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Legal Careers Other Than Traineeships

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For students who do not want a traineeship in either the private or public sector, but who are interested in a wider job market, the options for gathering information about what is available and about the prospective employer are slightly different. Careers Fairs vary in their focus but those with a general remit are usually attended by organizations such as the civil service, the police and the armed forces, but more particularly by commercial and service industries who are seeking to take in graduates as management trainees or at different levels of their administrative and financial structures. While at first glance they may not seem the most obvious source of gathering information about your options, they are well worth checking out particularly if the Fair is held on campus. The Scottish Graduate Recruitment Fair is held annually and attracts dozens of employers. If attending these you are advised to dress as if for an interview and to take a number of copies of your C.V. with you. Some organizations have annual milk rounds when they come to the institution to make presentations and to interview candidates. These opportunities should not be missed. The coordinating body for all those opportunities will either be your Careers Advisory Service or your own department where you are undertaking your degree.

The public sector employs law graduates other than as trainee solicitors. This employer covers a wide range of activities and extends far beyond local authorities including the Crown Office in Scotland, both the Law Commissions for England and Wales, and the Scottish Law Commission. Public bodies such as the Crown Office and Law Commissions produce their own brochure and an annual report which should be available in your law library. From that you can discern the kind of work that they do and the kind of employment structure they have. It should also be noted that quite a few local authorities and the Crown Office take trainees and, therefore, offer a dual function as employers.

So far this article has concentrated on preparing a C.V. and gathering information about suitable content for the best presentation of the C.V. The next section looks at the type of activities in which I would encourage you to engage in order to maximize the impact of your C.V. In effect this is the serious "building of your C.V." in that it is what you have done, and what you have learnt from what you have done, that will interest your employer.

The best would be to read the wide range of literature available regarding interview techniques. There are many books on the process. Meanwhile, reflect on what your answers would be to what Chris Phillips (Prospects Plus, 1994) has identified as the five worst questions and five most often asked questions at interview:

Five Worst Questions
  • Tell me about yourself.

  • What is your major weakness?

  • What will you be doing in five years time?

  • How would your friends describe you?

  • What has been your biggest failure?
Five Most Often Asked Questions
  • Why do you want the job?

  • Why should we give it to you?

  • What interests you in our organization?

  • How have you benefited from your time at university?

  • What have you learnt from your work experience?
As with all things, preparation is critically important. The more that you have thought about the kind of questions you might be asked, the better you are likely to perform. The more that you know about the firm to which you wish to become attached, the better placed you will be to answer questions. This is not least because you will feel confident that you can respond to questions that might be awkward. There is no correct answer to any of these commonly asked questions but you should plan answers. For example, in response to the question, "What will you be doing in five years time?" frame an answer that focuses on a particular direction, coupled with a willingness to be flexible. Do not give the impression that you are entirely without ambition. That is unlikely to appeal to most employers. On the other hand a young, vibrant firm which already has a number of associates champing at the bit for promotion might not want to hear that you see yourself as a partner within five years. Equally, employers might think it a little presumptuous of you to assume that you will achieve partnership status within five years, so try to connect a sense of appropriate ambition with realism in a response to that sort of question.

If you are at the stage of being interviewed while still at university then you really must take advantage of the Careers Advisory Service within your institution. They may offer mock interviews, and will inevitably have useful books and videos that you can browse in order to prepare yourself for the interview. Do this well in advance of the first interview. Do not wait until two days before your interview. Some people learn and gain much from two or three interviews and are then best prepared for the next. Some find that they go through quite a number without being offered the job. People in the latter category need to get advice about what it might be that they are doing wrong. A mock interview can help in many ways with that approach and encourage them to identify perhaps some fundamental weaknesses that they can address and rectify before the next interview. Interviews that come later in your professional career when you have already established a work record will invariably take a different form.

If you are not successful in being offered the job, try to find out why. Some organizations, such as local authorities, are willing and accustomed to giving feedback, and if you phone them up they are usually willing to give guidance on why you were unsuccessful and what you could improve upon. Request guidance tactfully. Rather than demand to know why you did not get the job, ask if you let yourself down in any particular way, or ask if they were looking for qualities that you did not seem to possess. There may of course be absolutely nothing wrong with you or your performance-it may just be that they were seeking to appoint a candidate with very specific attributes and you did not seem to have them. Some firms resist giving feedback on the grounds of resources. They may have received dozens of applications and interviewed lots of people and feel it is simply impractical to speak to all the disappointed candidates. It is, however, always worth asking.

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