Career advice for good times and bad

By Sharon Golec on Tuesday, May 19th 2020
Recrutement juridique

I was determined not to write a blog with a COVID 19 theme.  This crisis has caused enormous suffering and brought grief to many people.  It may seem frivolous to think about career evolution right now.  Nonetheless, it is a fact that this crisis, like all crises, forces each person to confront his or her way of seeing the world, including the professional sphere, and their place in it.  Some are worried that their jobs may be eliminated; some have been overwhelmed with work and have found a new sense of energy and purpose, while others have realized that their current position is out of sync with their values; some already wanted a change and have had additional time to reflect on next steps… In short, the crisis is a catalyst for intense questioning about one’s career.

What advice can help lawyers advance when there is so much uncertainty right now?

- Revisit your career plan to see if it still fits.  Many lawyers, whether in law firms or in-house, start out their careers with an idea about where they want to be professionally in 5, 10 or more years.  Many people forget about these plans, often because they are overwhelmed with work which is not always coherent with their initial career objectives.  Sometimes this is positive, because they enjoy the new type of work; sometimes they are not satisfied with their job, but they make the best of it, feeling unable to change their situation… Now is the time to dust off your career plan, to reconsider it both objectively (skills) and subjectively (values, personal situation…) and to adjust it if necessary.  If you have never gone through the exercise of analyzing your motivations, skills (technical and “soft”) and objectives and formalizing your plan in writing, there is no time like the present!  This reflection is useful regardless of the state of the job market.  Do not forget that you may find a new job or take on new responsibilities within your current law firm or company.

- Find the positive in the present.  What have you learned during this crisis?  Perhaps this is your first experience with distance working, or with managing a remote team… Have you mastered new digital tools?  Have you found ways to optimize the operation of your current team?  Have you learned how to make meetings run more efficiently?  Are you doing a better job at spending the majority of your time on the highest priority matters?  Have you identified new legal areas you would like to master, or new soft skills that you need to develop?  The ability to stay positive is important not only on a personal level, but also in terms of career advancement.  Recruiters will be favorably impressed with evidence of resilience, which may become the most sought after soft skill…

- Seize a unique opportunity to develop new leadership skills.  The crisis has put a spotlight on “soft” leadership qualities that are too often underrated: empathy, willingness to help others without getting credit, ability to motivate others… These qualities, often revealed by a crisis, will continue to be valued as the sanitary and economic situation stabilizes.

- Adapt to a difficult job market.  Economic fallout from the health crisis will cause many companies to put recruitments on hold.  Nevertheless, there will still be job openings, especially in the legal field, which is lightly staffed in France.  We can foresee increased competition for legal jobs.  For those who want to change jobs, it will be more important than ever to have a clear understanding of their own “value proposition”: what solutions, what skills can I offer a future employer?  Successful candidates, having established a career plan (see above) will know exactly what type of job would be a good fit, both for themselves and for the company.  They will be able to focus their energy on identifying the universe of jobs that correspond well to their experience and specific skill set.  They will have identified their “competitive advantage(s)”, i.e. the particular skills and experiences that distinguish them from similarly situated job seekers.  Job searching in the post-COVID world will involve more upfront work to identify companies that are adapting well to the new economic reality.  Job seekers may have to be a bit more flexible than in the past in regard to salary.  Short term contracts and transition management will continue to develop as companies need more flexibility.  These assignments will become more attractive, and they will be easier to “sell” to recruiters after the crisis has passed.  As with any crisis, recruiters will give particular attention to how well candidates were able to adapt.

The “new normal” will be complicated, but it will not signal the end of career evolution opportunities for lawyers who analyze the situation dispassionately and extract the positive from it.

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