How do you get the most out of your career?

Do you have a career plan?

The first step in planning a career is to really think about what you want. What’s going to be most fulfilling and important for you? What qualities of a career are going to make you happy? Do you know where you want to be in one, five, or ten years?

Different people want different things out of their careers, and all paths are equally valid. If you’re ambitious and driven, anything is possible, but not if you haven’t worked out where you’re heading.

The answer doesn’t need to be as specific as ‘Head of Risk & Compliance at a top ten law firm’. It could encompass a number of qualities, achievements, and environments that you want to strive for. For example, you might aim to be a subject matter expert advising professionals in a large, international law firm environment with a support team behind you, where you are well respected and listened to and are well remunerated for your expertise.

It’ll be difficult to get the most out of your career if you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to get to. It can be hard to imagine the possibilities of a career in risk and compliance, as it’s a relatively new space that lacks a clearly defined career progression pathway. Do some research, make some connections who work in the space, and think about what interests you about the work.

Once you know a bit more about the options available to you in this space, it will become clearer where you want your future career to lead.

The idea of being a conflicts specialist might make you want to run for the hills, which will inform the next career moves you make. You might find the idea of taking on criminal liability as an MLRO (money laundering reporting officer) really exciting, and perhaps that is the direction you want to head in.

It’s ok if this takes some time. You might need to experience different specialisms to really know what motivates and fulfils you, or a narrow role might push you towards a different specialism or a broader role. It’s important to take the time to find what really suits you best.

How do you achieve it?

Stop thinking about the coming year and instead focus on your long term goals and how these might play out. Prioritising the coming year too highly can slow your career progression and limit what you can achieve. Your career isn’t just the next twelve months, it’s a journey spanning many years, and it’s really important to start thinking about it in this way.

Annual salary, for example, is a really unhelpful metric when measuring your success. If you’re money-motivated and you want to achieve a certain figure in the span of your career, there are more important things to prioritise than the annual salary of your next role. Taking high salaries too early in your career could price you out of roles you might need to get where you ultimately want to go, and that could give you the exposure and experience you need to progress further.

The salary advertised with a role is also not a true indicator of what you might earn. If you stayed in a job for five years, for example, your total earnings over that period divided by five equal a different number to the salary you originally signed up for.

Stop thinking of salary as a linear ladder you can climb, and instead focus on achieving the skill sets you’ll need to ultimately reach those higher paid positions. What learning and experience will you need to be hired for that £100k role in ten years' time? That’s the question you need to answer over the span of your career.

To achieve a high-end role like this, you’ll probably need to gain a very broad skill set across all aspects of risk and compliance and start making decisions at a higher and higher level. Become the ultimate decision maker and build relationships with senior stakeholders wherever you are. This builds gravitas that you can bring forward with you, proving that you can interact with the business at a very senior level.

Broadly speaking, the most important thing in a risk and compliance career is the amount of exposure you’re getting. If you know roughly what kind of work you’d like to be doing, dig in and learn as much as you can.

Make sure you’re being challenged in your day-to-day work and stretch yourself to progress in this way. This could look like this:

  • Dealing with new things and issues you haven’t dealt with before, such as new jurisdictions or different types of clients 
  • Taking on new responsibilities that are outside your comfort zone
  • Not doing the same thing, day-in, day-out, for an extended period of time

Remember that your title, your salary, nor the reputation of the firm you’re working for won’t get you your next job. It’s your experience that will get you hired. Hiring managers want to employ people who can do the job they need them to do, it’s as simple as that. 

Of course, sometimes title, salary, and exposure do all go hand in hand, but this definitely isn’t always the case. There are plenty of Heads of Risk & Compliance who are getting far less exposure than Senior Compliance Officers or Compliance Managers at different firms. For example, a senior role at a narrowly focused high street law firm will get less exposure than a Senior Compliance Officer at an international law firm. Think about which one will furnish you with the skills you need and don’t choose based on the title alone.

Concentrate on upping the exposure you're getting and your value in the marketplace will increase. When you do look to move on, even if you feel like you’re currently underpaid, you could be able to justify a big uplift. 40% or 50%, and even up to 100% pay increases are possible, and they do happen when people have prioritised honing their skillsets for the job they ultimately want. 

If you have built up a really relevant and valuable skill set and have amazing exposure and experience under your belt, sacrificing on salary to put yourself in that situation, you are in a great position. Yes, you may have been underpaid for a year or two, but the currency you received instead was invaluable exposure that would be hard to get anywhere else, and that will ultimately translate into a higher salary in your next role.

If you become the best person for the job, a future employer will value this extremely highly and offer you a salary that reflects this. Your current salary won’t hold you back from big future rises in compensation.

Redefine how you think about success, and play the long game.

For help planning your career, give us a call on 0207 117 2542, email your CV to jobs@ajfoxcompliance.com, or see our latest jobs here.

Get all the latest Law Firm Risk & Compliance news in your inbox with our free fortnightly newsletter. We're here to keep you in the loop!

Posted by: AJ Fox Compliance