Positions of responsibility at University

With a few weeks to go before the big end July deadline for many firms’ TC applications, I have been thinking about how to present positions of responsibility on those application forms. I’m talking about positions such as the President, Treasurer or Social Secretary of a Society at University.

I don’t think that it’s enough to just list them – much better to tell some very short stories about what you achieved.

In fact I think that it is worse to just list those positions than to leave them off. Why? Because it is usually an elected position, meaning that someone else could have done the job and the winner of the contest has a responsibility to use the position to do something. And if you don’t list some achievements then the person reading your application form might conclude that you didn’t make the most of it – no law firm would want to hire someone who doesn’t make the most of an opportunity.

So have a think about what aims / targets you had at the beginning of the academic year, and assess how you met those: for example tell short stories about (i) an event that you organised that achieved a record attendance or (ii) a target of having 4 external lawyer speakers during the year being beaten with 2 extra and all seats were taken, or (iii) an initiative that encouraged involvement from non-law students raising numbers by 20%. By the way, you don’t actually have to occupy the specific position to play your part in any of these.

Presenting legal work experience on a cv

In November, I took a day off to give a talk and review cvs at the University of Sussex in Brighton; and then did the same thing after work in February at Brunel. The cv reviews were tightly organised involving up to 18 people in a row (each for a frustratingly short ten minute slot, but that was the only way). So after the first 2 minutes with each student (in which we explored the standard interview questions, such as “Why do you want to be a lawyer?” and “What sort of role / firm?”), it only left 8 minutes to go through the cv – a good discipline for me to cut to the parts that I thought needed the most attention.

And it was mainly the way that Vac Schemes and other legal work experience were presented.

Of course the main objective of any work experience is to help students decide whether a particular career is the right one, and to do that it is really important to talk to lots of people and learn about the work. But I’d like to see something on the cv / application form about output.

Any reader of a cv knows that during a 2 week vac scheme at a law firm, it is unrealistic to expect a student to be running files and advising clients, but it’s good to see the impact of students’ contribution. For example, to do some legal research is not of any use for its own sake – better that a supervisor read it and gave some comments; even better that the lawyer used it to prepare an advice memo; better still if that memo was sent to a client; and the best would be for the client to have read and used that advice.

Another example is the first draft of a contract or some meeting notes – again it serves no purpose on its own; it is of some use if it is reviewed by a lawyer; but the ideal is that it was used as a basis for a document that is sent to a client and used.

So I think that it is important to show that a student’s contribution, however small and indirect, made the life of a lawyer a little easier and even helped a client of the firm.

Personal Statement on a cv

I spent a very rewarding day at Huddersfield University a couple of weeks ago – cv sessions in the morning and a group talk in the afternoon on legal careers, application forms and interviewing.

In the morning, I had about ten one-on-one meetings, each lasting 15 minutes to review cvs and explore general motivation towards legal careers. One observation was that most cvs had a motivational statement at the top. It seems that the students had been advised that this type of paragraph is a good idea.

I’m not so sure.

Particularly when these statements are assertions of skills which could be better illustrated by evidence, through e.g. work experience or achievements in outside interests.

I think that these statements can be useful in some situations, such as the career changer with many years of unrelated work experience with a place on the LPC, who now wishes to make a move into a legal role. Or the candidate who has a bad set of exam results that were a genuine anomaly – (e.g. A-levels or 1st year Uni). Apart from those specific situations, I really don’t think that there is anything that should be expressed in a cv as a personal statement – better in other parts of the cv or a good bespoke cover letter.

In those specific cases, a short paragraph that mentions each of the past, present and future works best for me, and there is some really useful advice in this link from @TheSuccessfulCV: http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/how-to-write-a-personal-statement-for-your-cv.

Mooting / debating on a cv

Those 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates serious about becoming lawyers, are quite rightly focussing their energy around now on application forms for law firms’ vacation schemes and mini-pupillages. I read that just over half of training contract offers are made to those that have completed a vacation scheme with the offering firm (http://www.allaboutcareers.com/campaigns/vacation-scheme-deadlines-2012-2013). What’s more they can be good fun, well organised and paid. They would also give students something to talk about in an interview. However, considering the numbers of places available compared to the numbers of applicants, it can be even harder securing a vacation scheme place than a training contract / pupillage.

As the end of January seems to be a big deadline, I thought that I’d share a specific thought about something that I have noticed on some cvs / application forms recently – it’s about mooting. What I often see is a reference to the fact that an applicant has been involved with mooting and debating, but never enough detail, which in my opinion is a missed opportunity. I see for example short references to “Member of the University Mooting Association” or “Involved with debating”. What I can’t tell from that is what the applicant actually did – Watched? Organised? Prepared the case? Or actually stood up and made the arguments?

