How To: make a good impression in your pursuit of a training contract

The question, “How do I get a vacation scheme and a training contract?” often comes up. So I thought I’d write answers to a few of the most asked questions – all within the realm of making a good impression when pursuing that coveted training contract offer. I have a series on how to proceed through the mammoth process here – with dedicated posts on face-to-face interviews, case studies, group exercises, video interviews and everything in between.

For a bit of background (and full disclosure), I applied to four vacation schemes in the second year of my law degree and was successful in two of my applications. I spent five weeks in total working back-to-back at both firms during the summer of my second year; one for three weeks, and one for two. I received training contract offers from both firms. I will do a more targeted piece with specific advice on how to convert your vacation scheme into a training contract, but for now here are four FAQs and their answers…

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Q: How did you network and make a good impression on your vacation schemes?

A: I am not sure I “networked” in a formal way, but I made an effort to book in coffees/chats/lunches with trainees, associates and partners from different teams. This helped in two main ways: I got a more in-depth sense of the firm and the work they carried out, but with the added bonus that I met and chatted to a wider circle than I would have done.

The more people you meet, the more opportunities you have to discover the firm and for them to learn about and get to know you. I would recommend that you make use of every chance and reach out to people: if you are given a talk by a particular team make a note of their email and follow up after the session; if you are assigned a buddy, ask them to introduce you to someone in an area of interest. Don’t ignore alternative opportunities too: I organised a coffee with a Partner at Firm 2 who I had met previously but who was not involved with the vacation scheme; and someone in Firm 1 put me in touch with someone in Firm 2 who worked in a particular area of interest – and again, was not part of the vacation scheme.  All of this cultivates a great impression to a potential employer – you show you are being proactive, trying to integrate and maximising your time at the firm.

Another way to easily make a good impression is to ask questions during sessions and talks – you show you are engaged, interested and unafraid to speak up. It goes without saying that completing work assigned to you, making sure to ask if you can help or if there is anything else you can do and being on time, polite and alert are all musts. I would also recommend bringing in some ‘thank you/goodbye’ treats at the end of your vacation scheme to share with your team – a sweet treat always goes down well, you show some personality and it’s a neat way to send an email directing people to a pile of cakes/donuts while also thanking them.

Q: What was the toughest question on your applications and how did you answer it?

A: “Based on your passions/interests – how do you feel about the possibility that you will spend a significant amount of work time making rich people richer?” [This question was chosen due to passion/interest/previous experience information in my application and C.V.]

This was asked in one of my pre-vac scheme face-to-face interviews and it was a question I had not prepared for or expected. I found it to be an incredibly insightful question, and it was something I had wondered myself but (unhelpfully for me) not considered the answer to. I took a couple of seconds to gather my thoughts (don’t be afraid to do this), took a breath (very key) and was honest (even more key). I said that my position was that: who was it for me to say that someone who is wealthy or owns a big business deserved legal representation less than someone who doesn’t have a budget for advice? Anyone asking for help lacks the ability to help themselves, for whatever reason. I said it would be hypocritical of me to advocate access to justice, the right to a fair trial, equal representation, etc. but then turn up my nose at helping the wealthy and privileged. I also said that helping people and companies with more resources has a trickle-down effect – they pay taxes, they employ people, they often have social enterprise or charity budgets, etc.

I was happy that I was honest, and that my answer was representative of how I genuinely felt. It also provided me with an insight into myself. I didn’t know I had that particular view until I was asked. Don’t underestimate the value of interviews in showing you your own thoughts and motivations.

Q: What do you think made you stand out in your applications?

A: This is always very hard to answer. However, I think it is important to show your personality, that you own your individual journey, you have variety of thought, that you display an ability to self-start and that you are ready for the realities of work.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give aspiring lawyers trying to land a training contract?

A: I have a series about how to get a training contract here and also include three top tips here, but if I had a single piece of advice it would be to know yourself and to not be afraid to show who that is throughout the process. That way, if you get an offer at the end of it all, that offer will be based on who you really are, not some mythical paragon of virtue or a distorted version of who you think the firm are looking for. It’s a two-way process and if you haven’t been yourself then it may stifle your golden opportunity to find out if the firm is the best fit for you, and vice versa.

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(Don’t be shy…click ‘Leave a comment’, share this post if you like it; email, tweet and generally pester me if you want to hear more/share your stories/say hi)

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