Risky business: taking calculated career moves

Written by Sally Hill – Recruitment Consultant (Medical & Corporate Support), Brisbane QLD

The career path of the contemporary worker can be quite varied as business needs change, jobs evolve and industries are hit with tough economic conditions.  If you find yourself on your evening commute home from another day on the job wondering what it’s all for, whether you’re in the right job, that you’re stuck in the wrong job, or you should have finished that degree – you’re not alone.

A great feature of the modern workplace is that most direct managers will be extremely supportive of any desire for change, and will appreciate the honesty from a team member admitting that they’re not engaged with their current position.  The key is having the self-awareness to initiate change before your performance starts to slip from loss of motivation or purpose.

Your organisation may offer the flexibility or the path to be able to change departments, expertise or start all over again – you will never know unless you open the conversation.  Don’t lead yourself into a rut, follow your instincts and make something happen if you have doubts about your existing role.

Reflect upon your situation, your values and what you want to be spending over 40 hours a week doing.  If you’re leaning towards changing industries or career altogether, you’re probably going to have to take a step or two back both in title and salary, inevitably shake up your comfort zone and take a risk – all daunting concepts, but all so rewarding if you make the right move.

Research the job market; what entry-level vacancies are advertised, do you have any transferable skills or experience?  Do you have a strong and interesting working background that could give you an edge over someone who has been doing the same roles for ten years?

Contact a recruiter working within your ideal or existing industry, they likely see candidates from each and may be able to provide you with the best angle to get into your desired role.  Ask yourself these questions, talk to the right people and get to where you want to be.

Effective Workplace Communication

Written by Tarnya Mangano – Recruitment Consultant (Legal Support) Brisbane, QLD

Simple, but sometimes we all forget the art of effective communication, especially in our workplaces.  Of course, we all think we have great communication skills, and every job requires them – but what does it really mean?  And what does it mean to have these skills when it comes to your job?

Communication is about more than just exchanging information.  It’s about understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information.  Effective communication is also a two-way street.  It’s not only how you convey a message so that it is received and understood by someone in exactly the way you intended, it’s also how you listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said, to make the other person feel heard and understood.  Communication, whether verbal, written or visual can be expressed in positive (assertive) or negative (aggressive, passive) ways.  People need to take feedback from how others interpret or perceive how they are communicating.  Sometimes we can be perceived as aggressive even though it is not intended.  It is all about how the other person has “heard” your communication.

Communication is the key to all successful projects and a lack of adequate communication can prove to be the downfall of many, which would otherwise be successful.  Effective communication can certainly help you develop your connections with others and improve teamwork, decision making, and problem solving.  It enables you to communicate even negative or difficult messages without creating conflict or destroying trust.  Effective communication in the workplace can also increase work productivity and output which leads to the success of the business.

Good communication skills are some of the simplest, most essential and most useful tools for success you can possess.  In fact, they are probably the number one ability sought by employers. 

Some key skills we all need to be reminded of to improve our communication;

  • Become an engaged listener,
  • Pay attention to nonverbal signals,
  • Keep stress in check,
  • Empathise and encourage,
  • Assert yourself.

Regardless of what field you’re in and despite the apparent hollowness of the term, honing your ‘communication skills’ will pay you back many times over.  If you get it right, you’re guaranteed to have a much smoother path through life and your career.

7 Top reasons why candidates move on from their current position

Written by Kara Plummer – Legal Professional Consultant

2017 remains a candidate short market for law firms in the Australian market. The market is a competitive one and it’s likely that candidates may be interviewing for more than one role. You need to do what you can to secure good candidates.

A crucial first step in your candidate screening process is taking some time to fully understand why a candidate is looking to move firms. It’s very easy to glide over the reason without asking too many details, however in order to secure a good candidate, you need to properly understand what they’re looking for what they’re really after in an employer. Without this information, you’re flying blind. Knowing the candidate’s real reason for moving on will help you determine how to tailor the recruitment process, giving you the best shot of securing a candidate.

In our experience, these are the top 7 reasons why candidates choose to move on from their firms and some tips in terms of what to do in an interview process to attract them:

1. Rotten mentoring

Candidates at the junior and intermediate stages of their career want to work in an environment where their superiors can be approached for advice and able to provide constructive feedback.  If this is the reason they’re looking to move, be mindful of who you include in your recruitment process – make sure the interviewers are approachable and are able to confirm that your firm is able to offer proper mentoring.

