Vacation schemes these days are likened to ‘gold dust’ for many reasons – they’re difficult to secure but experiencing them is very valuable. Add to that the highly competitive graduate recruitment market, the somewhat daunting application and assessment process and the fact that the majority of law firms recruit at the same time, meaning the preparation and submission of several application forms in a short period of time and it’s a tricky time for any future lawyer.
With this in mind, I have pulled together some top tips for each of the core stages of the process, which I hope might help even a little bit with your Vacation Scheme or Training Contract applications. These are primarily based on my experience with Pinsent Masons, but I hope they will be helpful to you whatever firms you choose to apply to.
The application form
It’s the first impression that really counts as you begin the process, so it is essential that you devote plenty of time to researching, preparing and perfecting your answers. Here are a few pointers to help you get started:
- Justification – You must be able to substantiate and explain in detail every answer you write down. It is likely that an interviewer will question your point of view as documented and to succeed, your answers should be honest, supported with evidence, well thought through but succinct. To test this point, I would often make a statement then exhaust the point in my head to the upmost degree (for example, commenting on a recent development in a sector then asking myself questions such as ‘why and how is this relevant?’, ‘what does this mean and for whom?’, ‘what is my opinion on the article’?).
- Commercial awareness – This is an aspect of corporate law that is likely to be explored at some point in the assessment process. As an applicant, the words brought me much consternation because of their ambiguity. The basic breakdown of the phrase is that you understand the relationship between law and your client’s business, and what the purpose of your work is from a business sector’s point of view. My top tip for developing your commercial awareness is to read the news, and follow business trends and current affairs that not only interest you, but are relevant to the sectors of the firm(s) you are applying to. I found it useful to keep a notebook to document articles and points of interest that I wished to explore further and had a trail of research that I could revert back to if asked. Out-Law by Pinsent Masons is an excellent starting point for news and current affairs written by lawyers who are experts and well-respected in their fields.
- No trick questions – If you are asked to describe your ‘other interests’, don’t feel compelled to cite a highly technical Financial Times article that led you to research, for example, ‘OPEC’s production cuts and its implications.’ If this is what really interests you, that’s great! Alternatively if you love playing hockey or you go to the theatre often, state this! This question is prompting you to share interests that highlight your personality and emphasise your fit with the firm’s values and purpose. Personally, I used the space to comment on my love of theatre and why I enjoyed musical theatre so much.
- Every question is there for a reason – Make sure you don’t leave any blanks on your application form. For example, if the form has space to provide 4 examples of relevant experience, do your best to complete that section, giving as much information about your knowledge and/ or experiences as you can. If you don’t have many work-related examples (which is completely normal at this stage!) tell them about taking part in university activities, leading a sports team, volunteering opportunities, hobbies etc. as long as you explain well what you’ve learnt and how it’s relevant (see advice no. 1)
The online test
- Practice – There’s only one tip I would give for this part. Whichever test the firm requires you to complete, be it the Watson Glaser or non-verbal reasoning, you must take the time to familiarise yourself with the wording of the questions, the required approach and the challenge of completing it under time constrains. It is likely that you have never done a test like this before and the last thing you want to do is panic when you begin the real thing! Use the free practices to your advantage and don’t rush to start the real test. Pinsent Masons uses Graduate Managerial Assessment Abstract test – there aren’t any free tests which exactly replicate the assessment, however you could practice similar non-verbal reasoning tests to get used to the format and sitting it under pressure.
The assessment centre
- Before you attend, brush-up on your knowledge of the firm and your application form – If you do, you’ll be well-prepared and well-researched, both of which will come across positively in the interview!.
- Friendly handshakes and eye-contact are a ‘thing’ – I know it’s a really basic point, but trust me, your confidence will really shine if make that first impression a positive one.
- It’s ok to pause before answering – Pausing is not synonymous with uncertainty or not knowing. In fact, it is a great way to collect your thoughts and ensure that your response is structured and reasoned, as well as the best example you could use. Don’t be afraid to take a sip of water and take your time before settling on a response.
- Ask questions – Remember that an interview is a two-way process, which means that you should be prepared to ask your interviewer a couple of questions at the end of the interview. There is no specific content requirement for what the question should be; it could be on the interviewer’s specialisms, the firm’s approach to pro bono or the firm’s values in practice. A good tip is to think of a question which you can’t find the answer for elsewhere. Be curious, and of course make it relevant to the firm you are applying to!
As I said before, these tips are based primarily on my experience of the Pinsent Masons recruitment process. If there is one over-arching tip that would apply to any application and assessment process it would be – ‘be the best version of yourself’. Good luck!