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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 2, 2018

My GC is leaving and the execs are going to conduct a search for her replacement. I want the job, but the best they can offer me is Interim GC, which infuriates me. Should I take it or quit?

Julie Q. Brush

I understand your disappointment with not being chosen to fill your boss’s shoes on a permanent basis. But it’s not prudent to let your emotions drive important career decisions. You’ll end up on the short end of the stick every time. Take a deep breath and give yourself a little time to process and clear your mind. When your blood has lost its boil, it’s time to assess your options and determine you best strategic career move. Logically.

If your goal is to be a GC, you will need to understand what profile and skills are required to compete effectively for these opportunities; and gain as much experience as you can honing your skills accordingly. One area that gives candidates a leg up when competing for GC positions is prior GC experience (and all the knowledge and experience that goes with it). It’s not an absolute requirement for every single GC opportunity, but it is marketable and can provide candidates with a distinctive edge.

In your situation, you have two options: (1) Turn down the interim GC offer, quit and apply for GC positions as a candidate with no job and no prior GC experience; or (2) Take the interim GC role and grab the temporary title. Then gain as much experience as you can in this leadership position and give yourself an edge when applying for future GC positions.

While you perceive this pass-over as a big negative, you can turn it into a great career development opportunity. An opportunity that not every lawyer has. So my advice is to capitalize on it. Take the position and learn as much as you can. And put your heart and soul into doing the best job possible. Take the responsibility seriously and go in with a game plan for your approach to the role. And execute. In addition, create visibility with the other executives and perfect your “executive presence”. Not only is this a chance for you to learn, it’s also an opportunity for others to see you shine.

During this time, be proactive and explore the GC market. See what the market tells you about your background and marketability for these opportunities. In addition, after spending some time in the interim role (and demonstrating your competence and value), approach the executives and ask if they would reconsider you for the position on a permanent basis. Reiterate your interest as well as your accomplishments in the role and see what they have to say. You’ve now had some time to prove yourself; so another swing for the fence might prove successful this go-around. You never know what dynamics may have transpired since you took over as interim GC, so the execs may have a change of heart about you. If so, break open the champagne and congratulate yourself for a job well earned. But if the execs are still locked on hiring an outside lawyer, stay positive and express your appreciation for the opportunity they have given you. Nobody likes a sore loser.

If a new GC is hired, you can either stay or leave. But if you have no compelling offer in hand, I recommend you stay and learn as much as you can during your remaining tenure. You might be pleasantly surprised by your new situation. Even if you continue to pound the pavement, it’s easier to look for a job when you already have a job. So why create the added hurdle?

Big disappointments can leave a person feeling angry, demoralized and hopeless. These are powerful emotions that can sabotage a career if they become key drivers for career decisions. And everyone in his or her career (and life) will experience disappointment. But how we each deal with it will vary. For those who can harness these emotions and keep their negative influences at bay, more logical and positive decisions can follow.

You have a wonderful opportunity in front of you. So use it to your benefit – it’s all upside.

Now Keep Calm and Carry On.

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