At this time last year we posted reflections by one of our students on summer work experience in the PR, comms and charity sectors. This year Jake Schogger a Law and Business student and founder of City Career Series (which produces commercial law and investment banking handbooks) has given us his thoughts on a busy summer of law internships which culminated in a series of job offers. Jake wanted a solicitor’s training contract but most of what he says is applicable to one and all. So here’s Jake with his advice on how to get that offer….
Obviously, if you can’t do the work to the standard expected by the firm, they won’t be offering you a job! Whilst some pieces of set work will be harder than others, and minor mistakes may be completely fine, attention to detail should never be overlooked. Proof read your work multiple times (even ask colleagues to have a read if you believe the circumstances render this appropriate) and make sure there are no spelling, grammatical or formatting errors – there’s no excuse for these.
Check to see whether there are particular fonts, templates or settings in Word or Excel that your employer uses as part of its ‘house style’ and where possible, adhere to these. This demonstrates your ability to absorb the ways in which the firm operates, and ensures the person judging your work will approve of it stylistically.
Consider who the work is addressed to. For a client it needs to be short, concise and to the point (unless you are told otherwise). The language shouldn’t be too technical or full of jargon and acronyms. If you’re working for a senior lawyer, perhaps ask whether they would like references(indicating the sources of your research), whether they have a rough word limit in mind, and even whether they would like a printed or an electronic copy. These are not stupid questions and can help to ensure the work meets favour. However, don’t ask the questions more than once! Listen carefully to the answers you receive.
You’re selling yourself during an internship at least as much as a firm is selling itself to you. Your personality will therefore influence a firm’s inclination to hire you. They’ll look for genuine commitment to a career in law (they’re not going to invest in you, if you’re not planning to stick around). They’ll look to see how you fit in with the firm’s culture. Do you get on well with the firm’s existing employees? Are you a hard worker? Ask around for work if your supervisor has nothing for you, don’t keep leaving early! Are you professional and reliable? The firm needs to trust you to complete work in a very demanding, client-led environment where clients expect only the very best from their lawyers. Most roles also require ample confidence and presentation skills. Are you the quiet person in the corner, or do you make an effort to get involved and socialise?
Common feedback to candidates unsuccessful in converting an internship into a job is that their enthusiasm was lacking. It’s easy to assume that if you’re technically competent this should be enough. However, if candidates do not seem enthusiastic when spending 2-3 weeks at the firm, employers will wonder how enthusiastic they’ll be six months into an employment contract. Indifference to work will be reflected in the quality of their work, and may impact others and the culture of the firm in general. Employers perceive their “culture” as something that keeps employees motivated (and thus boosts productivity). They don’t want someone miserable. Demonstrate your enthusiasm by getting involved. Ask lots of carefully considered questions (to your supervisors, graduate recruitment, people you meet during socials and those who give you presentations). Asking questions can really help to demonstrate your genuine interest in the firm. Attend all the events, including socials, and talk to as many firm representatives and other interns as possible. And remember, keep smiling!
The dreaded end of placement interview
You must know why you want to work for the employer! Whilst 3-4 structured reasons for wanting to work for a particular employer may scrape you through an internship interview, this won’t work in an interview following a vacation scheme. You’ve spent 2-3 weeks immersed in the firm’s culture, meeting many employees and engaging in real work, your answers need to be more personal, more substantive, and less aligned with graduate recruitment marketing materials. For instance, was there a personality type within the firm? People you really enjoyed meeting? Pieces of work that were particularly interesting and indicative of the type of work the firm carries out? Did you attend a presentation on the training contract structure that helped to differentiate the firm from its competitors or align the firm with your preferred means of learning? Your own questions matter too, think them through carefully!
Demonstrating teamwork in the assessment
Many careers require candidates to regularly work in teams. So many assessments include some sort of team-based exercise. This can range from building a Lego tower in a group, to delivering a presentation on the firm (or one of its clients) to a senior employee, or engaging in a complex fictional commercial negotiation. Graduate recruiters are incredibly perceptive and will notice if the team dynamic is adversely affected by a candidate. Try to work well with team members. Encourage quieter ones to speak, praise good ideas,constructively contribute to ideas you believe are less strong and, above all, avoid being rude or overbearing.
The best way to demonstrate teamwork in a presentation or pitch is to know others’ contributions well. Reference your colleagues, refer questions to the person dealing with that particular issue but also ensure that you’re all in a position to answer questions. Do as much research together as possible, regularly discuss the structure and each other’s parts. Avoid duplication and generally help each other out!
And finally – a cautionary tale!
My girlfriend and I were both offered a place on the same vacation scheme this Summer. We decided not to tell anyone that we were together.
Two days before the internship began, I’d been invited out for dinner with my girlfriend’s grandparents. I got the dress code wrong and turned up in shorts and a tee shirt at a posh restaurant. At the meal, we discussed the firm at which we were about to intern; our previous internship experiences (including our current firm preferences); and the fact that we were keeping our relationship a secret.
We duly started the internship and I was nonplussed when, in the second week a trainee came up to me, with a huge smile on his face, instructing, “My associate supervisor says next time you go our with your girlfriend’s grandparents, don’t wear a tee shirt!”
The associate had been at the table next to us in the restaurant that evening, had heard us mention the firm’s name and had proceeded to listen to sections of our conversation for the next couple of hours.
Careless talk costs jobs! We were lucky we hadn’t said anything untoward at that dinner and both ended up receiving training contract offers. I’ve heard stories of interns talking negatively about other interns and criticising other firms, this doesn’t go down well with recruiters.
Moral of the story? Be careful what you say in public and don’t talk negatively about other people and firms – it does not reflect well on you!