5 Myths Preventing You From Making a Career Move

career change myths

How changing your thinking can be the key to finding a more fulfilling career

I’ve been working as a career coach to lawyers for over a decade and, in that time, I’ve come across the same myths about moving within law or away from it time and again.

To be honest, when I was working as a lawyer at Sky TV I believed most of them, too!

It was these myths that kept me feeling unfulfilled and unhappy for two long and uncomfortable years before I made my career change.

That was two years wasted, two years I’ll never get back, and two years (or more) I want to help others not lose.

So let’s look at the top five myths about a career change for lawyers and why they absolutely shouldn’t form any part of your decision-making process if you are contemplating a change – or even leaving the law entirely.

1. “I’m the wrong age” or “It’s the wrong time in my career”

This one comes up very frequently when I talk with prospective clients.

There seems to be a strong belief among private practice lawyers, for instance, that there’s an optimum time in your career to move to an in-house role and it’s not worth even exploring if you are more or less experienced than this mythical “window of opportunity”.

For those lawyers who have grown disillusioned with law and want out completely, the myth becomes one of not being the right age.

I hear “I’m too young” as much as I hear “I’m too old”, and neither is true.

The reality is I can provide you with many examples of lawyers in your situation, of your age, and with your levels of experience who have made a move and thrived.

Although the opportunities that might suit your particular circumstances may be fewer, they are definitely out there – no matter what recruiters or job ads might make you think.

It’s never too early in any career to make a change – it’s simply not a career-limiting move.

Similarly, it’s never too late – the older or more qualified you are, the more you can bring to the table in terms of experience for any employer.

By staying in a role you’re not enjoying, you are simply not going to commit 100% of your energy to it, and so your own development (professionally and perhaps personally) is going to suffer.

Find a role (in or out of law) that fits you perfectly, and you’ll find yourself growing, developing and learning far more than if you stay where you are.

2. “I’m too specialised”

Belief in this myth is really saying that you feel your CV defines what you are. 

What most people are concerned about is that the skills and experience they have are not transferable outside the sector they are currently in.

If you’ve got to the point where you’re contemplating a move and you’re looking at your CV, having a list of things in front of you that you didn’t really want to do is not going to inspire you to make a change.

It will also reinforce the false notion that you’ve got little to give elsewhere, whether within or outside of the law.

You need to realise that your past does not have to dictate the roadmap for your future – you are far more than just a job title and a number of years PQE.

If you’re struggling to see past your CV, invest some time analysing your professional experience and your future options with a trusted friend or a career coach.

Pull back from the job titles and start to see where you can link what you’ve done with the skills that entering another field might need.

In almost every case I think you’ll find you’re much more qualified for a whole host of alternative career paths than you realise.

3. “I’d have to start again from the bottom and work my way up”

This is another common myth – that changing to a new career means going right back to the bottom of the ladder with all the (annoyingly young…) new graduates.

Part of the problem here is that people – including us career coaches – are guilty of using “career” to mean “job”.

In reality, your “career” is simply your one journey from leaving full-time education to retirement (should you decide on that).

So at the risk of making a fool out of myself, this makes the concept of “career change” a bit of a nonsense!

Careers in this true sense are rarely straight lines.

They often meander, sometimes take a sharp turn, occasionally they move back a bit.

But one thing they never do is turn 180 and go back to the start again, no matter what “career change” you undertake.

Why?

Because you are taking your current self into that new direction, not the person you were in your early 20’s.

While we might erroneously use the word “career”, one thing good career coaches do get right is helping you to repackage your skills and experience in a way that appeals directly to recruiters and employers.

We do this by finding ways to show more of your abilities than just what’s on the CV.

This includes leveraging all the soft skills you have developed in your roles to date.

Look, when you make a career pivot then of course there is going to be a learning curve, but employers are perfectly happy to support that for those in whom they see potential, willingness to learn, and enthusiasm.

And never undervalue your “real world” experience to date in everything from familiarity with technology, understanding professionalism and discretion, communication skills, emotional intelligence, time management and self-direction, to name just a few.

These and many other “life skills” have real value to employers.

4. “I haven’t got the time/money to retrain or study again”

While it’s true there are some alternative careers where you will need to hit the books or pay to become qualified, those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

These tend to be roles that are highly specific or need key skills honed through training and experience – think surgeon or commercial pilot.

But most careers actually don’t have a single point of entry.

Just as many employers value work experience and maturity over paper qualifications and many careers offer alternative entry routes for those changing direction later in life.

Spend time researching and exploring the “career family” of roles you’re interested in.

Some roles won’t need specific training or qualifications if you already have the skills and experience necessary gained through your legal career to date.

Take career coaching, for example.

Even though I am professionally trained with a university-backed coaching qualification, there are some excellent coaches out there who don’t have any formal coaching qualifications (as well as some who have even more training than I do).

Not everything requires you to have a framed certificate on the wall to be a success.

Even for those careers that do need specific qualifications you could well find there are options to entry that allow you to study while working.

Part-time courses can allow you to keep the workload manageable while you keep the income rolling in.

Other options for career changers include on-the-job training given as part of your first role.

In careers where there is a shortage of talent, you may also find you can access subsidised or even paid-for training – for example, becoming a teacher of science or maths in the UK.

Remember, there are very few roles out there where you will have no choice but to give up work and study full-time in order to access them.

5. “If it doesn’t work out I’ll never be able to go back”

This is one of the biggest career change myths for lawyers, but also the easiest to debunk.

If you made a career change once, what’s to stop you from doing it again?

Nothing.

The trouble is, we tend to load a career change decision with “all or nothing thinking”.

Because we feel we must be absolutely sure of our decision because there’s no way back, it often causes decision paralysis.

I know because that’s what happened to me for two years!

But why couldn’t you go back to the law if you need to after leaving?

Why couldn’t you go back to a similar job to your previous one if you make a move within law?

Recruiters really do care a lot less about whether you’ve been a bit mobile than they do about whether you are the right fit for the role they need to fill.

And on a practical note, there will always be short-term contract work for lawyers to cover maternity or paternity leave, sickness, or other temporary requirements if you need a “way back in”.

However, it’s very rare for people who move away from a role to go back to it.

Even if their first choice of alternative career path doesn’t work out, most change to another career direction rather than back to where they came from.

Remember, if your current job isn’t giving you what you want from your career now, it’s unlikely to ever deliver the fulfilment you want.

So yes – of course you can go back if things don’t work out.

But I’m almost certain that you won’t want or need to once you have made your planned and considered career transition.

Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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