United States: The Right Fit: Lessons I Learned From Making A Career Move

Last Updated: May 11 2016
Article by Christopher M. Varano

Being a lawyer has always been my dream job. I can trace my desire to be a lawyer back to fifth grade. Our teacher had given us a geometrical math problem to teach us about angles, and I spotted a flaw: The angles of a four-sided figure did not add up to 360 degrees. Being the intrepid 12-year-old that I was, I walked up to the teacher to point out his error. He was not convinced. He marched me to the front of the class, put the problem on the overhead projector, and told me to explain the flaw to the class. Without hesitation, I pointed out the mistake to the class. Again, the teacher was not convinced. He asked, "How do you know that four-sided figures have 360 degrees?" (This was a lesson he had yet to teach us.) I explained my reasoning to him and the class. The teacher conceded that I was correct and that we could stop working on the math problem. The class cheered and I felt like a hero. In that moment, I fell in love with lawyering.

Almost 15 years later, I achieved my goal. I had graduated law school and passed the bar exam. I was a lawyer. Yet, for the first time that I could remember, I had no idea what I wanted to do next.

I began my career as a litigation associate at a large law firm in Philadelphia. From the onset, there were cold calls and emails from headhunters trying to get me to change jobs. I was not interested. My work was interesting and the firm treated me well. Yet, I lacked any long-term career focus. I was just going through the motions, hoping that eventually my firm would just make me a partner.

After almost three years at the firm, things began to change. I was being contacted by people I knew to go work for companies that I recognized. It was then that I began to ask: Where do I want to be in five years? Ten years? Twenty years? After some thought, I realized the answer to those questions did not involve my current firm. Thus, I embarked to seek out new opportunities, hoping to discover a better fit for my legal career.

I am now working at a firm that is a much better fit for my personality and skill set. In short, I love my job. However, Fox Rothschild was not the first place I looked, nor was the lateral transition easy. As you are considering a career move, here are some lessons that I learned from my experience.

The Hunt

When hunting for a new job, the first thing many people do is update their resume. However, assuming you are approaching this process gradually—as I did—I would encourage you to first lay some groundwork. Reach out within your network to get a sense of what opportunities might be a good fit for you. I spoke to people from my law school, colleagues from other firms, friends in the area and even a few trusted people from within my firm. Based on their feedback and advice, I was able to refine my focus and narrow my search. I learned what companies might be a good fit, as well as some places to avoid.

Yet, like anyone, my network only stretched so far. I also began to look for jobs on the Internet. One tip that I found invaluable (but cannot take credit for) is the "saved search." Many job websites—such as Indeed.com, LinkedIn.com, GoInHouse.com, etc.—will send new job postings that fit your search criteria to your email as they are posted. Doing this allows you to not only get a jump on new job openings, but also view them a few at a time, rather than having to sift through dozens.

Once you are ready to actually start applying, update your resume. My advice here is to have a few people look at your resume to give you feedback. When I re-entered the job market, I had not revised my resume since law school, so it was helpful to have a few extra eyes review and critique it. For example, one of my reviewers gave me the good advice to put my "legal experience" at the top, and move "education" lower. Most importantly, your resume should not have any errors in it, so make sure you read it thoroughly, and have others do the same.

Choose, But Choose Wisely

As you actually apply for jobs and go on interviews, take the time to learn about the position and the company. You should ask meaningful questions during your ­interviews to get a sense of the type of work you will be doing, the hours and the personalities around the office. This next step in your career should not be a short one, so do your due diligence and make sure it is a good fit.

Personally, I looked at a plaintiffs law firm, an in-house position, a mega firm and Fox Rothschild. In the end, I did not choose Fox Rothschild because it would pay me the most money or have the best hours, but because it was the right fit for me. Fox Rothschild offered me increased ­opportunities to be actively involved in litigation, from the conference room to the courtroom, while also providing resources for me to network and develop my own clients. It reminded me of all the reasons I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. So, I channeled my fifth-grade self and joined the firm.

Making the Transition

When making the transition to a new job, it is important to realize that there are many things that will be changing. Every ­workplace has a different way of operating and every boss has a different way of managing. From the beginning, learn about these differences and take the time to master them. Ask questions and adapt. And do not take the basics for granted. For example, one of the first lessons I learned at my new firm was that my time entries for certain clients would have to include significantly more detail and not be block-billed. This was something I did not even think to ask about. It ended up taking extra time for the partner and me to correct on the back end, and could easily have been avoided if I had just thought to ask.

This leads me to my second piece of advice for transitioning: Get to know your colleagues. They will help you learn the differences about your new company and what questions you should be asking of whom. Find a good senior mentor. This person should be able to help you learn more about the company, the work and ­particularly, your bosses. He or she will also have your back if you experience any bumps during your transition. Also find a good junior mentor. This should be someone with similar seniority as you, from whom you can learn more about the actual work experience, ask the "dumb" questions and, importantly, get the juicy gossip. But more generally, take the time to meet everyone that you will be working with. Chances are this is no more than 15 to 20 people and it will help ease your transition. It is also easier to invite someone new to lunch when you are still the "new guy" than after you have been at the company for a while.

Hopefully at the end of this process you will be happy with where you landed. Remember not to lose touch with your ­former colleagues. Make an effort to reconnect with them at least every couple months. And perhaps most importantly, enjoy your new position. Dive right in and hit the ground running.

Previously published in the May 4 issue of The Legal Intelligencer..

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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