After attending BPP University‘s recent Careers in Law workshop in Holborn, our contributor, Natasha, realised the importance of practice when it comes to applying for training contracts.
However, there are a few rules you can follow to increase your chances of success through each stage of an application.
The workshop for aspiring solicitors was led by Johnny Hurst, Head of Faculty for the LPC in London, Caroline Fayson, Deputy Head of the LPC at Holborn, Paul Cannons, Career Consultant at BPP and Claire Justusm Student Recruitment Manger, who has previously worked with Travers Smith and gave a useful insight into what recruiters want to see in an application.
If you want to be ahead of the game, below are five things to take away from the workshop.
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How would you answer the question: ‘When have you played a key role as part of a team?’ The interactive workshop commenced with a discussion of what makes a good answer to that question.
Firstly, Caroline noted that correct spelling and grammar is paramount in any answer, so make sure to proof read and use UK spelling (i.e. you should write ‘organise’ as opposed to ‘organize’).
Secondly, make sure you actually answer the question given, not the question you want to answer.
The importance of using the S.T.A.R. method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer was given particular emphasis. Ensure you clearly show how you contributed as a key team player whilst providing evidence of the results of your contributions.
Thirdly, whilst word limits can be any applicant’s worst nightmare, wasting words can decrease the conciseness of your answer. Avoid repeating yourself, which will help to cut down your word count.
Trying to keep an answer relevant to the question can be tricky. Nevertheless, cutting out details that do not prove how you are, for example, a team player can trim down your answer.
On the topic of relevance, Claire advised that randomly dropping a firm’s deal in your answer is not actually very impressive. For example, when explaining why you are interested in commercial law, only mention deals that demonstrate your interest in commercial law and supplement your understanding.
The second part of the workshop was dedicated to improving answers in interviews. Two common types of interview questions are competency-based questions and strength-based questions.
Competency-based questions require you to reflect on your past experiences or positions and explain how they have developed your skills.
An example of a competency-based question is: ‘tell me about a time you had to be persuasive.’ A strong answer to this question must focus on what issue you came across, how you presented your point of view and why you chose that approach to be persuasive.
Whilst the S.T.A.R method still applies, Paul stated that 70% of your answer should be dedicated to the issue and your actions, instead of giving an overly detailed explanation of your role or responsibilities.
Meanwhile, strength-based questions are designed to throw you off guard. Questions, such as ‘why will our clients like you?’ differ from competency-based questions, as they are asking you about what you would do in the future, not what your past experiences are.
You need to demonstrate how you benefit the firm as a trainee, so a good understanding of the firm’s identity and values will help. Your body language is crucial to your response too, as the interviewer is looking for evidence of your skills and professionalism.
An increasing amount of firms are using video interviews to sift through equally impressive applicants.
Caroline added that firms are looking for concise answers to gauge whether you have the verbal communication skills needed to effectively advise clients in a professional manner.
Whilst the rules for interviews in person are certainly applicable, pay special attention to how clear and coherent your answers are.
During a group exercise, you may find yourself grouped with people who are slightly overbearing or dominating.
The key to impressing during a group exercise is confidence; Johnny noted that staying quiet in a group exercise is just as bad as dictating to the rest of the group.
If you do have to complete a group exercise for assessment centres, be sure to express your opinion as to how you feel your group could approach the exercise and make sure you try to involve other candidates as much as possible. Do not be afraid to say whether you disagree with another candidate but explain why.
Remaining professional during the assessment centre is key. Treat the exercises as actual tasks that need to be completed at a high standard as part of your job and speak formally.
The application workshop was followed by an interactive negotiation exercise, as part of an LPC course taster session.
Johnny emphasised that the exercises you complete during your LPC prepare you for the exercises you would complete during an assessment day at a law firm.
Keeping an eye on timing is important for succeeding in the negotiation. You will usually have a few matters that you have to come to an agreement on with the opposing sides. This requires spending an equal amount of time for discussions on each matter.
When you do eventually find an agreement, ensure it is not vague and that what you have agreed to can be clearly defined.
In other words, the final agreement should not be abstract or have any room for misunderstanding as to the terms you have agreed.
Hopefully this clears up some of the dos and don’t of applying for and securing a training contract.
Whilst mastering the application process takes practice, following BPP’s guidance can help boost your confidence going into application season!
Words: Natasha Dayananda
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