2. Wanting better work/life balance

It’s sometimes unusual for candidates to be open about wanting a better work/life balance, but it is a genuine reason why some people want to move, especially if family commitments require it.  We all know that some firms are able to offer less hours than others and there’s no point talking about work life balance in an interview with a candidate if there’s really no chance of it being on offer after they start.  If yours is a firm that can genuinely offer this to a candidate, be open about what sort of hours a candidate can expect to work, or if yours is a firm that can offer part-time or flexible work arrangements, talk through what sorts of arrangements you may be able to offer.

3. Wanting a step up to a larger firm

Wanting to move to a larger firm applies mostly to junior or mid-ranking lawyers wanting access to higher scale and quality of work and more structured training and development.  Needless to say, if you’re courting a candidate from a smaller firm, talk through the work and clients on offer at your firm. These types of candidates will want to chat to you about the type of work going on in the team and the structure of the team so they know they’re not just going to get stuck on leasing or due diligence if they move. Getting a good partner into the interview willing to chat through some interesting work is a good plan for these candidates.

4. More $$$

Some candidates can genuinely be underpaid – some are just plain greedy. The trick is to work out which category they fall into.  If they are genuinely being underpaid, talk through what sort of salary they may be able to obtain and discuss other benefits and entitlements you can offer.

5. Wanting to work for an international firm

Due to the large numbers of Australian lawyers who move overseas to practice, candidates sometimes move to position themselves in an internationally recognisable firm from which they will be able to move overseas at some point in the future. Obviously you don’t want a candidate to join and 3 months later, ask if they can be seconded to the London office, but the ability to move internationally at some point in the future is a genuine reason for moving.  They’re probably not going to be completely transparent about their motivations for moving, however if you believe that’s why they’re looking to move, talking about the international work done in the office or the possibility of a secondment down the track is a good idea.

6. Wanting improved progression prospects

If a candidate is moving because of a lack of progression in their current firm, they will want a really thorough run down of the structure of your firm’s team and the criteria for progression at interview. The ones inquiring about partnership prospects will be particularly eager to talk through your internal process regarding this. It might also be worth mentioning circumstances where previous lateral hires have joined and success stories in terms of them progressing.

7. Wanting to move in-house

A lot of lawyers in the current market are keen to move in-house. The attraction of working for one client as opposed to many, moving to be closer to the business, no time-sheets, the opportunity to work on a broader range of legal matters, – these are all facets of that might attract lawyers to working in-house rather than stay in private practice.  If you’re recruiting for an in-house position, find out why your candidate is attracted to in-house work. A candidate who has worked in-house before or has been on fairly lengthy secondments in their current role are usually the ones that adapt the most easily into an in-house role as they already understand what it’s like to work in an in-house environment and what challenges they may face in making this move.

Taking the time to really investigate why a candidate is looking to move is a critical step in the recruitment process. Spending time during the process to understand their real motivation for a move will enable you to tailor the process and have a much better chance of securing them for your firm.

New Year – Time for a fresh start!

Written by Emma Weeber: Legal Professional Consultant – empire legal

The New Year can be the start of many exciting things and it’s getting to that time of year when we look back on what we have achieved this year, and where we want to be this time next year. Personally and professionally it’s a time of re-evaluation. If a new position is one of your goals for 2017 give yourself time – it can take a while to find the ‘right’ job especially in the tight legal market. fireworks_ew

Here’s how to nail it in 2017…

  • Sharpen up your resume – Add detail but not too much detail! This is a perfect way to really think about your career plan and figure out what you want to do. Make that first page stand out!
  • Register and meet with a recruitment agency – Find someone who you think really ‘gets you’ and understands what you want to do, avoid those that want to get you a quick fix. Find a couple you like and stick with them.
  • Network network network – You’ll be surprised who you have within your own contacts list!
  • Clean up your social media profile – Remove the Cup Day pictures or the like…
  • Apply for jobs!
  • Prepare and practice for interviews – This is a skill and it does take practice! Remember your skills, strengths and past successes.
  • Don’t expect to be successful every time, learn from the last one! Knock backs hurt but don’t give up.
  • When you get that big offer stop and think – Will this job take my career in the right direction? Will it challenge me enough? What does my future look like with this firm? Is the salary suitable?

