or robust and law firms were a kinder, gentler place to ride out a long career. Consequently, mobility among lawyers was infrequent. When movement did occur, it was a lily pad leap from one job…right to another. So employment gaps on resumes hinted that there was “something wrong” with a candidate – and that s/he was damaged goods.

Fast-forward 20 years and the legal world is a vastly different place with job-hopping and employment gaps at an all time high. So what has driven the evolution? A few primary factors include:

  • Innovation and the birth…and death of emerging companies
  • Corporate globalization
  • Increased M&A activity
  • Large domestic and global economic swings (and the accompanying employment fallout)
  • A new generation entering the workforce – with its own set of values and views on work, play and career…

… and the rise of the in house legal department, which has served as a magnet for lawyers of all shapes and sizes. Its increased importance has shifted the balance of power away from the law firms and has affected how law firms operate today. This new way of operating has fueled the more frequent comings and goings of associates and partners alike.

Adding to the mobility and employment gap mix are professionals in other market sectors including sales, engineering, marketing and the c-suite – with an increasing number taking time off between liquidity events or just to spend time away from work.

Given this market reality, employers and other professionals are more socialized around mosaic careers. They understand that the employment landscape has changed and a greater number of lawyers today make multiple moves, take time off, relocate and/or try something “new”. So this profile has become the norm rather than the exception and generally speaking, no longer presents the professional red flags it once did in times past.

Your Health and Well Being

Being in a miserable job doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow pile-on that tests your patience, fortitude and sometimes your sanity…over a long period of time. By the time a professional escapes such a situation, s/he feels exhausted without an ounce of gas left in the tank.

Those who are in this state of being are at a material disadvantage in the job market. Why? Finding a new job is not for the faint to heart and in order to do your best, you need to feel your best. Otherwise, you’ll project your anxiety/lack of energy/anger/frustration/lack of inspiration etc. in interviews and in every interaction you have…which will compromise your candidacy. So decompressing and getting back to the center is imperative before you engage in a job search. And the good news is that today’s market makes it easier to do so without being branded or penalized.

After balancing these two factors, I strongly advise that you take a healthy break…now. And not worry about the employment gap it creates. If you still feel uneasy, give yourself a defined period of time to relax, work out, catch up on your sleep, travel, spend time with friends etc. – and then start your search efforts on a specific date. This way, you will have a set plan on when to put the wheels back in motion and will be able to better enjoy yourself in the meantime.

You currently have a unique opportunity to take some time for You – to smell the roses and do the things you typically don’t have time to do. So take it. Don’t feel guilty or fearful. You have the rest of your life to dedicate your time to work. The market will wait and when you’re ready…it will welcome you with open arms.

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