“I’m on the floor of my apartment under my desk eating popcorn like a feral rat in my pajamas. Too overwhelmed and numb to cry. It’s that time of the quarter at our firm, and everyone is asking me for something at once and not caring about my conflicting deadlines. I worked all weekend until 11 pm or 1 am each night. I’m this close to running out the front door and going to live in the woods. Please help. 😢🥺😭”
I received this message from a coaching client of mine, Sarah, who is an M&A senior associate in a large international law firm and a mom of one. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common scenario in Big Law.
When Sarah started working with me and doing the inner work, she ultimately concluded that she was in this scenario way too often to be healthy, and a change was necessary. However, what Sarah needed help uncovering was what type of career change she needed to feel human again and excited about her career trajectory.
There are 4 main types of career transitions. Below is an in-depth look at each type of career transition, the benefits of each, and when you would consider each type of change.
1. A Career Move
A career move is where you take a similar role in the same industry, but in a different organization. This is also one form of a lateral transition and is probably the most common career transition you come across in the legal industry. An example of this would be moving from a firm with a toxic culture, to one with better leaders, work-life balance, colleagues, or benefits. The role is typically similar, as is compensation.
A career move is a great option if you are feeling stuck, burned out, or unfulfilled in your current role, but are not yet ready (or sure) you want to make a major change. By moving to a similar role in a new company, you can rely on the skills you’ve already gained and take the time to figure out if the real issue is the job, the duties, the culture, or your lifestyle. If it’s the job itself, you’ll eventually start to experience the same feelings that prompted the need for change before you made the move. And that’ll be your clue that just changing organizations may not have been enough. In our women’s history month series, Viola Davis, is the perfect example of a career move.
2. A Career Pivot
A career pivot is one of two different types of transitions. First, you can make a vertical transition which is when you move up the career ladder within the same organization. Alternatively, you can take on a different role in the same industry, but at a different organization. This means taking on a higher-level role with more responsibilities, such as being promoted from a junior to a senior position.
A career pivot can be a great way to advance your career and increase your earning potential. However, it can also be challenging. While you can rely on the skills you’ve already gained from a junior position, you may be required to adjust to a new set of expectations and responsibilities.
Though a bigger change than a career move, a career pivot is still a small enough change where you can figure out if performing a different aspect of your job is more fulfilling and in alignment with the type of life you envision for yourself. For example, if you move into a managerial role for the first time, like a senior associate, you may find that you enjoy the strategic elements of your job that you weren’t able to tap into before as a junior or mid-level associate. While you still need to be able to draft and negotiate documents, being part of crafting the bigger picture may make you feel more valued and anchored in your career. For a creative example of a career pivot, look no further than Oprah Winfrey.
3. A Career Shift
A career shift is when you move to a different role in the same industry. This means taking on a new position that is in a different function altogether but relies mostly on transferrable skills. For example, in the legal field, this may be a senior associate transitioning to the administrative side of a law firm as a DEI or professional development manager. Your skills as an associate will be necessary to successfully accomplish the goals in your new role (e.g., understanding the challenges associates face and taking that to build out useful programming), but you will need to supplement your knowledge base with new skills.
A career shift can be a great way to pursue a new passion or interest, or to pivot your career in a new direction. However, a career shift can be challenging because you will need to learn new skills and adapt to a new work environment. However, career shifts can also be incredibly rewarding, as you will have the opportunity to work in a new field and expand your professional network. If you’re looking for a little celebrity inspiration, Vera Wang is the perfect example of someone who made a successful career shift at a later stage in life.
4. A Complete Career Change
A complete career change is the type of career transition most people associate with the term “career change.” This is where you move into a different industry and a different role that may require transferable skills, but usually also requires learning a whole host of new skills as well. This could be anything from an attorney turned actor, to a marketing executive starting an entrepreneurial endeavor as an app creator. Some career changes may involve getting additional formal education because your new endeavor has some barriers to entry (e.g., becoming a doctor or getting a real estate license). However, most need transferable skills and informal education to shore up their knowledge base in a new area.
Entrepreneurial transitions usually fall in this category because (even if they are related to doing what you did before – e.g., a Big Law attorney going solo), you need to learn a variety of new skills that will take you from being an employee to being a business owner. To flesh out the example, if a Big Law attorney suddenly went solo, she would have to learn about marketing, sales, finance and operations, in addition to practicing law. This, along with the unpredictable nature of revenue, makes being an entrepreneur challenging. But it can also be incredibly fulfilling, as you will have the freedom to pursue your own vision, control your time, and build something that is truly your own. Even better, there is usually no cap on your earning potential if you learn how to scale.
A great celebrity example of a woman who made a complete career change is Kathryn Joosten.
Depending on your goals and what you want out of life, there are different ways and different reasons to approach career transitions. If you are thinking of making a move, but you’re not sure which kind of transition would be best for you, schedule a free career strategy call with me I’ll help you figure out your next steps.
Always in your corner,