Assessing your own needs

This article will help you assess the suitability of potential new roles against your skills and career goals. We show you how to evaluate a job opportunity using the "NEWS" method and develop a structure to plan your future as an in-house lawyer.

It is possible that you may make as many as ten internal and external job moves in a 35-40 year in-house career. Making a wrong career move can be costly and demoralising with enduring effects on you. This article will help you minimise the risk and spot the signals that a role may not be right for you.

Making the right move

If you’re contemplating a career move, then it is important to recognise that good in-house law moves rarely happen by chance. They normally need a concentrated and proactive effort on your part to achieve the right move for you. So take time to assess exactly why you want to move and what you want from your next role.

For example, are you motivated,  by "push" factors (such as the negatives in your current role) or "pull" factors (such as attractive options elsewhere)? In either case, ask yourself:

  • What are these factors?
  • Why are they important to me?
  • Why are they important now?
  • How urgent is my need to move?
  • How sure am I that moving for these reasons is the right thing to do?

Obviously, it’s better to be running to something good, rather than from something bad. However, it’s also very easy to develop an “anywhere but here” mindset once you’ve made a decision to move on, especially if there are elements of your role that you’re unhappy with.

The problem with this mindset is that you could end up:

  • Taking the first role you’re offered;
  • Selling yourself short; and
  • Accepting a job that’s not right for you.

Think long term

One way to avoid these pitfalls is to look ahead and define what will make you happy at specific points in the future. Try setting out what you want from your career in:

  • Six months;
  • One year;
  • Three years; and
  • Five years.

If you think there’s a better chance of achieving these milestones in the role you’re intending to apply for than the one you’re currently in, there’s a good case for moving forward. If not, you may not be ready to commit to the new role.

Decide if the job is "NEWS-worthy"

A good way to help you decide if a job vacancy is right for you is to use the "NEWS" method. This is a scoring system based on four key criteria:

  • Needs;
  • Ethics;
  • Wants;
  • Skills.

To use the system, rank each aspect of the criteria below according to how important they are to you. Here’s how to score them:

  • 0: a zero score on any single aspect of a role means that, regardless of other scores, you will not take this job;
  • 1: this is a big negative but, providing you can score all other aspects a 3 or a 5, you’d take the job;
  • 3: if you can’t score 3 on the majority of the aspects below, beware: the job is starting to look a poor fit overall even if some things about it are great; or
  • 5: great!

The "NEWS" criteria

Needs

Consider these aspects of a role in terms of your personal, family, practical and career needs:

Location: where do want to be based? You could, for example, if you work in London, score the location of a job like this:

  • The City: 5;
  • Canary Wharf or West End: 3; or
  • Anywhere on the Circle Line: 1.

Commute: what’s an acceptable journey to and from work? Consider:

  • Time as a realistic average;
  • Service frequency if you use public transport;
  • Method and number of connections and mode changes; and
  • Cost.

Travel: does the role involve extensive UK-wide or international travel? If so, will you be happy with the:

  • Volume;
  • Frequency;
  • Predictability;
  • Geography;
  • Trip duration.

Working hours: consider how demanding and predictable is the role likely to be in terms of:

  • Average hours;
  • Transient peak times;
  • Duration of transient peak periods;
  • Working across international time zones; and
  • Being on call or contactable all hours?

Work place flexibility: do you want flexible hours or the option to work from home? If you’re aiming to secure a leadership role, remember you’ll be setting the tone for others with your working pattern.

Base salary: is this:

  • Competitive for the role advertised;
  • An improvement on your current remuneration? or
  • If not, an acceptable reduction when you take everything else into consideration?

Financial incentives: if the role offers opportunities to top up your base salary, look at them closely and score them on:

  • The sum involved;
  • The timing of the payout;
  • Any potential clawback clauses;
  • How achievable the target is;
  • The extent to which you can control or influence the outcome.

Core benefits: assess whether the role offers benefits that are important to you, such as:

  • Family healthcare;
  • Sabbatical;
  • Childcare?

Responsible manager/officer roles: does the job involve an RO (responsible officer) function and, if so, will the employer provide indemnity or insurance policies?

Other considerations: how would taking this role affect your home life and would your domestic partner agree to it? If not, are you sure the change is really going to work?

