First year, first thoughts

It’s early October and you’ve just started university where you’ll be spending the next 3 years (maybe 4 if you have a year abroad) Does your degree seem like it’ll go on for a long time?

Well, if you’re a new law student looking to end up as a solicitor you need to start your career planning a long time before the end of your three years.
Why? Many law firms will be recruiting trainees two years ahead of their training contracts, so after leaving a year for Legal Practice Course, that takes you to the start of your final year at university.
That still seems like a long time away, but one of the most useful things you can do to help you to secure a training contract is a vacation scheme. Vacation scheme recruitment typically takes place in autumn and spring of second year.
How do you get a training contract? Good grades, skills and commercial awareness all help. As you’ll be applying during your second year, you’ll only have your first year results to prove your academic ability to a firm.

Building your experience

Make use of the events being held at your university, whether that’s a careers event or a fair, start to get a feel for the type of firm you might like to work for. Is it a big global firm, a local practice, or something in between? Are you interested in litigation or criminal law, or prefer deals and finance? The more types of firms you expose yourself too, the more you’ll gain an understanding of what motivates you.
As your first year progresses, make sure you get involved with clubs, societies and other extra-curricular activities. When you come to apply for jobs (and vacation schemes), you’ll need to be able to provide evidence of your abilities such as, being able to work in a team, lead others, and solve problems. You won’t develop those skills simply by studying.

Time management is an important skill for aspiring lawyers to have and there is a balance to be stuck between spending so much time studying that you have a poor CV and spending so much time on extra-curricular that you have poor grades. Find the balance which suits you best – some people like to spend nine to five each day studying and do other things in the evenings and weekends, some people like to save their study for the weekends.

Don’t forget to speak to your university careers consultant if you need some more advice.

The ‘Hobbies and Interests’ section on your CV

I have seen hundreds of students for appointments to talk about CVs and if there is one section that consistently causes confusion it is the hobbies and interests portion. The key is to use the space wisely. Or if you can’t, don’t use it at all. The absolute worst is to plug something into the section for the sake of it. This approach usually results in vague or meaningless statements.

Here is one you might be familiar with: “I enjoy reading and socialising with friends.” Snooze. What is this telling your prospective employer about you? It’s so vague that it is dangerous. When I see this line, my inner cynic reads it as: “I read my Twitter feed and I like going to the pub”. Alternatively: “I have no imagination.”

So what to write?

The key is to be specific. If you do really like reading, point out what sort of things that you read. Flag up your passion for historical biographies/technology publications/French poetry, if that is what you mean. Although, there is a find balance here too. A few years ago, the Careers Group published a post on the subject which is worth digging out. The post sets out the various personality types that might come out of this section. My favourite is this: “I like to browse eBay for additions to my extensive novelty snowglobe collection”. The author of that post describes this personality as ‘the weirdo’. The lesson is this: be specific but don’t go mad. Avoid the risk of looking as though you aren’t taking the application seriously.

Can you skip the section altogether?

Of course. If all you are able to come up with is the “socialising with friends” line, the section will likely to more harm than good. On the other hand, it is worth remembering that this section is another opportunity to highlight relevant skills. So if teamwork is key, pointing out that you ‘enjoy singing in a choir, with weekly practices and regular concerts’ can go some way towards showing the employed that you fit that aspect of the job spec. Whether or not you include this section in your CV is down to you but do at least be sure to have thought about it. The section usually comes towards the end of your CV; it’s worth making sure that the last impression counts.

Helene Tyrrell

Application Adviser

Careers & Enterprise Centre

Parliamentary inquiry into the closure of the Post Study Work Visa

File:Big ben i house of commons, londres, 2008.JPG

Photo under free creative commons license by Carlesmari,_londres,_2008.JPG

The government wants to know what impact the closure of the PSW has had on students, universities, and local economies and a committee has been set up to oversee this process. They are interested in hearing from overseas/international students and have asked for written evidence in answer to various questions, but particularly in relation to how the closure of the PSW has impacted your studies and ability to gain experience in employment in the UK and abroad.

You can find further information about the inquiry here:

If you are interested in submitting written evidence, please make sure you read the inquiry guidelines here:


How do you demonstrate integrity at interview?

Recruiters, eh?   You’ve mastered the interview basics – and then they give you something so far out of left field that it’s not even in the stadium.

Typically, these brainteasers revolve around ethics, integrity, values and are framed in two different, but equally devious, ways……

Scenario – based

Medics applying for junior doctor posts are used to ethical questions lurking in dark corners, but it’s now becoming commonplace for other roles.  For instance? “You’re an intern helping on a big project with an important client. You’ve realised that one of your colleagues has made a mistake in their report, which effectively gives a better impression of the company to the client than is perhaps true. Your company really needs this contract and you know your manager will be very unhappy if the deal falls through. What do you do?” A ready response may not spring rapidly to the lips.

