Top firms increasingly target vac schemers
23 May 2013 | By Becky Waller-Davies
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More leading firms want to recruit trainees solely from vacation schemes, it has emerged.
A survey of 20 City, national and international firms by King’s College London has found that firms are increasingly focused on hiring their trainees from an annual pool of vacation scheme candidates.
The survey also asked firms to rank competencies such as good academics and a ‘global mindset’, with a good academic background found to be the most highly valued competency.
Law firm partners told pollsters that they were searching for candidates able to take an analytical approach to an argument and who had sufficient faith in their logic to stand by their decisions.
Edward Walker, graduate recruitment manager at Pinsent Masons, cautioned firms against recruiting trainees purely from their vacation scheme candidates. He said: “We have considered it because we already recruit heavily from our vacation scheme but we have a nervousness about saying that we would only recruit from the vacation scheme.
“What if somebody needs to work over the summer to fund university life? The cost of doing a vacation scheme in London is pretty expensive if you do not already live there. There is a socio-economic angle to it.”
He also emphasised the need for recruiters to take a balanced view of candidates’ key skills. He said: “These things are necessary but not sufficient. It is a fundamental requirement but I wouldn’t put it ahead of anything else.”
Alex Brown, training partner at Simmons & Simmons, said: “For us, like any firm, it’s very important and we do have benchmarks but it is by no means the be all and end all. You can find people who are academically brilliant but if they don’t have the people skills it doesn’t matter.
“They have to have emotional intelligence. I would rather recruit someone who got a solid 2:1 from a good university who has great interpersonal skills than a stellar 1st candidate without those skills.”
Another key quality highlighted by the survey was firms’ focus on the importance of candidates’ ‘global mindset’ with an understanding of cross-jurisdictional deals and cases being highly valued.
Brown said: “I think that it’s fair to say that candidates are competing on a global field. I was a trainee in the late 1990s and the majority of my intake was from the UK. That’s not the case anymore.”
He was keen to emphasise that firms should not expect candidates to have a detailed understanding of cross-jurisdictional matters. He said: “They (candidates) have to have an appreciation of what we do but I would not expect any candidate to have an awareness of how we go about that.”
The survey also underlined how candidates, enthusiastic to tick every box, can become bland.
Barry Fishley, partner at Weil Gotshal & Manges, said: “We do not want people to tell us what they think we want to hear, we want them to be their authentic selves and show their personality. They need to have the confidence and maturity to give refreshing, sometimes even unorthodox, answers.”
Walker conceded that there is a trend among candidates to game-play and stated that his team has looked for ways to avoid this.
He said: “I think that the better candidates understand the process the easier it is for them to play the game. We try to keep things less predictable to avoid that. We have moved away from competency based interviews to another format where we are still able to test those skills but it is less predictable.”
Feedback from the survey, which was carried out in association with The Times, revealed that insufficent attention to detail was the most recurrent mistake of those processing applications, withmentioning practice areas which the firm was not expert in or getting the firm’s name wrong being frequent - and fatal – mistakes.
Sarah Cockburn, graduate recruitment manager at Allen & Overy, advised students to focus on the written application process rather than reserving their efforts for the interview. She said: “Candidates need to focus their efforts on the application part of the process first and foremost, as this is statistically the hardest hurdle to cross, yet they often spend more time preparing for the interview.”
Professor David Caron, dean of The Dickson Poon School of Law at KCL, said: “Not only does this research give a consolidated insight into what firms are really looking for in prospective candidates, it offers genuinely helpful guidance on what students and universities can do to enhance applicants’ immediate and long term professional future.”
Training contract numbers have fallen to the lowest level since 1998 (21 May 2013).