Keith works as an early talent recruitment advisor for Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD). Here he gives invaluable advice on how to set yourself above the competition when applying to law firms
What really stands out in an application form?
The application form is often the first point of contact with a law firm so it’s important to make your application stand out.
One of the main mistakes that we see is that when applicants discuss their work experience they often list a series of bullet points that have been lifted from the job description. The problem with this is that it doesn’t tell us anything about who you are, or allow your personality to shine through.
We know what a paralegal or a retail worker does on a day to day basis. We want to see not just what you have done, but how you have done this. What were your successes? What mistakes have you been able to learn from? What are you most proud of? This allows us to build up a picture of who you are and how you work, helping to bring your application to life.
What criteria do you mark candidates against in job applications?
We use a scoring matrix throughout the entire recruitment process, looking at our values as a business - collaboration, client focus, creating value and adaptability. A key thing to be mindful of is self-awareness. We don’t expect the finished product - this is what the training contract is for. We need to know that you are just as invested in being the best that you can be as we are.
What kind of extracurricular activities really impress on an application?
There is no stand out activity that we are looking for. Having interests outside of law and academia can create great talking points and help you to become well rounded.
We like to work with interesting people and so do our clients. If you are a parent or a carer for example, please tell us about the transferable skills you use. Juggling dropping off a child at nursery while getting to work on time requires time management skills. It’s all about how you draw upon your own experiences.
What are the main reasons you reject a training contract or vacation scheme application?
Lack of effort. We mark a lot of applications and it’s obvious when a candidate has rushed their application.
Take your time to research and put together an application that represents you. We review all applications manually to ensure that we pay respect to the time that you have taken.
Most importantly, make reference to the law firm that you are applying for. We still see applications that are clearly aimed towards another law firm or refer to us by the wrong name.
What makes the difference between a good application and an excellent one?
Personality. This can be demonstrated by giving examples of successes in your work or extracurricular activities. Tell us what you have learnt and how you have overcome challenges. This allows us to build a picture of you in the workplace. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, we genuinely want to get to know you. It's not about the opportunities you’ve had - it's about what you have been able to do with the opportunities.
How can candidates demonstrate their commercial awareness in an application?
By demonstrating that you understand the goals that your team and employer are working towards. Show us that you have an understanding of us as a business and how the client relationship works.
If you are asked a question that is based around commercial awareness try to avoid the headline news i.e. Brexit, covid etc. Try and find a subject that you are passionate about but that also lines up with the firm you are applying for.
How do you assess vacation scheme students?
We want to see enthusiastic and engaged participation throughout. We look at feedback from your mentor, the team that you have been assigned to, the training contract interview and feedback from across the business. How you treat the support staff is just as important. Take the opportunity to learn about the firm and the culture by being pro-active.
How can people make up for the fact that they haven’t done any legal work experience?
We don’t expect all applicants to have legal work experience. There are lots of transferable skills that can be gained from any experience. Retail workers will utilise communication skills and fast food workers need time management. There is always something to be gained from an experience, so by being self-aware you can highlight the skillsets you have used, which led to your success.
How can somebody make the right impression at a law fair?
Avoid questions where the answer can be found easily on our website or by a quick google search - for example, when do applications open and how many offices do you have?
If you ask an interesting question it demonstrates that you have researched well and have a genuine interest in joining us. Understand the sectors the firm works within, as talking about an area that they don’t specialise in highlights a lack of research.
What skills and competencies do you look out for on assessment days?
As with the application the behaviours we like to see during the assessment day are - collaboration, client focus, creating value and adaptability.
Our assessment days comprise a group exercise and an interview that covers a variety of skillsets so that there is an opportunity for everyone to be able to demonstrate their strengths.
What’s your advice to those who don’t feel comfortable speaking up in group exercises?
We’re not just looking for extroverts and leaders. There’s a lot that you can bring to a group even if you’re a quiet person. However, we do expect you to engage and participate - this can be in the form of a timekeeper, the group scribe etc.
Be confident in yourself. It is very clear when someone is trying to be someone they are not. Quite often it is the quiet ones that have taken the time to really consider what the exercise is asking them to do. These people are able to 'unlock' the problems and push the group forward.
What kind of questions should candidates ask at interview and what shouldn’t they ask?
This can be difficult as there’s so much information online. If you came to the interview with questions that have been answered through the conversations that you’ve had, it is fine to say so.
Consider the research you have done, what have you found interesting that you would like the interviewers personal opinion on, is there any work that we have done that you are particularly interested in?
Don’t ask questions that can be answered with a quick google search or will be on the website, as this demonstrates a lack of research and interest.
How can non-law students show their commitment to a career in law?
There are lots of ways to demonstrate an interest in law. Try and immerse yourself in the legal world by attending legal events and following high-profile work.
Connect with lawyers in sectors of interest on LinkedIn, as they post about what they are working on, you will see questions and comments from others.
Internships and open days are open for non-law students so get involved and ask questions.