The X Factor
2 September 2010
It’s that time of year again when hordes of fresh-faced hopefuls go in pursuit of their dream. For some it will be a “journey” toward the goal, a goal that means the world to each and every one of them.
Huge numbers apply and the vast majority are cast aside at the first hurdle. Then the serious business of whittling down begins. The scrutiny is intense. The pressure is immense. Some will crack under the strain and others will come through. Yes; it’s the time of year when large commercial law firms are in the midst of recruiting for trainees to start two years from now. Failure at this stage means having to wait at leastthree years to start a training contract with the firm that you’re now convinced is the only firm you can see yourself at.
I got a call on my mobile from an excellent and very high profile firm on a Thursday afternoon. Could I come in for an interview next Wednesday? Yes. Absolutely. Of course I can. Even if it had been on the same day as the funeral of an immediate family member, I would’ve re-arranged the funeral. Time off was hastily arranged at work. The interview went very well. I got a call back later the same day. Could I come back tomorrow? Tomorrow? Why of course! Had tomorrow been the day that I had been granted an audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, I would’ve been on the phone to the Vatican pronto, to re-schedule.
So now I’m down to the last 50 out of approximately 1,000 applicants. In my assessment centre there were 12 well presented and quite nervous aspiring solicitors. The morning consisted of an ice-breaker, a written exercise in drafting and a group negotiation session. Everyone seemed to have done really well. Only some of us would be invited to stay for lunch, presentations and another interview that afternoon. After some deliberation by the judges an HR person walked into the room and took six people away with their bags. I am left with five others. Is this good? Is this bad? A second HR person entered; her demeanour downcast, she said “I’m sorry to have to tell you all that…. you’re going to have to stay for lunch!” I was beginning to get a little inkling of what mental torture is inflicted on people by Dermott O’Leary every week. I was just glad that I didn’t have a TV camera shoved in my face and a live audience of hysterical people in front of me, as all six of us let out an involuntary roar of relief.
I’d made it down to about the last 24. There would be up to 10 training contracts offered and the final stage was a third interview at the start of September. I got home the following Tuesday to an e-mail saying my application “would not be taken any further”. It was hard to console myself with the fact I’d done so well to get that far. As the character Brian Stimpson (played by John Cleese) in the film “Clockwise” said: “I can take the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand”. I had dared to hope.
It’s undoubtedly true that this year is tough. The competition is fierce. At my assessment centre there were people who had already finished their LPC. Law firms report that the overall quality of applicants has risen. It’s not surprising as we’re now rubbing shoulders with people who would normally already have training contracts, as well as all those we would normally be competing against. However, at the risk of sounding blasé, I’m still optimistic. There will be a lot of people giving up, so numbers will reduce. When the level of graduate recruitment goes up again (as it must do) law firms will be taking the opportunity to take on some of the determined and talented individuals out there who are still knocking on the door. Will you be one of them? You know you have the “X-factor” that at least one particular firm is looking for. Are you going to continue the “journey”?