Evidence driven

“Tell us about a time you showed yourself to be trustworthy/reliable/principled” etc. Do I feel a rabbit caught in headlights moment coming on? Again, if you are not prepared it would be easy to stumble over a question like this, particularly since the answer is not so obvious.

The Rules

  • TAKE YOUR TIME: Pausing to reflect is ok, as it shows you are thinking carefully and not just jumping to an answer.
  • WHAT’S MY PRIORITY? Is your loyalty to the client, customer, patient? Or to the organisation, your colleagues, codes of practice, or even yourself? Medics have their Hippocratic Oath, but what about the rest of us? The next point should help you answer this…
  • THINK ABOUT THE COMPANY ETHOS: Hopefully you will have done your research to know what is important to the organisation, so you can tailor your answer. For example,  in the scenario above, although the company may need the contract, customer loyalty may be one of their key values; which could be jeopardised should the client find out that the report was wrong but you went ahead and let them sign the contract anyway. Presumably that client would never work with you again and tell others.
  • THINK ABOUT WHY THEY ARE ASKING THIS: The reason these are ethical dilemmas is there is no one right answer. What the interviewer is doing is trying to get a sense of who you are as a person and seeing if this fits in with the ethos of the organisation.
  • KNOW YOUR BOUNDARIES: These questions often revolve around how you deal with people. How do you report problems to your superiors, how do you deal with colleagues etc. You need to demonstrate that you know when to deal with an issue yourself and when to let others higher up handle it. And of course, at all times remaining professional.
  • IT’S THE LAW: Of course, I hope there is no need to emphasise that you should NEVER admit to doing anything illegal in an interview. And any scenario question that whiffs of illegality should illicit a firm response from you.
  • PROVING INTEGRITY: Forget that you were milk monitor at primary school.  Respect.  But really not relevant. Focus on recent circumstances where you adhered to confidentiality, handled sensitive situations, dealt with safeguarding , compliance, regulatory issues or simply stood up for a principle in which you believed. Were you in charge of a charity collection or the finances for a student society? Have you ever been asked to disclose information about a colleague that you felt was inappropriate to do so?

And the greatest indicator of your ethics and integrity? Remaining honest and authentic throughout your application and interview. In other words, be yourself and you can’t go too far wrong.

Gill Sharp

Careers Consultant, QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre

Presentation Skills

Presentation Skills for Law Assessment Days

While you’re busy preparing for exams, I thought I’d write about preparing for presentations, with a light hearted look at what you can learn from some of the stars of country music.

Country music is not particularly popular in the UK, but in the US it’s a significant part of the music scene.

Listening to a few country songs, it seems that these artists seem to be good at understanding their audience and connecting with themes and ideas which they share. Some of the lyrics in their songs contain the everyday, the ordinary and the American dream: open roads, driving a truck, working hard and getting on, food and drink.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

“She likes it when I bring home fresh fajitas
And mix up a pitcher of margaritas” – Doin’ What She Likes, Blake  Shelton.

“I love sleeping in on Saturdays
And I love college football games
I love not acting my age
And good barbecue” – Love Your Love the Most, Eric Church

How’s this relevant to law careers?

Well, some employers are asking students to give a presentation as part of the assessment progress. That’s when you’ve got to start thinking like a country singer, you’ve got to start thinking about how you are going to connect with that employer and show them that you are the right sort of fit for their organisation.

You won’t be singing (hopefully) and the presentation is unlikely to be about fajitas and barbeque. However, you will need to be alive to the qualities the employer you’re presenting to is looking for. You need to make sure that both the content you are presenting and the way in which you’re talking about it is relevant to that organisation.

How can you do that? Research. If possible, attend an event the firm is running, but if you’ve not been able to do that then looking on their website, using the law directories and reading the legal press can be very useful. Even a firm’s own press releases will give you an idea as to how they like to talk about themselves. Which words do they frequently use to describe themselves? What qualities are they looking for in a candidate?

Other things to remember when delivering presentations include:

  • If you have a choice, choose a subject about which you feel confident to speak.
  • Be explicit about the outline of your content. State what you are going to talk about, outline your main points and summarise your conclusions. This is known as signposting.
  • Personal stories, anecdotes and examples are often interesting and memorable. However, telling jokes can be risky. The audience may not share your sense of humour.
  • Practise delivering your talk in front of a trusted friend or the mirror.
  • Ensure that the audience at the back of the room can see and hear you.
  • Remember that the audience wants you to succeed. They also want you to recover from any mistakes.
  • Time yourself – it is better to end a little early than to overrun but be aware that you may speak more quickly in front of an audience.