Many of the larger firms like to be organised prior to the Christmas break, largely because their headcount, strategy and wider firm plans for the New Year are all set in place. We are currently noticing that a lot of our clients are starting the process of getting their recruitment processes tied up in time for this. Others will recruit through December and into January so there is often a number of new positions that become available in the New Year.

Whether you end up moving onto a new position or not, the New Year remains an ideal time to reflect on your current situation and how you can move forward next year!

10 Answers You Need to Know to Blitz a Legal Interview

10 answers you need to know to blitz a legal interview by Kara Plummer


It’s surprising the amount of feedback we get from clients saying that candidates are underprepared for interviews and really haven’t bothered to do enough research and preparation before the interview.  There is really no excuse now for not having done any preparation. If you’re going to bother to make the application in the first place, you should be bothered to do some preparation.  That involves having a think about some of the more likely questions you’ll be asked and thinking through some answers before you get there.  Here are what we think are the most common questions that lawyers are asked at interview:



  1. Tell us about yourselfTalk us through your background.

Keep it succinct and relevant.  A chronological approach usually works best.


  1. Why are you seeking to leave your current firm?   

Obviously telling the firm you hate the partner you’re currently working with isn’t the best of ideas.  Focus on things like moving to a larger firm (or smaller firm), wanting a different mix of work, different clients, that sort of thing.  Keep things positive and don’t ever slag off your current firm.


  1. Why in particular are you approaching this firm?

Look at the team profile and profiles of the partners prior to the interview and link that information to why you want to work there.  It shows you’ve researched their firm before you get there.


  1. Talk us through the work you’ve done.

Be able to give a good overview of the type of work you do, the type of clients you work for and your involvement in particular matters.  A lot of lawyers find it difficult to do this.  Practice beforehand.  Obviously always keep confidentiality in the back of your mind and be aware that some partners can treat interviews as an information gathering exercise about the competition.


  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It still comes up in interviews.  A good way to answer it is to refer to a recent appraisal and mention strengths from there.  That’s independent third party backup as well.  Obviously be careful what you mention as a weakness, use something fixable (delegating, time management) and mention you’re working on improving it.


  1. What are your short/medium/long term goals?

Short term – move to another firm which can achieve your current career objectives.  Medium-Long Term goals – develop your own client base, specialise in an area.  Be careful of mentioning partnership if you’re still only quite junior.


  1. Who else have you made applications to? Where else are you interviewing?

You have a few other things on the go but aren’t in a desperate hurry to move.  You don’t need to give them an exact breakdown of every firm you’ve applied to.


  1. What salary are you currently on and what salary are you looking for?

In relation to salary expectations, most firms are really wanting some idea of what you’re after. Saying market rate doesn’t really cut it. When you give a figure though, don’t over inflate it. Firms are well aware of what market rate is and giving a false over inflated figure can certainly harm your chances of securing a role.


  1. General questions in relation to the legal market/current issues.

What’s particularly topical for your practice area or firm?  Have a read through a few websites before you get into the interview.


  1. What do you do outside of work?

You’d be amazed at how many people stumble on this one.   Be prepared to answer questions which aren’t related to law (shock horror!)


Interviewing really isn’t rocket science, but a small amount of preparation will go a long way to getting you an offer.



Kara Plummer LLB Hons

Senior Legal Professional Consultant

empire legal


Connect with Kara at https://au.linkedin.com/in/karaplummer



Establishing rapport is one of the most essential elements to a good job interview. You know it when you feel it – you come away from an interview feeling like you made a connection with the interviewer and that the interview went well.   Rapport doesn’t have to be an accident – you can do your best to create it.  Here’s how:

Do your research

Read as much as you can about the organisation and the person who is interviewing you to see if there is a common connection there.  There are many connections such as the type of work, common connections, matter types, and personal interests, or you might have a friend working in the organisation.

Dress the part

Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the role.  If necessary look at Google Images for pictures of your interviewer to look at their style of dress.  Look  at images of others who work in the organisation.

Use a firm handshake when introduced

Male or female, always extend your right hand on introduction, and make eye contact and smile.

Use people’s names

Repeat the person’s name on introduction, for example saying ‘Nice to meet you, Frank’.  Not only will it help you remember the name but it develops a personal connection. Of course if the interviewer is an older person resist using the first name until you are invited to do so.

