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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

March 15, 2016

I’m thinking of moving from a ‘glamorous’ but low paying legal job to a less desirable one that better pays the bills. I’m worried about the optics, so what’s the best way to ‘own’ a job that I might not be proud of?

Julie Q. Brush

Everything in life is a series of trade offs. Very rarely does one “have it all”. Working in a ‘glamorous’ job is certainly appealing and has its personal and professional virtues (who doesn’t love a little glamour?), but if it’s tough to make ends meet, the clock will eventually run out on your ability to remain in such a high profile position. When it does, pragmatism will drive your next career move and guide you towards opportunities that will offer less in terms of glitz, and more in terms of moolah.

Before I answer your specific question, I’d like to address your reference to accepting a position of which you might not be proud. This is a critical juncture in your career – and this move will set the tone for moves to come. In addition, the legal market is active. Jobs are out there and today’s lawyers enjoy a variety of employment options. So settling on a position that embarrasses you in any way should be avoided. Settling will affect your self-esteem, your attitude, your performance…and your career. And I guarantee you will depart soon after your arrival – adding another notch to your job belt.

I understand that you may be feeling a bit low having to leave an exciting role – and that everything in comparison may look dull. But there are other interesting and exciting fish in the sea. So the best way to “own” your new position is to choose a role that fulfills things that you value. In order to give yourself the best shot at securing such a position, start your job search by identifying the following:

  • What substantive work interests you? What would you like to learn in a new role?
  • What kind of culture do you prefer (Slow? Predictable? Fast-paced? Vibrant? Conservative?)
  • What kind of employers appeal to you (in house [tech/retail/energy] law firm [big, medium, small], consulting, accounting firm etc.) and you are willing to consider?
  • What specifically do you like about your current glamorous job? In what capacity do you think you could find this in a new job? What do you not like about your current job (other than the low compensation)?
  • Where do you see your career in 2/5/10 years? What type of position would ideally set your on that path?
  • What is the minimum take home compensation you need and would be willing to accept?

These are a few key questions to ask yourself before you explore the market in a meaningful way. Being clear in these areas will help you pursue the roles that check the boxes – and understand those that don’t. Once you’ve proactively explored opportunities, the market will give you a sense of your marketability and what options are available to you. Then you can make your decisions accordingly.

By following this process, you will increase your chances at securing a role that interests you and one of which you can be proud. Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, explaining the reasons behind your departure will be fairly common so you’ll need to “own” your career choices. When discussing, you need to exude confidence in your decision with an explanation that includes (1) the positives about your last job; (2) reason for leaving; and (3) the virtues that pulled you to your current role. If you act insecure or embarrassed, this will reflect poorly on you to others. Below are different ways to say what you seek.

Sample Message #1:

My role at Employer X was fantastic and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot and had the opportunity to meet the most interesting people. It was a highly sought after position and I was proud to have landed it. With this said, the compensation for the role was low and while I would have loved to stay, I needed to find a position that allowed me to remain in the Bay Area/New York/LA/London/Hong Kong/Miami etc. I was attracted to my current position because of the opportunity to develop a transactions practice and work with great people in the retail space.

Sample Message #2:

I loved my job on the Hill and had the opportunity to work at the center of politics with amazing people. Despite the cache and excitement, the role paid well below market and unfortunately I had to make the tough decision to leave. It was hard leaving such a great role, but I’ve found a position that provides me with a solid salary, interesting work and good coworkers.

Sample Message #3:

Working for Company X was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was fun, glamorous and the work was interesting. Unfortunately, the compensation made it tough for me to stay so I had to move on. My current position is terrific in a different way: it is a solid, steady company with a large legal department. The technology is known and I am receiving strong mentoring. While I have appreciated this role and learned a good deal, the opportunity for growth is somewhat limited and I see my next move to a smaller company.

Sample Message #4:

My last job was awesome. The work was challenging, the founders were high profile and we were on a rocket ship. In exchange for the opportunity, I agreed to a low salary. After three years, it was time for me to move on to another role that could offer a more competitive compensation. The position checked some of the boxes and also the people are great so I know I ultimately made the right move.

When it’s hard to make ends meet…even the most glamorous job makes it tough to stay. And the employment options that follow may seem like chopped liver. But the market is good and great opportunities are out there. So do not do yourself a disservice and settle for a job of which you would not be proud. Know what interests you, inspires you and help move you closer to your goals – and pursue with vigor. You may not get everything you wish for, but you’ll find a role that you can “own” and allows you to hold your head high.

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