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When it comes to career transitions, there is a prevailing myth that circulates among legal professionals – a belief that there is an ideal or ‘right’ time to change jobs.
When speaking to prospective candidates, it’s not uncommon to hear them explain that they’ve been with their current employer for six months and would like to wait until the 12-month mark ‘at least’, and if they’ve been with them for 12 months, they want to wait until 18 or 24 months has passed.
These are individuals that might be missing out on the perfect opportunity because they are waiting for a specific milestone before they can acceptably start looking, by which point the position that was presented may have been filled.
The truth? There is never a one-size-fits-all. There is never an opportune moment to pursue a change and the idea that there’s a mandatory tenure before shifting roles doesn’t always hold true. It is common for people to want to wait until a certain time, but there has never been anything to suggest what that period looks like.
Putting this into perspective, a client has never told us: ‘We were going to speak to this person but we’re pushing back because on their CV, they haven’t been with their current employer for X amount of time.’
In fact, often when we speak to clients about a candidate that has decided to make the move earlier than ‘usual’, there’s always a great deal of empathy when it comes to why they’re looking for a new role. If there's a reasonable explanation for why the candidate is leaving, clients will respect the fact that they’re doing something about their situation. Many people view this as the candidate taking their career very seriously, and that cannot be a bad thing.
However, if a candidate seems to be job hopping solely for financial gain, this might be where a prospective employer has reservations.
Here, we will explore why there really isn’t a ‘right’ time to leave your current role and what you can do to help yourself succeed.
Career growth isn’t bound by the ticking of the clock or the turning of calendar pages, it’s a journey that is shaped by individual aspirations, learning curves, and ever-evolving priorities.
What might seem like an arbitrary timeframe (let’s say two years), usually fails to capture the intricacies of an individual’s professional route. For example, a legal professional deciding to move to another area of law after realising that’s where their strengths lie.
The right time to change jobs is more about aligning with personal and professional goals than adhering to a preconceived timeline.
If the market is healthy and there are roles available that would suit your next steps, why wait and potentially overlook critical market signals? Staying attuned to industry trends is just as vital as assessing individual career timelines, some may experience rapid shifts that create new opportunities, but monitoring these changes and understanding how they align with your goals can be more impactful than focusing on the duration of your current role.
Opportunities don’t come up on your preferred timescale, so being open to seizing these as they arise is crucial in a dynamic job market.
This is particularly important when you take into consideration the reality that in a few months’ time when you have reached the ‘milestone’ that allows you to leave, the job or firm you were set on moving to might not have any vacancies because the roles that they did have are now filled.
Alternatively, there might be vacancies that do come up but bear in mind that this might be because the people that were employed are now being promoted to senior roles.
Instead of fixating on the duration spent at a particular job, the focus could shift to accomplishments, skills acquired, and the overall impact made.
Success isn’t always measured in years of service but in the quality of contributions and the pursuit of personal goals. This is certainly something you can demonstrate on your CV, instead of talking about what your job entailed, you can go a step further and mention what exactly you achieved during your time there – this also gives employers a real feel for what makes you tick as an employee.
Many legal professionals will be required to work a three-month notice period. Therefore, if you are putting off the perfect opportunity for your next move because it’s ‘too soon’, take into account that if you were successful, you might not be able to start for three or four months’ time.
I usually tell candidates looking to move to allow four months in total, a month for the job search and interview process for the right position, and then three months for their notice period.
We speak to legal firms each and every day about people’s backgrounds, experience, and skills, delving into reasons for moving from their current or previous roles. This therefore means that any questions the client is likely to ask would have already been covered by the recruiter.
In instances where candidates have been in their role for a shorter period of time, a recruiter wouldn’t send a CV straight away and hope for the best (or, at least, they shouldn’t). We would call and speak to the client to give them this information.
For example, we are currently working with a candidate who has been in their role for a three-month period but is looking for something new as they were told that hybrid working was definitely available - prior to accepting the job. This was a priority for them but, since starting, they have unfortunately been informed that this is no longer a benefit offered.
In this instance, we have approached clients to explain this candidates’ situation in the hopes of helping them find their perfect role that will allow them to reap the benefits of hybrid working and allow them to achieve a better work-life balance.
Utilising the expertise of a recruiter can completely change your job search, even putting you in contact with employers that aren’t ‘actively recruiting’. And if, on the off chance, the client says: ‘You’re looking after a shorter period of time, why is that?’, you can say that the recruiter approached you, rather than that you are desperate to leave – explaining that the role is an opportunity you couldn’t miss out on.
It must be taken into consideration that there is a difference between a candidate that has moved after a short period of time with a justifiable reason, and a candidate that has a consistent pattern of short-term assignments.
However, what is certain when it comes to looking for a new role, is that a candidate will only resign if they find something that is significantly better and ticks more boxes than their current position. Even if someone is unsure, there’s no harm in picking up the phone and speaking to people about the industry.
The idea that there’s an ideal time to switch jobs is a misconception and, instead, the emphasis should be on aligning personal aspirations, professional growth and the pursuit of opportunities that tie in with the individual’s goals.
Ultimately, the ‘right’ time to change jobs is when it feels right for career progression, not when it fits a predefined timeline.
I work with several candidates that are all at different stages of their careers, as well as clients that offer a great insight into the wider legal market.