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How to use the extra-curricular questions as an edge on applications

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There are a lot of questions on law firm applications — some you will see are repeating themselves and some are very unique to the law firm. We are going to talk about the ones that are repeating themselves — the ones about your previous experiences.

Tell us about a difficult situation and how you managed it. Provide details of any noteworthy achievements. Provide details of your non-academic interests.

When answering such questions, you must ask yourself why are they asking you. You probably do not think the Graduate Recruitment are that interested in whether you are skiing or playing football. They actually do. In general, this is your main place to shine, mention the exceptional about you. There is something extra though — the aim of such questions is to get an idea of two things — are you going to be a good fit and are you able to multitask and work around deadlines?

Starting off with the first one — are you a good fit. You always hear that every law firm is different. It is true, to an extent of course. Some law firms tend to have a more laid back approach, flat hierarchy and some have a very strict approach. In some, you will have a lot of support in the face of the Training Principal, HR, a lot of other trainees in your intake. In others, you will be left almost on your own.

No matter what type of law firm you decide to go after, questions like the above are your chances of showing that you can fit their culture. Every scenario you give as an example will most likely be interpreted in a corporate structure. For example, let’s say one of your best achievements is winning a football tournament. In that final game, you knew that the coach was wrong, the whole team knew it and you took the opportunity to take a different strategy which leads you to win the game.

Now some law firms might find this very fitting for their culture. The translation would be that you might put the client first and take a different route than the one you were trained in order to achieve the results the firm wants you to. Another firm though might take this as a bad indication that you would go over a Partner/Associate’s head and disobey their instructions.

Furthermore, they will likely want to hire that will work with them for quite some time. This would mean that they are looking for the right fit that will get along with the rest of the trainees and solicitors.

Moving onto the second aspect-time management. Right, you have done some applications, you already know what they are judging you on. You have your grades, your work experience, your questions, maybe a cover letter.

Let’s say you have amazing grades and some good work experience. Now imagine there is the exact same candidate, but he also talks about his passion for skiing. Who would they take? Probably the person with skiing. Why? Because of time management. With those extra circular activities, you need to show that you are able to juggle multiple things at once.

If you are going skiing for 2 weeks in winter while you are at university this would mean that you will need to take 2 weeks off. In order for that not to impact your grades, you must have done all the work before and feel confident that you will be able to catch up on what you have missed. This is very similar to working in a law firm — you have deadlines and you need to be able to work on them and you have very hard days on which you will need to do double or triple the amount of a normal day’s work.

Graduate recruiters are actually quite skilful in reading between the lines, but they are not in your head. They don’t know the amazing bit of your experiences and they might not be able to take how your interests can benefit the law firm and how you are going to be better than the rest. Again think about what the culture of the firm is and what you would like to show from your experience.

Consider the following example:

“I am extremely passionate about skiing and have been doing it since I was 6 years old. I love spending time in the mountains far away from the stress, it would make me feel recharged and tackle my problems with a new perspective”

Pretty good statement — shows a lot about your personality, which might be what law firms want to hear.

Now consider this one:

“I am extremely passionate for skiing and have been doing it since I was 6 years old. After joining university, taking a 2 week holiday is harder and harder. Nonetheless, I realised that with dedication and a great amount of planning I am able to make time for my interests.

Again a very good statement — showing your capabilities of managing deadlines and being determined.

You see, this is exactly the same experience, but expressed in a different way it communicates different characteristics of your personality. Try to always be conscious of what you would like to communicate to the Recruitment team and speak it out, don’t just hint it.

So how to know what is right for you and for them? You will need to understand the culture of the firm itself — go to their events, meet people from the firm and you can read our law firm profiles. We have tried to portray in a simple way the culture of each firm. But most importantly — try and error. Don’t beat yourself up for not getting a successful application. It is a two-way street. If they did not like you, that probably means you would not like them as well.

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