Case study

Skye Fenton-Wells — Early talent recruitment manager

Womble Bond Dickinson

We spoke to Skye, early talent recruitment manager at Womble Bond Dickinson (WBD), to get answers to some frequently asked questions on applying for vacation schemes and training contracts, gaining work experience, and navigating assessment days and interviews

How can candidates get across their commercial awareness in an application?

If candidates can demonstrate that they're aware of current issues, it's a real advantage. However, candidates can set themselves apart from other applicants even further by taking the issues, contextualising them, and explaining how they might impact the firm and our clients going forward.

What makes the difference between a good application and an excellent one?

A good application will answer all the questions well, with a good variety of examples that can also demonstrate commercial awareness. An excellent one will tailor their answers to the firm they are applying to as much as possible - thinking about what sectors they work in, and what matters to their clients. It's also when you can start to see someone's personality coming through. The examples used might be a bit different from the standard responses that tend to come up a lot. Being able to draw out the relevant transferable skills we are looking for by providing answers that are relevant, current and well structured will make you stand out from the others.

What do the vacation schemers who go on to get a training contract at your firm do on the scheme to show they've got what it takes to be a successful solicitor?

It really comes down to being curious and being proactive about that. Ask questions, meet people, get involved in as much as you can. Having a growth mindset is something that is so important to us, so being able to demonstrate that you are willing to learn, be adaptable and embrace change is important too. This skillset is vital when is comes to your training contract and enables us to work with you in a really effective way to unlock your potential.

How do you assess vacation scheme students?

We collect feedback from the team(s) you've been involved with following your time with us and your final interview will also take place during your vacation scheme. Both are aligned with our competency framework, and we use the feedback from both to shortlist candidates.

How can people make up for the fact that they haven't done any work experience at a law firm?

Because we focus on potential, we aren't necessarily looking for legal work experience. If you're able to show us the transferable skillset that we are looking for in our future lawyers, whether that's from experience working in hospitality, playing sport, caring for family - any life experience really - that's what matters.

There are also lots of virtual work experience programmes out there at the moment which anyone is able to access, so if you are interested in gaining legal experience or wanting to better your understanding about certain firms or sectors, then that might be a good place to start.

What skills and competencies do you look for candidates to demonstrate on assessment days?

Throughout our recruitment process, we measure four competencies. We believe that these encompass the skills and attributes that our colleagues need to in order to be successful in our business. They are collaboration, client focus, creating value and adaptability.

The definitions and indicators that are related to each of these competencies help us to recognise and measure (as best we can) an individual's potential to develop. We don't just collect evidence of a certain behaviour in the past.

This framework is the starting point of the behaviours and actions that will be valued, recognised and rewarded at the firm - and these behaviours will underpin your career development at WBD.

Thinking about your assessment day, what skills are you looking for from the group exercise?

We run a paired exercise as part of our recruitment process, because we feel that it gives candidates a better chance at being able to demonstrate their skills and behaviours - and we think it makes them feel a bit more comfortable. We would be looking for the skills related to the four competencies outlined above, so things like communication skills, relationship building skills, the ability to make sense of the information provided and the ability to put new ideas forward would be some of the skills we'd be looking out for.

How can non-law students show their commitment to a career in law when they haven't necessarily been exposed to university law societies, law clinics and mooting events?

There is more to a person than the legal experience they have had and applicants must not underestimate their non-legal work experience. There are a lot of things that can shape and help candidates to develop important transferable skills that could be invaluable to WBD, so if you can evidence these then we'd like to hear about them.

If you can demonstrate these skills and show us that you have an understanding of how commercial firms operate and how what is happening in the current market might be affecting a firm and its clients, you'll set yourself apart from other candidates - whether they are law or non-law students. Commercial awareness is a crucial skill for our lawyers because it enables them to understand what issues are impacting our clients and will help them to become valued business advisers.

With all the developments in legal tech and artificial intelligence (AI), STEM students are going to become increasingly valuable to the changing legal landscape, so thinking about your career from this perspective might be another way to stand out from other applicants.