Have you enough fuel for the journey?
9 November 2009
When I was travelling along the long and winding road of pursuing a training contract I often thought of myself as a car.
I was the car and the training contract was of course my final destination.
The wheels were my academic and vocational qualifications - the degree, the GDL/LPC.
- The seats were my work experience and commercial awareness.
- The steering wheel was my reason for wanting to become a solicitor.
- And the CD player, surround sound, tinted windows, spoiler and alloys, well those were all the extra curricular activities, my interests/hobbies, my skills and the things that made me different and allowed me to stand out from others on the same road and on the same journey.
Now everyone has the potential to be a Bentley, Ferrari or Rolls Royce. The applicant that all the firms want - the best of the best.
But the Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls Royces, however great they might be, are not going to get anywhere without the petrol. I needed the fuel to complete my journey. For I thought I was doing as much as I possibly could, and you might be a great applicant, but without the determination, the self- belief, the confidence and the persistence they are unlikely to reach their training contract destination.
So if ever I felt like giving up I remembered that if I tried hard enough, I too could be a Ferrari/a great applicant. I had the potential. I just needed to believe in myself and have the confidence that if I wanted it bad enough I would get that training contract.
My tips for surviving interviews
Attending several interviews and assessment centres in the last few weeks, and having now received feedback from the firms that I was not successful with I thought it would be a good idea to share a couple of tips and areas to watch with caution.
Several interviews looming on the horizon might seem like pretty good odds. However, this can make research and knowledge of your target firms somewhat tricky, especially if you have several interviews within the space of a few days. I fell into the trap of concentrating too much research on just one firm. Prepare early enough in advance to avoid a silent answer to the question ‘So tell me about firm x’ and worse still, to avoid getting facts and figures, clients and deals mixed up.
Underselling yourself. One of the hardest things I found during group activities was to find the balance between not being too loud and being too quiet. You might have some really good ideas, but, as I found out, if you allow other people to develop and take credit for your ideas you will not gain the recognition you deserve. Also be aware of this during interviews. I remember kicking myself several times when I came out of interviews because I hadn’t mentioned an activity/experience that would have really illustrated a relevant skill.
Calm down. Assessment centres can be very stressful. Eager to impress, during the written tasks I often over- thought the point and missed the obvious. Spending too much time analysing and going over a single issue may prevent you from completing the task and even spotting and defining the more obvious matters.
Believe in yourself! Confidence is infectious. My successful interviews were the ones where the conversation flowed freely, more like a chat than an interview. Smiling, explaining and talking comfortably and in a relaxed way goes a long way to improving and portraying your own confidence to the interviewers. You’ve done remarkably well in getting to the interview/assessment stage and remember you deserve that training contract.
All is not lost if you are unsuccessful. A learning curve, my last interview was a hundred times better than my first. Through my experience, to one firm you could be the best thing since sliced bread, but to another you might be the worst candidate ever!
Week two: Your time starts now
A new week and another meeting with a department head, this time it’s litigation. A small team separated from commercial by three rows of desks so I was still able to retain my reclining chair and view outside onto the lake.
My first week’s escape from photocopying and filing soon came to an end as I began the week by reading through case files with the legal executive and photocopying documents following the monthly meeting with Trading Standards. Although, admittedly the tasks were not all doom and gloom, the files containing some very interesting and often amusing complaints and opinions. A first real taste of litigation later and I was observing and assisting in the completion of various Court forms and drafting letters of defence.
I took the initiative to introduce myself to the employment lawyer and accompanied her to an ACAS training session. Being in-house, we took the short walk downstairs to the HR and finance departments and after some playing with the projector in an attempt to remove the large black circle dominating the screen (the screen being the wall) the training session began, with, for some reason, a man standing in the corner filming with a camera. Having studied employment and industrial law at university, it was very useful to see its application to an actual company and later that day I had the chance to read through and discuss with the solicitors a number of claims for unfair and constructive dismissals.
Wednesday, and exactly half way through the three weeks I arrived to my desk at 8.30am to an email marked ‘Urgent’. A short fictional scenario had been sent to me by the trainee in the Vodafone Group, this must be one of the tests that I had been warned about when I first arrived. I had three hours to carry out several tasks, a prioritising activity, a research exercise and a proof reading/mark up of a document that I had to collect and return to the trainee’s desk.
A test conjures up negative connotations although this test was actually quite enjoyable. Up until now the vac scheme, although in a fast paced environment, had consisted of a range of tasks with no real deadlines or performance measures. But this test gave me a real chance to shine and get stuck in with the department.
I am also well underway with my presentation and am actually starting to become somewhat of an expert on interoperability! (okay, maybe expert is a bit of an exaggeration).
Week one: Where am I?
Although I had stepped from the train station and onto a bright red bus, with the Vodafone logo sprawled across the back, I was somewhat confused when I arrived at what looked to be a giant shopping/leisure complex!
On my way into reception, I passed a Formula One racing car neatly positioned on a podium, and glanced out the floor to ceiling windows to notice a restaurant complete with decking over a small lake. This is in addition to the on-site gym and mobile phone shop. But this is not a shopping nor indeed leisure complex, but the global headquarters of Vodafone in Newbury.
After a short tour and induction, during which I was given a laptop, mobile phone and sim card, I was introduced to the commercial team of Vodafone UK legal, where I would be beginning my three week summer vacation placement. A few introductions later and I was sitting in a small meeting room with the head of the department who was explaining the various structures and processes of Vodafone and it’s UK legal commercial team. I have to admit, that I did start to wonder whether I was here for a vacation scheme or Astronaut training. This may be due to the extremely large number of abbreviations and technical jargon involved with telecommunications, or perhaps the space age open plan, multi-level offices in which I was sitting.
Day three, and luckily I had not repeated the rather embarrassing ‘forgetting to scan my security pass and getting stuck in the revolving doors’ trick, as I went down and across to the EBU (Enterprise Business Unit) to sit in on a quick meeting with one of the commercial analysts. A meeting I had imagined would take place in a fairly formal meeting room but which actually took place on a table between the cafe and the leather sofa seating area. Thus it didn’t take me too long to get distracted by people around me buying chocolate cookies, operating the free mint machines and catching up on the days events.
I have barely been here a week, and have already noticed the many differences between a legal career in-house and that of private practice. However, my comparative thinking was soon interrupted towards the last day of the week when one of the solicitors forwarded me a research question which I would be required to present to a small team at the end of the placement. A question, which after a quick ask around, seemed even more impossible than it had already appeared when I had read the words ‘interoperability’ ‘decompilation’ and ‘reverse-engineering’.