It would be better to proudly provide more detail, because it can really demonstrate some of the skills that are very relevant to the job. So if you were standing up in front of the “judge”, or preparing the case, then say so, include a short summary of which side you were on, what arguments / cases you used etc, and whether you won or lost.

As I have mentioned before in previous posts, (i) by adding this detail, you are showing that you understand which skills are relevant to the job https://legaljobtips.com/2012/09/21/cvs-any-relevant-skills-work-experience/ and (ii) as with a detailed summary of your dissertation, this is setting you up for a successful interview https://legaljobtips.com/2012/12/16/dissertation-or-another-elective/.

Home address on your cv?

Recently I wrote a post with some cv tips (https://legaljobtips.com/2012/11/15/my-top-10-cv-tips/); tip no. 9 included a view that you should leave your home address off a cv.  When I wrote that all I knew was:

1. most people included it, and

2. I had a hunch that it didn’t seem right,

but other than that I hadn’t given it that much thought.

Not really a major point, but since then I have been asked quite a few times why I said that – and have luckily just found a really good answer that I now use.  It’s to be found on pages 84 and 85 of the updated 2012 edition of my favourite careers book “What colour is your parachute?” by Richard N. Bolles (http://www.jobhuntersbible.com/). 

I remember enjoying an old edition of that book about 10 years ago, but it didn’t include this new section about the on-line world.   Basically what Bolles now says is that you lose control of your cv when you send it out, especially if you choose to post it on line.  There is effectively no way for you to take it down and he mentions “digital spiders” that can copy anything posted on-line. 

I don’t really know what a digital spider is, and it’s probably not that big an issue; but Companies House no longer requires company directors to publish their home addresses in the public domain for security reasons.  So the same thing might apply to everyone else.  What I do know is that (i) you can trust large potential employers on their application forms if they ask for your home address and (ii) for everyone else, they can get in touch via e-mail.

cv advice

I am doing a cv tips session next week at Reading University, and am thinking of splitting the session in 2: i.e. half the time will be me making some general remarks and the other half will look at some example cvs sent to me in advance by the students in the room. I’ll then stay around afterwards to finish off one-on-one with specific questions, and to cover the cvs that I might not have had time to review in the plenary.
So over the past few evenings, I have been reviewing about 20 cvs from the perspective of a future employer, and am now thinking about my general comments – and they are just my personal opinion. Here are my top 10:

1. Tell stories.
Most graduate jobs don’t actually need a cv + cover letter any more – they use on-line application forms, so the cv is a template from which you will pick out, paste and adapt the relevant details. Notice that most application forms ask questions, inviting you to tell a story to e.g. show how you reacted, dealt with a difficult situation or explain what you learned; so present some of your experiences as mini-stories about your role in a situation.

2. Put the most relevant section first.
For a graduate job your university academic details are more important than your work experience, except if you have a lot of full time work under your belt (maybe a year or more) – see my previous post about experienced candidates.

3. Local currency for degrees and exam results.
If you are applying for a job with an employer in a country other than where you have studied, then include the “local equivalent” of that result – much easier for the recruiter.

4. Your choices give me some clues about your motivation.
I want to see some evidence of the decisions that you have made: which electives? What is the title of your dissertation? And are these consistent with the type of job that you are applying for?

5. Academic details pls for an academic job.
If you have completed any university exams yet, then a legal employer is going to want to see those to see that you are on track for a good degree result – include the details, especially if in any exams you have attained a very high mark. In the UK a first would really stand out, even in a first year exam.

6. Positive words in your work experience section.
Whatever your work experience happens to be, then include positive words about your role: avoid “observed”, “attended”, or worse “was encouraged”.

7. Skills.
Organise your description of work experience and activities around skills that are relevant to the job – this shows the employer that you know what skills a lawyer needs – not always obvious to all candidates.

8. Show me that you finish things off.
Another useful thought to have in mind with respect to work experience and interests is to demonstrate output and completion – i.e. that you can organise and deliver something, even against the resistance of others.

9. Leave it off.
In my opinion, there is no place on a cv for: typos, bad grammar, date of birth, politics, full clean driving licence, photo, referees or home address – not everyone agrees with me on these, particularly that last one.

10. Non-obvious relevant IT skills.
I assume that all law students can use Microsoft Office and legal research packages, but I’m more interested in for example document management skills (see above about demonstrating that you understand the skills that a lawyer needs). I’d even include relevant use of social media, if for example you think that it helped you organise an event or a group.

(Footnote: this post has been republished in Legal Week: http://www.legalweek.com/legal-week/blog-post/2227317/top-10-cv-tips-for-budding-lawyers)