Make Eye Contact

Always look into people’s eyes when speaking and if more than one person make sure you direct your attention to both of them.  Your answer to any question should be directed predominantly to the person who asked it, but every now and then look at the other person to include them and make the answer conversational.

Body language

Your body language is very important in developing rapport.  Use ‘open’ body language – avoid crossing your arms, and keep a relaxed but upright posture.  Subtly mirror the interviewer’s body language where possible.

Be sincere

Notwithstanding all of the above, it is, of course, necessary to be sincere.  Rehearsed rapport will not create rapport, but may inhibit it.



There is a well-known Chinese proverb that goes ‘The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now”.

So often I hear candidates talk about wanting a career change – some of them in their 50s – but they are hesitant to do so because what they have been doing is all they have ever known.

Everyone wants security. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety and security are second only to the physical needs of food and water, and breath.

In our careers, we can often take the ‘safe’ road because it is exactly that – safe. We do things the same way, accept the status quo, work in the same profession or industry. Opportunities might present themselves and we either take them, if they feel familiar and low risk, or refuse them, if our sense of security or safety is challenged. We imagine all of the things that could go wrong, and assume they will ALL happen, instead of focusing on the possibilities.

I spoke with a client recently who is contemplating a change in direction. She is not really sure what she wants, but knows that what she is doing now is not fulfilling her. She has had this feeling for a while, but she kept shaking it off because she wasn’t ‘qualified’ to do anything else. On top of that, she was successful in her chosen field – receiving constant positive feedback from supervisors and clients.

I recalled an article I read called The Elegant Secret to Self-Discipline by David Cain. In it, he says that If we are currently experiencing the result of decisions of our past selves; then the decisions we make today contribute to our future selves. Let’s go back to that Chinese proverb – the decision to plant a tree twenty years ago resulted in a flourishing, big tree. If you plant a new tree today, in twenty years there will be another flourishing tree.

Her ‘safe place’ was the familiar career she had had for the previous 10 years — and even though she didn’t quite know what she wanted to do, I encouraged her to think about the skills she had that were completely transferable – for example, her communication skills, ability to engage with people and expert level networking skills. The more we talked about it the clearer it became. Decisions she made about her career in the past put her where she was now; so too, would decisions made TODAY, affect her future self.

The other aspect to this is that if you start thinking differently, you start to notice things in a different way. Once she started thinking of herself differently, and the skills she had, she knew that she would start to notice other opportunities that would come along, which would give her the opportunity to explore them further.

I am looking forward to seeing where she is in six months’ time!

Have you had a career change? What did you do to make that happen?




I had a fascinating conversation with a former work colleague recently who has had a varied career – she started out as a legal secretary, then moved to a personal assistant, then an executive assistant to the CEO of a listed company, to then owning her own small business providing EAs to executives in large corporations.


Her business started from a desire to see others succeed; and because she felt that secretaries often thought they should be designated as executive assistants when they were not really fulfilling that role. I asked her what she thought the difference was between a secretary and an executive assistant.


She said to put it simply, an executive assistant does all the things that a secretary does, but has much more responsibility with many, very senior level responsibilities. Some of which including research, personal contact with clients and suppliers, client database management, travel and conference planning, along with a host of other things she never imagined doing, such as organising a surprise birthday party for her boss’ husband.


She paused at this point and said that the fundamental thing an executive assistant must do is to understand why her boss does what he or she does. Understanding the person you are working for and what their goals are, both personally and professionally, as well as the values of the organisation, is of paramount importance for an executive assistant. That will give them a very clear understanding of what their responsibilities are to help the boss achieve those goals.


In a nutshell, the skills you need to move from being a secretary to an executive assistant include:


  • exceptional typing skills;
  • attention to detail;
  • perfect spelling, grammar, punctuation;
  • superior skills in most Office products;
  • time management and the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities at once;
  • confidentiality – not just discretion;
  • sound judgment;
  • problem solving skills;
  • the ability to stay calm under pressure; and
  • resilience


An executive assistant to a CEO, for example, is in effect representing that CEO, both within the workplace and outside. Appropriate dress standards, a confident manner, and a respectful persona are all necessary.


It is not an easy job, she said, but it is one that is incredibly rewarding. So think about your career – do you have what it takes to be an Executive Assistant?




