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Take a chance on the career path

Consider a career that's a little more adventurous than just climbing the ladder

My career has followed a pretty traditional path. I graduated from college. I got an internship working for a magazine I enjoyed reading. I eventually became a paid contractor for that magazine. I then landed an entry-level editorial job with another publication, then a mid-level one. And over the years, I worked my way up to lead the editorial function of InsideCounsel, where I started as an associate editor years before.

For journalists, the average career path is pretty standard, and typical of the one I described. For lawyers—particularly senior-level in-house counsel—I hear similar career path stories over and over. You graduate law school, you land a job in private practice, you sometimes work in the government sector or move around from one firm to the next before eventually landing that coveted in-house position and start working your way up from there, position by position.

Regardless of your profession, working your way through the average career path on your way to the top is admirable, but it’s also “inside the box.” I recently attended one of InsideCounsel’s Project 5/165 (part of our Transformative Leadership program) regional events. The event opened with a panel of respected women general counsel talking about their paths to the top. One took the traditional path, but the other deviated from the norm.

She was in a position two steps down from the general counsel spot when the GC job opened up, and her boss was vying for the lead role. She was confident she could do it, and wanted to throw her hat in anyway. She met with her boss, with whom she had a strong relationship, to let him know she wanted the job. He was supportive. She then met with the CEO to let him know she was interested in the job. He was receptive. Over the course of the next year, the company conducted a detailed and extensive search (inside and out), while she did everything to prove she was the ideal GC candidate. At the end of its search, the company gave her the job.

Most people wouldn’t even consider seeking out a position within their company that’s more than the next level. But she took the chance, and it worked out. Although the Project 5/165 event was specific to women, its message applies to everyone looking to advance their careers: Set your sights on a goal, see the big picture and be willing to go after it.

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