Norton Rose LLP, Solicitor, London, UK
Career Change Story
I left private practice law to transition into the world of social enterprise... I'm currently an On Purpose Associate working at a HCT Group, a social enterprise in the transport industry.
I worked as a pensions lawyer at Norton Rose, and it was ok - good hours, challenging work and a good range of clients. I was pretty lucky with my colleagues too. But something was missing, I didn't feel inspired and in the long-term I knew that looking around the firm as a whole, this wasn't where I wanted to be in five to ten years. I needed a new challenge. I'd become too specialist and needed more variety and a more people-orientated job.
Norton Rose offered paid sabbaticals during 2009, and I found myself volunteering on a marine conservation project with Blue Ventures in Fiji. I was assisting with a survey of the fish and corals and getting to know the issues facing the local community. This was better than negotiating pensions issues in corporate transactions. This was where I had my eureka moment... I could use my skills better to make more of a difference in the world, tackle some bigger issues and be proud of my impact in the world.
So I spent the next two years exploring options, including some time with executive coaches (for which I'm thankful to Norton Rose for paying)... however the in-house jobs I interviewed for didn't hit the spot... and it was difficult to find the right role in the third sector.
Then the opportunity to join On Purpose arose. On Purpose is a one-year, full time programme that helps high-calibre professionals kick-start a career in social enterprise.
Associates undertake two paid six-month social enterprise placements, coupled with intensive 1:1 support and world-class training provided by professionals from organisations as diverse as McKinsey, Bain, IDEO, the Big Issue, UnLtd and Bridges Ventures.
On Purpose was started in 2009 and is currently recruiting for its fourth intake (October 2012). In the past, Associates have been placed at organisations such as The Young Foundation, Big Society Capital, HCT Group, Ben & Jerry's, O2, Bridges Ventures, Comic Relief and ToughStuff.
As a programme, it's a chance to work for some great social enterprises and intermediaries... get to know the sector and find my place for the long-term. One thing that has struck me is the people in social enterprise, their drive, passion and vision... it's very infectious.
Career Change Reflections
It's very easy to stick your head in the sand and accept the status quo... don't. Don't settle for a role that's just "ok", do something that inspires you... if you don't... you'll regret it.
I'm still yet to find my exact place in social enterprise after On Purpose. But I know it'll be in social enterprise and I know it'll be much more varied, challenging and entertaining than being a pensions lawyer was.
I still use a lot of the skills that I developed as a pensions lawyer, but coupled with so many more. I work a lot more on the business-side, and the variety of my work and knowledge is much better.
My key recommendations would be that any person considering a change:
1. take some time out to think it over - get far away from the day job... volunteer, climb a mountain, etc.;
2. talk to as many people as you can in the field you want to work in - find out the realities and get to know the world you want to enter; and
3. don't stick your head in the sand.