Getting Ahead: In-house Counsel Career Panels Round-Up (Part 2 – Looking Outside and Within)

Our first post provided tips on taking charge of your own career. This month’s post will focus on when and how to consider new opportunities that may propel your career forward.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Sometimes it’s unclear when you should be looking externally to expand your professional horizons. You may have been with your current employer for a few years now, and it may be tempting to jump ship for something shinier (particularly when the job market seems hot).

But, before you divert your energy to getting a new job, consider the benefits of your current situation and whether there are “outside” opportunities within your organization.

Rew Ikazaki, our panelist who’s currently Chief Counsel at Tesla Motors, was at Sun Microsystems for 11 years where he learned that career advancement was really about slices of “PIE” – that is, Performance, Image and Exposure.

Pie in the Sky

Rew explained that early in his career (as many other young attorneys do), he put too much weight on his own performance (i.e doing excellent work) and image (i.e being someone people liked to work with), assuming that everyone would automatically notice and acknowledge the fantastic job he was doing.

Expose Yourself (legally, that is)

As he progressed in his career, however, Rew learned that even perfect performance and image don’t guarantee success. He learned that exposure to different skills and team members was crucial to his advancement – particularly for promotion into a management role.

One of the reasons he stayed at Sun for so long was that he was able to work with a new group every few years. By the end of his tenure at Sun, he’d worked with multiple business units and engineering teams (including the hardware, software, microprocessors, manufacturing, and services groups), which exposed him to different areas of law.

More importantly, however, changing groups increased his exposure across the organization so more people could “vouch” for him, which naturally built his professional network. In fact, his entry into Tesla would later be facilitated by one of his former Sun colleagues (see our post on the secret to great networking).

Can I Get a Sponsor?

The increased exposure also helped Rew find a sponsor by broadening his base of internal advocates. A “sponsor” is a well-respected leader in the organization who’s willing to advocate for your advancement. [Note: This is not exactly the same as a “mentor” who offers more advice than advocacy, although it could be the same person.]

While a sponsor may be your current manager, that seems to rarely be the case. For most people, their sponsor ends up being someone who is more than one level above them and who they’ve worked with in a collaborative way (hence, the importance of exposure). This person will “add weight” to any recommendation from your own manager.

Thus, a good way to evaluate your current position is to assess whether there are opportunities to make internal moves (even moves that may initially seem like a step backwards) that will ultimately grow your skillset and exposure, as well as whether you have a sponsor at the company.

If the answer to both inquiries is yes, it may be better for your career in the long-run to stay for now and take advantage of your unique situation.

Next Up

If the answer to both is no, however, stay tuned for next month’s post where we’ll wrap up this series with some final thoughts about incorporating your passions into your work and finding external opportunities.

In June, we kicked off a series on in-house career advancement based on some best practices we gleaned from two professional development panels that FLEX co-hosted this spring.