In-house professionals: Take Control of Your Career Destiny (Part 1 of 2)

Have you tried recording your career on a horizontal timeline recently? If not, try it now. What significant events did you write down?

When I conduct this exercise with in-house legal teams, the overwhelming majority of people write down when they qualified, when they moved firms and when they got promoted. When I ask them to repeat the exercise, but this time recording skills and experiences gained, people find it more difficult. I notice something interesting.

People tend to think of their careers in a linear ladder fashion. And they look to titles and organisations to complete the rungs of the ladder. For lawyers, I think this lies in the fact that the private practice model of trainee to associate to partner dominates mind sets, even after moving in-house. For in-house lawyers, there is an additional factor of corporate hierarchy, which often eclipses the functional role.

People link career progression (and therefore success) with moving up the corporate hierarchy.

This misses a huge point.

As budgets continue to be squeezed and in-house teams are expected to do more with less, it’s getting more and more difficult to get that promotion. If your definition of career success is promotion, then you are likely to be disappointed.

By ignoring the accumulation of skills and experience, professionals miss the opportunity to acknowledge how far they have come and also to celebrate their strengths. They also miss the opportunity to build on their strengths and to identify areas for growth.

How is this relevant to planning the future? Well, when you have completed the timeline exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many items on your timeline resulted from positive action (as opposed to drifting along or pure luck)?
  • What have been the key decision-points that led to a particular experience or skill?
  • What do I regret (perhaps action I could have taken but did not)?
  • What’s missing?

This is the first in a series of 2 short articles on in-house career planning. Tomorrow, I will explore practical steps involved in planning the future.

Remember: don’t assume your line manager or the firm where you work will provide opportunities for you. Take Control of Your Career Destiny.