I’ve had a few clients admit that, prior to coaching sessions, they’d been standing in their own way when it came to career progression. They’d been letting self-doubt and negative inner chatter dent their confidence to go for certain roles, positions, or promotions. One pandemic positive seems to be emerging, though – that people are re-assessing what truly is important, and if there is a role that they’ve wanted for a while but have been putting off applying, COVID has made them realise everything is fair game and it’s time to take the plunge.

Taking that first step

If that sounds familiar, you may be wondering how, after so long, you finally go about making that move towards that elusive, big and scary goal. Let’s take, for example, applying for silk or judicial appointment. Assuming that you have identified the goal and done the values and beliefs check-in to find all is in alignment (see ‘Leaders in waiting: part 1 – goal setting’, Counsel June 2022), how do you go about taking that all-important, first step?

How to proceed? Five considerations

1. Be honest about whether or not this is your time. Of course, if you are brilliant, you must apply! But don’t waste time, energy or credibility applying for silk or judicial appointment if you know you haven’t got a chance – yet. Identify areas of development from which you can learn the right skills or maximise the requisite experience in all areas before taking the next step.

2. If you are undecided, ask people what they think. It may not be the right time yet, but with constructive feedback you may well identify areas of development to work on over the next few months and years, to ensure you are in as strong a position as you can be when circumstances are more conducive to a successful application.

3. If any hesitancy in applying is driven out of concerns that the new role would, for example, take you away from home (a factor which frequently, but not exclusively, exercises my female barrister clients’ minds) do your research. See if the reality measures up to your image and work out how you would best manage arrangements to deal with, and overcome, any perceived obstacles to your application. Identify and overcome any obstacles before you start.

4. Be seen to be doing only good, high-quality work. Work as a leader before you achieve the title. No better way to demonstrate your capability to do the job. This might require concerted effort on your behalf to have conversations with clerks about the development of your practice, and those who instruct you about which type of cases are within your specialist skill set.

5. As a continuation of this, it is always important to network, not just with instructing solicitors about future work but also, in particular, with:

  • mentors to encourage and reassure you;
  • those who will help with a successful application, whether by giving you useful feedback on your draft application or by actually supporting it as a referee;
  • other members of the profession, as a way to ‘be seen’, whether through involvement on Circuit, your practice area membership association or other professional organisations.

Know the risks

Having said that, it’s important to remain cognisant of the fact that, hand in hand with putting your head over the parapet by making an application comes the risk of rejection. Be prepared if yours gets filed under B for Bin.

Mind your mindset

In that eventuality, you have a simple choice: whether you allow yourself to be crushed by that perceived ‘rejection’ or whether instead you learn from it. This is when your mindset is so important. The most obvious reframe here is to remind yourself that ‘there is no failure, only learning’. A useful question to pose to yourself in that scenario and help you reframe the outcome is, ‘How do I want this moment to be?’

Put another way, ‘It’s not what life does to you that’s important, but what you do with what life does to you.’ This is such a useful approach to adopt to empower you to take control of your own destiny through your own responses to setbacks and to keep any sense of disappointment proportionate. My best advice here is only allow yourself a pity-party with finality: after all, ‘grudges seldom hurt anyone except the one bearing them’.

A great example recently of a very public setback was during a PGA Golf tour in which Spanish golfer, Jon Rahm, held a six-shot lead and was on course for a $1.1 million win. Thanks to a positive COVID test, albeit asymptomatic himself, Rahm had to withdraw from the tournament. Interviewed after the event, he said: ‘How we respond to setbacks defines us as people.’ Doesn’t it just?!

So, what is your Plan B? Overcoming rejection

Do you have a Plan B? A large part of being able to move onwards and upwards in these kinds of scenarios is an ability to demonstrate resilience through rejection. Here are some strategies to help you do exactly that.

Five resilience strategies

1. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and get back to work. Re-discover the fact that you’re already doing important, significant, and worthy work, whatever the title or pay packet. In so doing, you will develop an appreciation of how good you are at the day job and remind yourself, ‘I can do this.’

2. Maintain perspective, both by reminding yourself that going to the Bench or taking silk isn’t ‘the be all and end all’, and by thinking of your clients’ experiences, as opposed to dwelling on your own.

3. Be self-aware. You may not meet the requisite standard – yet: so think how you can plug the gaps, in particular by getting direct feedback on what to improve, for example, from those who have previously led you, who have recent experience of the application process, or by working with an experienced coach.

4. Remember that there is an element of luck in any such process. Think how you can create more of your own luck by seeking out opportunities and ways that perhaps you haven’t previously dared to consider!

5. Call on your network again and, in particular, mentors, to gain feedback on any previous application/s and identify how you can tweak and improve things going forward

Confidence + resilience = success

Adopting a confident approach to the application process and demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity and rejection are two sure-fire ways of strengthening any opportunities you have for success. Armed with those insights, and if you haven’t yet, apply! I look forward to reading of your success. 

See also Leaders in waiting: part 1 - goal setting by Nikki Alderson (Counsel June 2022)