Shouldn’t the best candidate for partnership always get to partner? While the obvious answer is yes, that isn’t always the reality. It is fairly common to hear about partners sitting around the table, openly acknowledging that a candidate has a very strong Business Case, will credibly lead their part of the firm, and is very likely to make the firm lots of money. But then, something is missing. Something doesn’t connect for the partners at the table, so they turn down the candidate for partnership. To cut a very long story short, making partner isn’t just about having the skillset, it’s about being likeable and showing the partners that you too are a member of the club.

Yes, it is unfair, but this is yet another box that needs to be ticked. You need to show the members that they can trust you, that you won’t upset the natural order of the club, and that you can carry the business that they have grown over the past 20-25 years into the future. Here is how to boost your chance of being admitted to the partnership by being seen as ‘one of us’ (aka a Member of the Club).

*This blog is an excerpt from chapter 10 of the 3rd edition of Poised for Partnership. This chapter focuses on becoming a ‘Member of The Club’ and helps you to grow your profile with the right partners in your firm. Download the full chapter for free here.

6 ways to be seen as a Member of the Club

a group of guys huddled together to symbolise making partner by becoming a member of the clubTo be seen as a member of ‘the club,’ you need to be respected, trusted, and liked by all the partners in your firm. It may seem very unfair, but if one partner decides that they don’t like you, then your partnership prospects are radically reduced.

Here are 6 things that you can do to tip the odds in your favour:

1. Change the type of conversations you have with your partners and your team

In many ways, your partners need to see you as an equal before they will let you into their club. The easiest way to do this is to change the type of conversations you are having with the partners and your team. For example:

  • Do you consider the firm’s agenda alongside your own agenda?
  • Are you thinking beyond your own caseload or assignments to what really matters to the firm and other partners?
  • Do you think commercially and strategically?
  • How can you get involved in business development initiatives?
  • How can you generate new business for other partners in the firm?

2. Create strong relationships with the influential groups of partners

gears to symbolise making partner by building strong relationships

Within any firm will be influential groups of partners AND individuals who wield much more power than their title, status, or responsibilities suggest. Part of your remit when on Partner Track is to understand who these partners are and the political sensitivities of the partnership. At this stage in your career, it is less about your technical excellence and more about who you know and how they view you.

Read: Relationology: How your relationships will help you make partner

3. Build up a strong network with the junior partner population plus the next generation of partners

One of the best ways of being seen as ‘one of us’ is to build your profile within the junior partner population and the people who are likely to make partner before you. Then as they progress further up the partnership ladder, they can take you with them.

4. Make your partners’ lives easier

Building up trust between you and your partners is not normally based on big gestures. It’s often about the little interactions and conversations you have with them. For example, do your actions demonstrate that you understand the daily pressures and stresses they are under? I.e. Do you do what is in your power to make their lives easier?

Just think for a moment. What information are your partners interested in daily, weekly or monthly? And why do you think they require this information from you? Who do you think is requesting information from them or putting pressure on them? How much easier do you think you could make their life if you got them this information without having to be asked? And how much do you think your personal standing with them would increase as a result of doing this?

a support beam holding up a tree branch

Making your partners’ lives easier is not about always saying yes to them. It’s about understanding the pressure they are under and doing what you can to help alleviate this pressure and reduce the number of things they need to do. For example, if you know your partner is good at sitting on work until it becomes urgent, how about asking them weekly if there is anything you can take off their hands to reduce their workload?

5. Turn up as the authentic YOU

Most of the partners in your firm will spend time together socially as well as professionally. They see each other as friends as well as colleagues. This means, if you want to be part of their exclusive private club, they need to like you and want to spend time with you.

In the days when consultants were expected to travel regularly, many consultancies would apply the airport test to a potential new recruit. In other words, would it be enjoyable to spend a long layover in an airport with this person? Your partners will be considering a simple test for you when they consider you joining the partnership. Would they enjoy spending hours in your company? Will getting to know you be a pleasurable experience? Will it be fun to hang out with you at the partner-only conferences and away days?

When you are being true to yourself and congruent with who you are, i.e. authentic, you are more likeable, trustworthy, and easier to relate to. Therefore, if you want to help build trust and social relationships with your partners, ahead of getting into the partnership, you need to turn up to work as your authentic self.

6. Prioritise mending a damaged reputation

a broken heart to symbolise making partner by fixing a damaged reputation

Your reputation always goes before you in a firm. Therefore, if there is any hint that your reputation has been compromised or damaged, then you need to know about it so you can fix it. A good way of examining the current state of your reputation is to do the following:

  • Examine what is expected of a high performer at your level in your firm and how well you match up. 
  • Consider the recurring messages you get from your appraisals and formal or informal feedback. 
  • Ask your sponsoring partner, line manager or mentor what others say about you when you are not in the room. 

Once you have identified that there is a problem, you need to decide whether this is worth fixing. I.e. What is the extent of the problem? Could this derail your chances of making partner? For example, if you are getting regular feedback from more than a couple of partners that you are very unlikely to make partner in this firm, it’s time to consider increasing your employability so you can move firms. If the problem is limited to just one or two people, and as long as these are not people like your sponsoring partner or your firm’s managing partner, then it is probably worth investing in mending your reputation.

When it comes to fixing your reputation, you need to understand what behaviours you need to eliminate and what you need to replace them with. At the same time, it is worth understanding what has prompted these behaviours or reputation in the first place. Has it come about because of how you work? Or whether the way you work fits your particular firm?  A good way to understand this is by getting plenty of feedback. When you examine that feedback carefully, also ask yourself, ‘Am I in the right place?’ You will never be able to be at your best if the way you normally work or want to work is counter-cultural for your firm.

Show your partners that you are ‘partner ready’

Getting to partner is more than just getting your numbers right and the business through the door. You need to make sure your partners trust you and want to have you as a member of the partnership. How you do that is by implementing these 6 steps above, followed by two more steps that are covered in these blogs:

  1. How to think, act, and feel like a partner.
  2. How to create your internal PR campaign to support your recommendation for partner.

Don’t forget to download the full chapter of the 3rd edition of Poised for Partnership. This chapter will help you to become a ‘Member of the Club’ by getting the partners to like, trust, and respect you. Download the full chapter for free here.


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