It’s the end of the year, you’re barely holding on, but a $20,000 bonus looms on the horizon. You should delay your lateral search and collect your bonus, right? Absolutely not; now is the best time to initiate a lateral search, especially if you are unhappy with your firm. That yearly windfall may make you temporarily complacent, but here’s why you should not leave your lateral search until after you collect your bonus.
1) All of your colleagues are already looking. Yes, every time you knock on their door and your hear them say, “I’m gonna have to call you back,” or, “Let me circle back up with you later”, they were on the phone with a recruiter discussing your dream job. By the time, you start ramping up your search, they could be finishing their callback. Stay ahead of your peers by prepping as soon as possible for a lateral move.
2) If you feel that you are ready to explore other opportunities, your bonus should not change your mind. No matter how large that number is (unless it’s Cravath large, or rather, K&E this year), it should not sway a decision you have been thinking about for a long time. In the long run, a better fitting firm will pay dividends in multiples of any potentially lost bonus.
3) Take a look at these numbers: The conventional wisdom is that associates don’t move until they get their bonuses, and then positions open up. While this is true to a degree, the numbers don’t lie. Here we can see that firms are continually opening positions based on needs, and the “bonus musical chairs” may not affect firm hiring as much as we all think. In fact, several years saw more positions opened in January and February than were opened in April-May.
4) On average, it takes about two to three months from search to hire for an associate lateral. However, it can take up to six months for more difficult searches. You don’t want to be stuck in a miserable job for an entire year longer. The end of the year was time to take stock of your career, but if you didn’t do that while you were home with friends and family complaining about your job, it’s not too late. By the time you finally summon the will to respond to my email, you may be sitting at your desk, ordering on Seamless thinking, “If I can only make it till my bonus in 2017.” This may seem like it’s not that far away, but by that time, you could have easily integrated yourself into a new firm or in-house position.
5) You’ll get to leave like a boss… on your own terms. What’s better than pocketing a five-figure bonus check and dropping the mic briefcase(?) on the way out. If you plan properly, you can ensure that there is little lag time between receiving your bonus and starting at your new firm. Or if you feel a little burned out, ask your new firm for a few weeks off before you start and spend the bonus on a trip to Australia. They are usually pretty accommodating about lateral start dates.