Editors Weekly: Autumn blues
22 August 2007
14 February 2008
4 June 2009
8 November 2007
7 April 2008
19 July 2011
With the shops swapping their bikinis for winter coats and a certain stationers back-to-school sale now in full swing, the end of summer seems nigh. But before you return to your books, I thought wed revisit summer vacation schemes one last time.
So while I try to make the most of what is left of our miserable summer weather, Alasdair Wilson, who is studying at Kings College London, has taken over this week's newsletter to give you the lowdown on some of the lessons hes learnt during his recent vacation schemes.
See you in a week.
Summer showdown: By Alasdair Wilson
After completing two vac schemes this summer youd think I wouldve mastered the process. But after spending most of July and August in an office with a bunch of students Id never met before and who were all competing against me for training contracts I soon realised that vac schemes are more than just about being commercially aware.
Lesson one: Dont be a smart aleck
The learning started on day one of my first scheme. When asked at lunch by a fellow student who my supervising trainee was, I replied with the casual assertion that the trainees job would soon be mine. I silently congratulated myself on a fabulous attempt at friendly banter. But the blank-faced reply was simply a reminder that my trainee was to write a report on me at the end of the week.
Equally, dont swan around thinking youre a cut above because youve got multiple vac placements (yes, I did meet someone who was doing five). From what Ive picked up, doing too many can make you sound desperate and confused.
Lesson two: Beware of the competition
Vac schemes are fantastic for meeting other students and making new friends. But what isnt so great is that some of these so-called new best friends could also become your new worst enemies after all, youre all competing for the same prize. For instance, after a particularly icy teamwork exercise at one firm the opposing side conveniently forgot to forward a message to my team from the trainees inviting us all to lunch because of a computer glitch, apparently.
Another stark reminder of the competitive climate is the false promise of after-work drinks. Certain students would nominate themselves as the social committee and organise after-work drinks during lunch and encourage all to attend. But they were also the ones who slinked off at six and were not to be seen that evening. Did they simply forget or were they so keen to distract the competition while they got a good nights sleep?
And then there were the friendly pep talks on the day of training contract interviews. Those students lucky enough to have theirs early on in the day were always ready to give generous advice and encouragement to the others. Funnily, this usually came in the form of scaring the other student as much as possible while reciting everything they know about the City, just to show how well theyd done.
One students snipes were even exposed by the classic Reply to all email blunder. The slip relayed certain predictions of another students chances of getting a training contract to the other four members of their presentation group. It seems certain that the grapevine obliged in giving that individuals confidence a good kick in the teeth by reporting back what was said and by whom, and one can only imagine the awkwardness the next time the two were thrown together.
Lesson three: watch out for the Oxbridge clique
Thankfully, the Oxbridge students on both my schemes could hardly be told apart from the rest of us and werent cliquey at all. But apparently this isnt always the case. Some students I met who had done other vac schemes had endured some very dull conversations at drinks evenings.
Lesson four: dont become a victim of the rumour mill
Unfortunately, I learnt the hard way. At one firms drinks party, I managed to knock a glass of wine over a solicitors suit while explaining something with rather too much hand-waving gusto. The resounding smash was, unfortunately, the perfect cue for the trainees to pounce on. Despite my actual sobriety (being drunk on a vac scheme is never a good look), I was dubbed the The One Who Got Drunk for the rest of the week. And the more I protested my sober innocence, the more my voice was mimicked in an incomprehensible slur, much to the glee of the other students. My advice therefore is to take such incidents on the chin.
The lessons I learnt during my vacation schemes explain one of the most important things about the experience: its a transition from a paper-based application to a three dimensional one. Its about showing competence within an environment as well as aptitude on a form. This involves interacting professionally as a lawyer, working as part of a team with people who you are directly competing with, and getting on with work while taking rumours with a pinch of salt. If you can handle all of that, youre well on your way to bagging that elusive training contract.