By Skeptical Lawyer • November 09, 2011•Careers
I've always envied my law school friends who knew, from day one, that they wanted to be firm lawyers. The path to success in private practice is definitely tricky--making the right relationships, figuring out how to get the right kinds of work to develop your skills, and increasingly competing for a limited number of partership spots as the economy sputters. Even with these challenges, my private practice friends knew more or less what their ideal career trajectory looked like.
Much of the advice given to women about achieving career success centers on making a strategic plan, complete with concrete career goals, and then pushing forward according to your plan. For my private practice friends, this plan can include identifiable goals like taking x number of depositions within the next year or working on a case with this or that partner or volunteering for an organization that might allow interaction with potential clients. While my private practice friends set these goals and accomplish them, I struggle to figure out how to set concrete goals when your career could still go a number of directions. In some ways, I like having my future look so open, but in other ways, I worry that by leaving so many doors open, I might completely miss going through any of them before they close.
In short, the problem I have is having no career plan. And I'm not alone. The average woman with a bachelor's degree or higher will hold 11.7 jobs from the ages of 18-44 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I wish there were data on whether this jumping around meant lower salaries and professional success versus their peers who chose a company and stuck with it, but alas, the BLS doesn't deliver this information. And so I'm left with the question: how do you develop a career plan if you are one of the people destined to have a number of different jobs instead of a career with one law firm?
For me, my "career plan" is more of a "how do I get the next job I want" plan. Though I may not know where I will be in 20 years, I try to think of three different jobs I might want to have next. When I think about the different jobs, I evaluate them in terms of marketable skills I could gain that might make my resume more interesting and applicable to jobs farther down the line. I also have to consider whether the job pays enough to cover my student loans. Other than these two caveats, I try to look for jobs that appeal to me, but I worry that in the longterm, I might be hurting myself by not coming up with a career plan now, even if it's a plan for a career that I later decide I don't want. Is it easier to stick to the wrong career plan and later change directions, or is it better to have no career plan until you truly find something you are sure is a good fit? I'd love to hear what has worked for others!