I was interviewed a while back by a journalist for an article in Economia on the different routes to make it to partner. As I was speaking to her, I found myself wanting to say: but what if you don’t want to make partner…?
Making partner is not the only destination for your career. In fact, in my view, success shouldn’t be defined by your job title, but by how fulfilled and happy you are, inside and outside of work. Now, when I worked in a firm, I would have never defined my career success that way! It would have been all about the job title, the salary, and the kudos related to my position, so I know exactly how it feels to get caught in that hamster wheel. Fast forward to today, however, and I am now older and wiser!
As the saying goes, life is not a dress rehearsal, so it doesn’t hurt to really contemplate a decision as huge as going for partner before jumping in headfirst. This article aims to help you answer the question “do you really want to make partner?” by giving you the main pros and cons.
*This blog is an excerpt from chapter 2 of the 3rd edition of Poised for Partnership. This chapter focuses on Direction and helps you to work out whether partnership is right for you and if it is really what you want. Download the full chapter for free here.
Is partnership what you really want?
Before we go into the pros and cons of making partner, we want you to really take your time here to stop and reflect. Do your expectations of what it means to be a partner match up with the realities of the partner role? Are you a good fit for partner? Is partnership what you really want?
According to Charles H. Green, co-author of The Trusted Advisor, “There are partners out there who shouldn’t have applied, and shouldn’t have been admitted, and they are a sorry lot indeed. There is a fate worse than not making partner, and that is making partner and hating it.”
The point we are trying to make here is that there are worse things than not making partner, and one of them is making partner only to find out that it’s not what you want. In this case, not only would you have gone through the gruelling partnership admissions process for nothing, but you will then be faced with two difficult choices. Either stay in a job that you hate or step down and have a black mark against your name and reputation.
The best decision for you and your future career is one where you are fulfilled and happy doing what you do. So take some time to really consider what making partner really means. You are not failing if you decide that the partner role is not right for you!
The advantages of making partner
Making partner brings many advantages. I think they fall into four areas: respect, money, control, and focus.
Having ‘Partner’ on your business card brings a level of professional respect and status. In some ways, it is also a validation of your professional worth and merit. With that professional respect and kudos normally comes the rewards of owning a slice of the firm.
Of course, in the years when profits are low, there is no certainty that a junior partner will earn more than the director/senior associates in your firm. It is probably fair to say that as a partner in a Big 4 or Magic Circle firm, your drawings (i.e. a share of the firm’s profits) will be substantial. (See how much do Big 4 partners earn).
One of the benefits of being a partner is you have a little more freedom to organise how to run your life. After all, if you achieve the targets, it doesn’t matter whether you take 35 days holiday a year or 5 days of holiday a year. It also doesn’t matter whether you decide to work from home one day a week. Very often the only thing holding you back as a partner, from taking a bit of ‘life’ back from your firm, is your own routine and way of working.
When you own a slice of the firm, you have the luxury of building your part of the practice around what you want (well, within reason). This means you can delegate the stuff you don’t like and just focus on what you enjoy and are good at. In many ways, this is similar to the advantages of running a small business but with a much bigger support structure around you.
The disadvantages of making partner
Like with most things in life, nothing is without cost. There are downsides to making partner too: burn-out, competition, personal sacrifice.
Let’s strip away the glitz and glamour of being partner and actually look at what you need to do to get there. The years when you are on Partner Track to junior partner, are probably some of the hardest you will ever work. Hitting high billable targets AND growing your own profile and client portfolio is tough work. You will be required to work outside of the 8-6 working day and attend virtual or physical events in your own time to ‘get your name out there.’
The sad fact is only a small percentage of people who start in the professions will make it to partner. You only have to look at the pyramid structure of a firm to realise this. Not everyone is cut out to make partner. After all, it takes a multi-talented professional to do the three roles all partners need to do well; Business Winner, Client Relationship Manager, and Team Leader. (Find out why partners need to be a triple threat)
If any one of these three things are really not what you want to do long term, then you will struggle to excel as a partner in not just your firm but in any professional practice.
Many firms, particularly the Big 4, Magic Circle and top global consulting firms, demand a huge personal and long-term commitment from their partners. This isn’t just a commitment to build and service a large client portfolio. It is to stay within the firm and do what it takes to help the firm run profitably. This could take the form of being relocated away from friends and family for ‘the good of the firm.’
I’m going to be controversial here and say that the prime time for making a move to partner is in your 30s. From your late 20s to late 30s, this is the decade when many professionals actively build up their profile in order to generate a client following. This takes time and dedication, often outside of the normal working hours.
Many professionals, both male and female, don’t want to sacrifice family life, or the chance of having a family, just to make it to partner. Many firms have brought in initiatives to aim to keep more of their high potential female talent. The sad fact remains that working 60+ hour weeks doesn’t sit well with the delights and challenges of parenthood. (Particularly when both parents are working full time). Very often the only way to combine making it to the top of the professions with having a family, is either have one parent staying-at-home, getting a full-time nanny, or downshifting to a smaller firm where there is more flexibility over working hours.
Do you really want to make partner?
Only you can decide whether you want to be a partner or not. If, by the end of your reflection, you do, then don’t waste any time and read our numerous resources on making partner:
- What does it really mean to make partner? You may be surprised!
- 5 common career-limiting mistakes that stop senior associates making partner
- The 5 people you need in your corner if you want to make it to partner
If it’s the latter, however, don’t rest on your laurels and think that you can just take it easy. You might well be happy where you are and that’s great! But you don’t want to stagnate there, do you? Even if you don’t aspire to partnership, you still want to be thought of as great at what you do. And even if you don’t want to go all the way to partner, you should still make sure you get noticed for all the right reasons and stand out from your peers, making that promotion (to whatever level) much more likely to happen.
In my opinion, far too many people in the professions have put their life on hold in the hope of making partner, only to not make it. To prevent the same from happening to you, take some time to really think about the costs versus the benefits of being partner and decide whether it’s right for you.
Don’t forget to download the full chapter of the 3rd edition of Poised for Partnership. This chapter will help you work out what motivates you, what makes you tick, and whether partnership is right for you and if it’s what you want. Download the full chapter for free here.
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- How early should I start preparing for partnership?
- Partnership admissions process: what is involved?
- Seven massive differences between working for Big 4 and Mid-Tier firms
- How much do Big 4 partners earn in the UK? [updated 2020]