Ethics

Next, assess any ethical considerations associated with the role. These could include:

Industry sector: do you have ethical objections to working in any particular sector, such as:

  • Tobacco;
  • Gambling;
  • Alcohol.

Perception of firm: what’s your ideal type of employer? Do you, for example, see yourself working for a:

  • FTSE 100;
  • Niche player;
  • Disruptor brand;
  • A specific organisation.

Corporate culture: what kind of working atmosphere suits you best? Examples include:

  • Beers and banter
  • 9-5
  • Machismo and money
  • Meritocracy and reward

Reporting line: who in the organisation are you most comfortable reporting to? And, would you be happy working in a matrix structure (where people work across teams and projects as well as within their own department or function)?

Wants

If you’re looking for a new role, you’ll no doubt already have a mental list of what you want. Let’s clarify the items on that list.

Type of responsibility: do you want to:

  • Build something;
  • Restructure an existing set-up;
  • Assume control of a department or project?

Your job title: do you want this to express what you do and/or your level of seniority? How much ambiguity can you cope with in your job description?

Role scope: decide what:

  • The role must include and exclude
  • Are the nice-to-haves and not-haves
  • You can tolerate/live without in the short term.

Role team resources: what sort of team do you want to part of in terms of:

  • Team size and composition;
  • Reporting lines;
  • Business partners.

Your budget and tools: what are the bare necessities you’ll need to fulfil the role? Examples could include:

  • Document Management tools;
  • Discovery tools;
  • Blueprint tools;
  • Compliance software.

Role geographies and regulatory regimes: think about the legislative framework you want to operate within. Remember, there’s a huge difference between being an in-house lawyer for a privately held UK market sales only company and general counsel at an FTSE FS regulated pan European group.

Growth and development options: thinking again about where you want to be in three and five years’ time; what resources are you looking for your next employer to provide? You may, want to be part of:

  • Trade/Discussion groups;
  • Internal groups;
  • Development courses; and
  • Mentoring programmes.

Skills

Make an honest evaluation of your skills. Assess what your main strengths and weaknesses are and rate any potential new jobs in terms of how the skills it demands fit in with your view of yourself and your goals. For instance: does the role call for:

  • Legal technical expertise;
  • Non-legal technical skills such as project management;
  • People and presentation skills?

Next, decide to what extent you have these skills. If you don't have them:

  • Can you acquire them in the role
  • Would you prefer not to acquire them in the interests of retaining your specialism and avoiding scope creep?

Once you’ve completed the "NEWS" method and allocated your scores, test the outcome against your gut feeling. Nobody is 100 per cent rational and your heart has a big say in career decisions.

You may wish to assess a few job ads before you’re comfortable enough to use the "NEWS" method on a real life application.

Conclusion

By developing a deeper awareness of your skills, goals and personal needs, you’ll stand the best possible chance of making the right move if you decide to leave your job for a new employer or even decide if to change role within your current organisation. Before committing yourself, think long and hard about your skills and your career objectives. Think too about why you’re contemplating the move. Are push factors or pull factors behind the decision? Practise the "NEWS" method a few times and develop your skills in assessing potential new opportunities.

Glenn Quadros , GC Technology Solutions at Unilever reviewed this note and made the following additional comments (thank you Glenn!):

1. One aspect you could cover is analysing the “gaps” between where you are now and where you want to be/”your new role”. Gaps could be: skills, attitude, knowledge, personal attributes,political skill, experience, judgement.You then think about how to “close” and how you have demonstrated through achievements – many people underestimate what they could be doing now with their current employer to close the gap.
In-house roles in particular is “what you make of the role” rather than the role itself – much more so than private practice.

2. Think about what areas of law are in particular demand (privacy, information security, regulation) and which ones are less desired and will become more commoditised.

3. Think about what you have achieved in your current role and how this could uniquely help your new organisation or role.

4. Think about you and how much you can realistically change. Are you the type of person that really wants to make a change or are you happier just doing the work. Unilever is great, because there is scope to make a difference – but very difficult to implement change in a bank or government organisation.

5. Think about the ethics and values of the company and how that relates to your ethics and values.

6. How long have you been in your role: 3-5 years guide as maximum