Craig Wilson
Craig Wilson
Associate Director: In House

Articles From the Team

Where did it all go wrong? Why people leave within 6 months of starting a new legal job

An interesting trend appears to have developed in the legal jobs market whereby newly recruited lawyers join a company or law firm and leave within six months.

Having noticed this situation was becoming more prevalent, I wanted to explore some of the causes and also to read around the subject to learn a bit more about the phenomenon.  I also thought it useful to provide some potential due diligence that you can carry out, and to consider the employer’s point of view.

Potential causes

  • Oversold/misrepresented in an interview. Quality of work not as described
  • Other colleagues receive/are allocated the better quality work
  • Role/working conditions not as flexible as expected
  • Work/life balance not as expected/longer hours
  • Not supported enough/overwhelmed or employee lacks confidence in own abilities
  • The job was a backstop option and their dream job makes an appearance/reappearance
  • Location/commute issue
  • Personality/cultural clash with the boss and/or other stakeholders
  • Your skillset is underutilised
  • Negative news stories about the company or its products/reputation
  • Asked to do something unethical
  • Lack of confidence – you feel overwhelmed

People’s reasons for leaving within the first six months are varied, however, in the majority of cases, the problem is a lack of transparency in the recruitment process: on one or both sides.

Employer

When employers hide the downsides of the company, job or work culture, they can end up with unhappy, resentful and disinterested employees who disengage with the company, role and/or work and look to leave as soon as they can.

Candidate

When candidates oversell their abilities or are unclear about their motivations, likes/dislikes, interest in the company/role etc. it can quickly become apparent that they’re a wrong fit. This results in a position where they and/or their employer need to take action – e.g. resigning or not passing probation.

Statistics

While reading on this subject, I came across an article on Recruiting.com that focusses on a recent study related to new-hire retention (in the USA) and why employees are quitting. Interestingly, the article tells us that 1 in 4 new hires will quit within their first six months.

My experience of recruiting lawyers doesn’t equate to the same drop-out rate – it’s more like 1 in 10 or lower. However, it has become noticeable in the past couple of years that the number of those who quit in the first six months is on the rise.

In my opinion, this is a result of one factor, the dearth of good quality commercial legal talent and the increase in commercial legal roles; both in practice and in-house. Commercial lawyers are constantly bombarded with potential career moves and with the promise of more money, career progression, more flexibility etc. on offer, employees are less willing to tough it out in a role that’s not ticking all the boxes.

Possible solutions (employer)

A Recruiting.com article provides some interesting solutions (see below), which potentially help to resolve the drop-out rates and ensure that new (and old) employees remain happy and fulfilled.  The writer tells us that ‘feeling successful in one’s job is the key factor’ and that ‘feeling accomplished and competent impacts our self esteem and our happiness.’

Better job fit (key quotes from the article)

  • “Sixty percent of employees say the ability to do what they do best in a role is ‘very important’ to them. Male and female employees, and employees of all generations, place the greatest importance on this aspect of a job.”
  • “By setting appropriate expectations for candidates about the work they will be doing, you set both the candidate and the company up for better success. Give candidates clear insight into what the jobs entail at your company. Share “Day in the Life” videos for key roles and write high-quality job descriptions that talk about the goals of the role, not just the duties.”
  • “Increasing the transparency during the recruiting process allows candidates to better understand what they are signing up for so they are less likely to have buyer’s remorse after they begin to find it’s different than expected.”

Another name for this is “Truth Advertising”.  Hiring managers and recruiters should be open and direct about the less appealing aspects of the job or company. The aim is to encourage those candidates who are likely to be unhappy, or a bad fit, to self-select and drop out. Ideally, the person who gets hired will know what they’ve signed up for.

Difficult conditions tend to be more tolerable when you know to expect them; as opposed to feeling like you were deliberately misled. After all, you most likely wouldn’t have accepted the job had you had all the information from the get-go.

Another key point from the article:

  • “Nevertheless, helping to set your employees up for success only begins during the recruiting process. By giving employees the tools they need to do the work once they start, organizations can help their employees feel like they are contributing successfully and to the best of their ability. While effective on boarding is important, training and support should not end after new hire orientation. Reinvest a fraction of what turnover would cost your company into ongoing support of new hires through their first six months.”

Better company fit (key quotes from the article)

  • “Ever walk into a party or an event and have the thought, ‘I don’t belong here?’ It’s awkward, uncomfortable and generally an exit plan is concocted soon thereafter. Showing up for work at a new company and realizing the company fit is wrong can feel the same way. We spend an average of 30 percent of our entire lives at work, so employment in an environment you don’t enjoy can make a big impact on our overall happiness and wellbeing.”
  • “Having good relationships can be a critical piece of the puzzle for how to be successful in complex, and sometimes political, work environments. Allowing candidates to meet multiple people during the interview process in informal ways, such as introductions during an office tour, can help both the company and the candidate determine if there is a good cultural fit.”
  • “In addition to creating a strong network, the ability to connect to the company’s results and mission are also an important factor. As an example, Millennials believe that business success is more than the bottom line. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey, 63 percent reference the quality of its products and services, and 62 percent reference levels of employee satisfaction as key indicators of business performance. In this same survey, when asked about various factors influencing their decisions at work, “my personal values/morals” ranked first. So employees who feel that their values do not align with organizational values, may find themselves facing not just an unpleasant work environment, but also a daily moral dilemma. Sharing your values proudly on your career site and in your recruiting materials is an easy way to let your candidates know both what you stand for and what you expect. You give them a chance to buy into your values or to opt out of the recruiting process with your company. Use interviews as a way to identify cultural alignment to those values, and to also show candidates how the company lives these values through activities and actions.”
  • “Company brand still ranks as a key factor in how people make decisions regarding the companies that they want to work for. So when a company takes a hit in the press or loses industry prestige, the fall from grace can impact an employee’s pride in the logo they wear or the business card they carry. They may also feel it will impact their ability to be successful.”
  • “Let both your employees and candidates know the great things that are happening within your organization. This can be done through posts on the career site and intranet, newsletters, and signage around the office. And when things don’t go right, be sure to take ownership and share how your company is getting back on track.”

