Finding a job as a newly qualified lawyer
By Robina Clough
PART ONE - Your CV
Newly qualified lawyers may not be all that familiar with drafting a CV given that the process of applying for training contracts is less about the formal CV and much more about filling in a myriad of forms. As recruiters, we have seen literally hundreds (if not thousands) of CVs in our lifetimes and we can quickly tell those that have the potential of leading to an interview and those that will end up straight in the shredder.
The purpose of the CV
As obvious as it may seem, the fundamental purpose of your CV is to market yourself. Whether that is directly to a law firm, or to your recruitment consultant, the decision as to whether or not to invite you to interview will be made almost solely on the content of your CV. We will of course offer you advice and help you to improve your CV, but we do at least need something to work with. Remember that your recruiter will receive dozens of applications from other newly qualified lawyers. It is just as important to distinguish yourself and make as good a first impression on your recruiter as it is a potential employer.
What to include
One of the most common questions we get asked is: “How long should my CV be?” Whilst we do not subscribe to the idea that two pages is plenty, as an NQ it is unlikely that you will have so much relevant experience that you need to stretch to reams and reams. Keep it relevant and succinct and use bullet points to highlight your experience. Avoid writing your CV in the first person - it doesn’t sound very professional.
You may wish to include a summary profile of your skills and career aspirations, but again it is important to keep this to the point and not let it become a thinly veiled attempt at self-praise.
It is important that your CV is relevant to the position you are applying for so if you are interested in qualifying into more than one area of practice, it may be wise for you to draft more than one version of your CV, tailored specifically to the different specialisms you may be interested in.
Key information to include:
Personal details - name, address, email address and telephone number (preferably mobile). Do not include information such as age, marital status, religion or ethnicity – these will be saved for confidential equal opportunities questionnaires. Do however include your nationality and whether you require/hold a visa to work in the UK.
Qualification date – either pending or confirmed and which jurisdiction (even if it is England & Wales).
Education – include all dates, institutions attended and grades obtained from GCSEs through to LPC or equivalent. Do not leave your grades off, we will assume they are below par and will only have to ask you as at this level law firms insist on knowing. If you have extenuating circumstances, please do let us know separately – we will treat your information with the utmost sensitivity.
Employment history – start with the most recent first and work backwards. Make sure you give specific detail of the work that you have undertaken and the level of involvement you had. The example CV should give you an idea of the right level of content (click here to see sample CV).
Additional information – note down any training courses you have attended, any contributions to articles (either internal or external) and involvement in seminars and marketing activities.
Interests – do include them as it makes you a little more human. Be careful not list dozens and dozens which make it sound like there’s no time left for work, and DO NOT list “socialising with friends” – it actually makes it sound like you’re trying to convince yourself!
Checking & formatting your CV
As clichéd as it is, you should always check your CV several times for spelling and grammatical errors and ideally get someone else to read it (even before you submit it to a recruitment consultant).
Make sure you account for any gaps in your CV such as further study or travel.
Do not include any information you wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing at interview such as anything of a sensitive nature (personal or work related) or professional or non-professional achievements that you don’t feel you could confidently answer questions on. Remember that anything contained in your CV is conversation fodder.
Do not exaggerate any aspect of your CV – you will likely be caught out at some stage.
Always use clear, professional fonts and avoid using tables and text boxes.
PART TWO – The Interview Process
Even at this relatively junior level, there are no hard and fast rules as to what format the interview process will follow. However, it is safe to say that you will be asked to attend at least two interviews with partners and/or HR, followed by a more informal “meet the team” type meeting with assistant solicitors in the group. The first interview tends to be a walk through your CV and a “personality matching” exercise, whereas at second interview it is more likely that you will be quizzed technically on your participation in matters on your CV. Meeting associates may come before or after an offer has been made, but either way you should treat it as a serious part of the interview process as a whole; it is an opportunity to ask questions that perhaps weren’t suitable for previous meetings and to make a good impact on your potential peer group.
Do your research
Being adequately prepared for an interview may be blatantly obvious, but we cannot stress this point enough. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard negative feedback about candidates who didn’t seem to have even looked at the firm’s website prior to interview and appeared to know virtually nothing about the partners who were interviewing them. As your recruiter, we will give you as much information as we can about the firm, the practice area, the role and the partners, but actually spending some time doing your own research is essential.
As well as looking at the firm’s own website for details of the team and examples of recent work, you should look at independent sites which show their rankings in various practice areas, as well as news articles in the legal press. Some suggestions include:
Of course, you may stumble across some less than flattering articles in the process, but do take these with a pinch of salt – every law firm gets bad press from time to time.
Use the information you gather, from either your recruiter, the job spec or the internet to think about how your experience is relevant and how you could prove to your audience that you are the perfect candidate for the job.
Look the part
It almost seems patronising to suggest that you might need to be told how to present yourself for interview, but again, some of the feedback we hear tells us we should. From small details such as a neatly pressed shirt and polished shoes through to simple things like actually wearing a suit or making sure your hem line is of an appropriate (if not altogether fashionable) length are all important. First impressions do still count.
Potential interview questions
As I’ve mentioned already, no two interviews will be the same and the scope for questions is endless. But at some point you will probably come across most of the following:
Why do you want to leave your current firm?
What interests you about our firm?
Why are you interested in “x” practice area?
What are your salary expectations?
What are your career aspirations?
Do you have any questions?
We will be happy to go through the best way to answer these questions as part of your interview preparation.
More and more law firms (as well as in-house legal departments) are starting to use verbal reasoning tests as part of the assessment process. Click here to read our basic guide to verbal reasoning tests.
PART 3 – Offer and Acceptance
After you have composed the perfect CV and performed impeccably throughout the interview process, you will hopefully end up with an offer on the table. Your recruitment consultant will guide you the through process, but at the newly qualified level it is important to remember that there is little or no room for negotiation. NQ salaries are generally set in stone (and are widely publicised) so you can be reasonably confident you are being offered the going rate for that particular firm. It is of course in our interest to ensure you get the best possible salary (after all our livelihoods depend on it), but we will always be realistic about what you should expect.
Generally firms expect you to accept an offer within a few days; take a steer from your recruiter on this. We would normally suggest that at this level you should come to a decision within a week (assuming you have the paperwork), but if we are aware that there are other very strong candidates in the frame, we would probably encourage you to intimate your response sooner rather than later. If you want the job and everything seems in order, there is no reason to delay.
If you are lucky enough to have more than one offer, then it really is a case of deciding which firm or role you would feel most comfortable in. Hopefully you will have gained a good feel for this during the interview process. Again, if you are unsure, do ask us for our opinion; we should have gleaned enough about you during the process to be able to give you a more educated, market informed ‘gut’ feeling of what will suit you best.
OTHER USEFUL ARTICLES
Some other articles you may find useful on this site are:
© Edwards Gibson
Articles by Robina Clough
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