Graduate recruitment is already under way for most law firms. Large national and international law firms have a very precise process for choosing their graduates, and it is a very stressful time.


If you are fortunate enough to land the all important graduate position (and remember sometimes it is a matter of good luck, rather than good management), there are some important messages you need to take on board.


For example, I met with a client recently, the HR manager of a large national firm, and we got to talking about the summer clerks who had been through the firm over the last eight weeks or so. She sounded exhausted and was shaking her head a lot. She told me that while for the most part the clerks were grateful for the experience and threw themselves into it, in the feedback from the summer clerks, a few had given negative feedback about the nature of the work they had been given, the practice groups they had spent time in (as not being of interest to them in their careers), and the lack of time with partners.


I was dumbfounded – knowing how much time, money and effort goes into the summer clerk programs, I was astounded by this feedback. My colleague said: “I don’t know where they get these expectations from, about what work they will be doing as a summer clerk – I mean, do they let medical students operate on patients for work experience?”


And of course we had a good laugh but it made me think – in the rush to impress and learn as much as you can, accelerate careers and climb to the top (whatever that means to individuals), your expectations as to the level of work you will get may be unrealistic.


It is important to remember these things:


  • Every piece of work you get is a learning experience – no matter how small
  • You need to build up expertise in order to be involved in large matters
  • You are of course perfectly placed, when you have mastered a piece of work, to ask to be involved in a different type of matter
  • Sometimes developing expertise comes from simply watching and listening – for example, how a senior lawyer acts in a negotiation or with a lawyer on the other side of a matter
  • If you have down time, read a file from start to finish, read recent case law, write a CLE paper – all of these things will add to your expertise
  • Show a willingness to get your hands dirty – if there is a big matter on the go, and a lot of stressed people around, there is no harm in offering to help in small ways, even if it collating documents. That willingness will be remembered and you will be surprised what may come out of a simple act like that
  • Get involved in firm activities – developing relationships across the firm is vital so that you are known outside your own work group.

Good careers are not built in a day, a month or even a year – they take many years of dedication, hard work, and a willingness to learn.



Once you find out that your next-to-perfect CV has gained you an interview (or perhaps more than one), it is time to prepare for the interview. The emphasis is on the word ‘prepare’. In a law firm, you would not go to a client meeting without being prepared for it, so approach a job interview in the same way. Follow these simple rules and you can’t go wrong – or at least you will have given it your best shot:


  • Research the people who will be interviewing you. Look them up on LinkedIn. Read their profiles on the firm website, and prepare some questions to ask of them yourself.
  • Read the most recent news or media releases about the firm – knowing the latest matter they have worked on, or how they have appeared in the press may just give you a competitive advantage by showing that you take an interest in current affairs or the firm itself.
  • If the firm has a LinkedIn page follow them and read their most recent posts
  • Read your CV – yes, that’s right – read it again and make sure you know every last detail on it so you can be prepared to answer a question on it
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare – imagine being asked 100 different questions and be prepared to answer them. There are dozens of articles on the internet with sample behaviour based interview questions
  • Dress the part – be professional, smart and not too fussy.
  • Be on time. Allow extra time just in case buses or trains runs late
  • Remember that everyone at the firm may have an opinion of you. If you are rude to the receptionist on arrival
  • Put your phone on silent, or better still turn it off
  • Make eye contact, use the interviewer’s name, and stand up straight as you walk into the room
  • Look confident even if you don’t feel it. Watch your body language. Crossing your arms or shrinking into yourself is a sure sign of nerves. Keep your back straight and your body language open and this will send a message to your brain that you are feeling confident.
  • Know your own nervous signs – whether it be cracking knuckles, jiggling your leg or twirling hair – if you have a particular thing you do when you are nervous, do something to make sure it stops – holding your hands in front of you will stop the knuckle cracking and hair twirling. Holding you hands on your knees should also stop the leg jiggling.
  • Smile – just smiling can reduce tension levels and also helps develop rapport
  • If you are asked a tricky question and you’re stumped, ask if you can come back to it when you have had a chance to think about it
  • Finally – have plenty of questions prepared to ask of your interviewers, and make sure these questions do not become about what is in it for you, e.g. salary, learning and development. These are relevant questions, but must be balanced with questions about the firm, its strategy, culture and challenges.


What are your best tips for those about to be interviewed?