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Time Served: How long to commit before leaving a job

  • June 21, 2017
  • Paulette Pommells

Thinking of leaving your current job but don’t know if the time is right? I am often asked “how long should I stay so it doesn’t look bad to a prospective employer?”

The truth is there is no magic number. There should be more to making such a decision. I like to assess it based on the kind of challenge that a client is wishing to overcome.

Step One: Identify the Reasons

The first step is to identify the internal and external reasons why you want to make a change.  From my experience, you’ll want to make sure these reasons aren’t temporary such that, if given enough time, they’ll fix themselves.

Some internal reasons may include:

  1. How you feel about going to work. Do you dread getting up and going to work on Monday? Does that dread spread its way into your weekend? Do you start feeling anxious or depressed on Sunday afternoon as you anticipate the upcoming workweek?
  2. You are overwhelmed. If you find yourself constantly worried at work because you can’t handle the responsibilities of the role, or you didn’t get enough training to help you master critical tasks, that can make it very difficult to enjoy your work.
  3. You’re bored. Maybe you’ve been practicing in an area for several years and you’re just not excited anymore about the work you’re doing. If you’re not growing in your job, it’s easy to start thinking about doing something else.

External factors can also impact your decision to leave, including:  

  • The firm/organization you work for was bought (or merged with another firm). Both of these can impact your job as management assesses redundancies in human capital.
  • There’s been a change in leadership in your department or in the firm/organization. One of the top reasons for making a job change is when there is new leadership. Maybe her/his leadership style just doesn’t feel right to you.
  • The practice area in which you work is dying or going through significant changes. Consider the mergers and acquisitions industry since 2008, or the impact that self-driving cars will have on the personal injury bar.  If you’re in a practice area that is likely to go “bust,” the decision to change careers may not be left up to you.

Step Two: Change Jobs, Or Practice Areas?

Now I want you to reflect on the reasons for leaving.  Ask yourself if going to a new firm/organization would solve the challenge(s) you identified. Or, are they issues that are embedded within the practice area itself and would only be fixed if you changed areas entirely?

Also, think about how you feel about the actual work you’re doing. Do you still have a passion for the type of work you’re doing, but maybe not in this particular work environment? If that’s the case, changing jobs could improve your situation.

Step Three: Consider Your Role

Even if you’ve identified that there are internal and/or external reasons for making a change, ask yourself this: “Is there an opportunity to improve my current situation?”

For example, could you change the dynamics of your current role by changing who you work (mostly) with or where your office is located in the firm/organization? Could you attract different opportunities internally or additional responsibilities that you may not be aware of? Could improving your skills (for example, pursuing additional training or certifications) help you?

Step Four: Planning Your Departure

If you feel your current situation can’t be improved, the next thing to do is develop a plan. Make sure you have a plan for what you want to do next before you leave. You want to make sure you’re running towards something you want to do, and not running away from something you don’t.

Assess your marketability at another firm/organization or for another practice area. What skills, education, and experience do you have to offer? Take an inventory of your accomplishments. Do you need to do some things before you change jobs or practice areas? Perhaps you need to earn a certification before you’ll be prepared to make a job or career change.

Leaving a job after you’ve done the above work should make the timing question less of an issue.  It should prompt you to say things like:

"Having come from a full-service law firm, I appreciated spending 18 months at a boutique personal injury firm.  I was able to conduct my own examinations for discovery, mediations and generally run my own files.  I have also come to realize that I thrive in a varied practice setting, which is why I am seeking out general litigation opportunities.”

"Even though I’ve not practiced as a traditional lawyer since being called to the bar, I have acquired significant business skills from working at X organization.  I’d like to apply these skills in a commercial law firm where I can become a well-rounded lawyer and a source of information to my colleagues and clients.”

Leaving a job should be more than just a quantification, it should also be about the qualitative reasons you will articulate to a prospective employer.  If you can’t answer the question ‘why do you want to leave your current job?’ in way that is truthful, suited for the audience and logical, then you risk appearing impulsive and not being extended a job that would be a waste of time!

About the author

Paulette PommellsPaulette Pommells is the founder of Creative Choices™ for the 21st Century Lawyer. A 21st century lawyer herself, Paulette discovered a gap in career building skills among the profession and decided to build a platform of services exclusively for lawyers.

Paulette is a certified coach and résumé strategist. Her expertise in personal branding and tapping into the hidden job market has made her a sought-after collaborator to lawyers of all years of call.

This article was originally published on Attorneys With a Life.

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