Better life fit (key quotes from the article)

  • “Sometimes the opportunities that lure away new hires present a seemingly more direct or immediate benefit to their lives. While compensation is not the top factor influencing job decisions, it has a consistent presence as a significant influencer. According to the Gallup survey, “roughly four in 10 employees (41 percent) say a significant increase in income is ‘very important’ to them when considering a new job.” With many other factors feeling ambiguous or emotionally driven, more money can be a big sway.”
  • “One of these other benefits that can sometimes be missed is the cost and time savings of an easy commute. Prospective employees rarely test their commutes during peak travel times because interviews onsite are typically mid-day. Often the commuter optimistically estimates and may be dismayed by the realities of daily commuting. And that’s a real problem because studies show that overall happiness can be influenced by satisfaction with a work commute.”
  • “Commute is important for financial reasons, but it also impacts employees for personal reasons. Time spent during a commute is less time contributing toward work, but also to personal time. This is meaningful because better balance is another key factor influencing employment decisions and changes. According to the Gallup survey, 51 percent of employees say they would switch to a job that allows them flexitime, and 37 percent of employees would switch to a job that allows them to work off-site at least part of the time.”

What should you say if you find yourself looking to leave within 0-6/0-12 months? (Candidate)

Employers are always cautious when considering individuals who have moved regularly and/or are looking to move within the first 12 months of employment.

Whilst one short stint on your CV isn’t a huge problem, and you can address it upfront with any prospective employers, those candidates who appear to be job-hoppers can convey a lack of focus or commitment.

If you had a pattern of short-term stays, hiring managers would wonder what was really going on: if you weren’t being thoughtful about what jobs to accept; or if you were leaving at the first sign of anything hard or frustrating; or if you were constantly getting fired. But one job that wasn’t what you were expecting? That can happen to anyone, and employers will understand that.

When talking about why you’re leaving so soon/left so soon, you can’t credibly use catch-all phrases such as “I’m looking for a new challenge” or “I’m looking to assume more responsibility.” You need to avoid vague reasons as in most cases an early departure indicates something is wrong. It’s much better to simply explain that you realised the job wasn’t a good fit, or it was mis-sold, and that you were presented with a better opportunity you couldn’t turn down. Honest with tact and respect for your current/former employer is the best policy.

How can a candidate improve their due diligence during the recruitment process?

The best way to avoid an early departure from a role is to be honest with yourself and your prospective employer (and recruiter), and to ensure you undertake your own due diligence.

While it’s important to consider job title, salary, benefits, responsibilities, location etc. during the interview process, you should also thoroughly assess company culture, personality fit, the office buzz, how you are treated, what other team members say etc. at the same time.

Hiring managers are unlikely to lie intentionally, however, they’re trying to sell their company and role, and they may have a more positive view of things than their employees. Challenges and frustrations about their company or the role could be glossed over, and consequently, useful information to help you determine suitability can be overlooked.

As a candidate, it’s important you undertake your own due diligence and take responsibility for unearthing information to help you make your decision. Your recruiter, if you’re using one and if they’re reputable, will help tenfold in this regard, however, you should also try to talk to people and retrieve information via your own sources.

Good practice to help determine fit:

  • Ask for a tour of the office, even if they don’t offer one
  • Ask to speak with existing team members to ask what it’s like working there etc.
  • Pay close attention to ‘little tells’ that you pick up during the interview process
  • Consider how you’re treated throughout the process
  • Check company reviews on Glassdoor
  • Look at recent news articles to determine business performance
  • Seriously consider the location and commute time during rush hour

To conclude...

“The rates for new hire turnover may seem staggering, but keep in mind these are your employees closest to the job search. Gallup has found that more than half of employees (51 percent) say they are actively looking for a different job or watching for opportunities. Yet, it is your newest hires who may still be hearing back from applications they had submitted during their recent job search. They may still be receiving job alerts from job boards or company websites from when they were in the market before accepting your job. And they are likely less invested in your company than your more tenured employees. So, setup your newest hires and your company for longer term success together. Give your candidates a clear view into working at your company and in their job, and give your new hires the support to be successful in their relationships and doing their work. After all, you probably can’t afford not to.”

Want to read more on this subject? Blog resources below:

Are your new hires quitting?

Can you leave a job after just a few months?

7 Tips for quitting a job right after you start

Predicting which new hires will quit - a checklist for spotting early 'flight risks'

Get ahead on the Career ladder

Search our Jobs Today!

Search Jobs

Awards

We’re a Sunday Times Best Small Company to Work For: 2016, 2017, 2018