Time for a change?

Fernando Garcia

Time for a change?

Humans are creatures of habit. We are prone to getting comfortable quickly and tend to like maintaining the status quo, especially when it comes to our jobs. Making a change requires a lot of ground work, it involves meeting new work colleagues, learning a new role, new processes, new reporting structures, sometimes a new industry and, most importantly, moving away from your comfort zone.

Some professionals enjoy experiencing change, while others aren’t so comfortable with it and resist making a career or job change for as long as they can.

Whichever camp you fall into, influential members of the legal profession say no in-house counsel should stay in the same role for more than three years, unless you were promoted during that time, you are working on a specific project with a set termination date, or if the role is giving you an opportunity to expand on your knowledge base or develop an expertise in areas where your experience is not yet at the level you want it to be.

When it comes time to make a move, the decision must be well thought out and move you closer toward your career goals. I had the good fortune of adding an associate general counsel to the Nissan Canada team this month. Because of his recent move, I asked my new colleague, Scott Mitchell, to share what tips and advice he had for in-house lawyers looking to change jobs in the near future or experiencing a change in employment.

He noted that “changing jobs is like a trade in pro sports. You know what you are giving up, but you won’t know exactly what you are getting until you arrive, so the most important tip I can give is to do your due diligence.”

He recommends that this due diligence process include:

  • • Learning all you can about the business for which you’ll be working and, more importantly, the people with whom you’ll be working.
  • • Asking questions about the culture, for example, the tenure of employees, and why they leave.
  • • Asking people what it’s like to work there and what their average day is like.
  • • Asking whether the business is growing or shrinking.

Scott explains, and I agree that, ultimately, “the goal is to find out what the new job is going to be like and whether it’s a better opportunity for you.” You must approach the interview as not only an opportunity for the employer to determine whether it wants to hire you, but also for you to determine whether you want to work for it.

This is critical because, if you’re not comfortable with the company’s corporate culture, the people, or the working environment, you are less likely to be successful. Too many changes in career over a short period of time can be as, if not more, problematic for your career than staying in a role for too long.

When making the move, it must be the right move.

Once you make a decision to make a job change, it is now up to you to make the change worthwhile and get the most out of the experience. Here are some thoughts on how to make that happen.

There is no second chance to make a first impression. You are a legal adviser so be sure you project a professional and dependable image. This means dressing and acting the part. Many will debate the merits of a tie and suits on men and professional business-appropriate attire on women, but the truth is that dressing the part will get you attention, respect, and credibility in the eyes of others. You can dazzle them with your skills later.

Think strategically about what areas of the business you want to learn more about and make your interests known to the business unit and your direct report. Scott adds: “Ss legal counsel ask what type of support they need/expect from you. Ask if you can attend their meetings and when you do, speak up. Ask questions and offer opinions.” Don’t be shy.

Always introduce yourself to people, ask them what they do, and make them feel important. I recently read a quote by Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, that expresses this sentiment perfectly and it is, “I greet the janitor with the same respect I greet the CEO.”

Making a change, in any aspect of your life, can be scary and challenging but surprisingly also refreshing. It allows you to discover things, both good and bad, and helps you grow as an individual.

When it comes to your career, first and foremost, it is important to always expand your legal skills and abilities. Whether this can be accomplished by staying in your current role or moving around depends entirely on your career goals. But don’t let fear of change and complacency, determine the course of your career. The decision you make should be an active and well-thought-out one.

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