This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 24 May 2016 and is reproduced by kind permission.
Pippa Allsop on how to make a lasting impression during a vacation scheme.
With vacation schemes once again looming on the horizon for many prospective solicitors, it seems prudent to turn to the subject again, with some (hopefully not too patronising) advice for those who are anxious or are unsure about what to expect. It is a reality of many vacation schemes, particularly with larger city firms, that, between the scheduled assessments and meetings, your time in departments can largely be spent doing fairly monotonous and menial tasks.
While it might be difficult to know how best to make your mark when you are charged with seemingly basic jobs, if this is the case on your vacation scheme, I would encourage you to try to make the absolute best of it. Identifying and correcting errors, being proactive in suggesting solutions to problems, and excellent attention to detail are all attributes you can prove – even when doing some photocopying.
Also, try to seek out opportunities to talk to as many people as possible, while trying to find a balance so that you are seen to be ‘keen’ as opposed to ‘badgering’, of course. Ask questions about the smaller jobs you have been tasked with, how they are part of the bigger picture in whatever matter they relate to, how the firm deals with the need to complete such time-consuming but low-billing jobs – show a genuine interest.
Remember: many firms ask for feedback on your performance from everyone you are exposed to, and not just the ‘important people’. It is, of course, (in most instances) a basic human characteristic to be kind and courteous to other people, particularly in a professional setting. Offering to make the next round of hot drinks, or generally showing a personal interest in people when you are given the opportunity, will not only warm (most) people to you, it will also give you an invaluable opportunity to present yourself as an individual and be remembered.
Above all, do things well and with a smile. This may sound like a no-brainer, but it is all-too-easy to be given a job you feel is tedious or unskilled in its nature, and to let that impact on your performance or give the impression you feel it is beneath you. Generation Y has a reputation for being both ‘lazy’ and ‘entitled’, and although I refute the generalisation ardently, I would urge people to combat that stereotype rather than feed it.
Some firms go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, to give you meaningful exercises and opportunities to showcase your abilities and talents. It may well be that this determines your ultimate decision in choosing the right firm for you – it certainly was the case for me.
While appreciating that the vacation scheme market has been and continues to be oversaturated and highly competitive, I would reiterate old advice here to newcomers: it is imperative that you remember that you are a valuable asset to a firm and the vacation scheme process is a two-way street. It is just as much an opportunity for you to impress a prospective employer as it is for them to impress you. Desperation to secure a training contract should not eclipse that reality for candidates – or worse, be taken advantage of by employers. Your chosen firm will, at the very least, shape your training contract and, in the long run, your career. It is important to feel comfortable.