For some of us, it seems ‘Ctrl C and V’ becomes our best friends when filling out applications.
It is very easy to fall into this trap; to assume that we can generalise what chambers are looking for in a ready made document – simply cut, copy and paste. And you’re done. Supposedly.
I was a repeat offender of this.
Bluntly put, this does not get your foot past the first stage of submitting your applications. Recruiters are not the least bit phased by several identical documents, selling how important you are and stuffing your document full of slight variations of why you will be an asset to their chambers. Understandably, when thinking about how to frame your answer to ‘why would you like to work at XYZ?’, 10 different times is more than overwhelming. Several questions used to trip me up, leaving me in default mode – cut, copy and paste. I’ll discuss a couple.
This phrase used to throw me off while filling out applications. ALL THE TIME. I would try and read long articles on changes to the economy and try to work out the effect this would have on businesses. Believe me, I would get so flustered trying to sound like someone that had been in the business for several years.
I attended a webinar a couple of days ago, where one of the speakers stated that being commercially aware requires ‘pragmatism’. In other words, common sense. This was not said in a condescending manner but rather this encouraged me not to view commercial awareness as an abstract. Contrary to popular belief, being commercially aware is not just about stock markets. Commercial awareness is humanising business and understanding what is of importance to them, rather than what we think is of importance to them.
A few questions to think about when responding to questions that test your commercial awareness:
- What am I being asked by the client?
- What does the client need?
- Am I the right person for this need?
It is VERY easy to assume what your client wants. We’ve all done it before. We throw the whole of our law school module into our generic textbook answer. This will not get you very far. Do not assume. You must understand that the needs and wants vary according to the areas of law that each chambers specialises in. The advice that a client seeks in a personal negligence claim, will be different to the advice that a client seeks in an employment claim.
Know the chambers you want to apply to. I cannot stress this enough. Learn about the interests of the chambers and go further to even have an opinion on their interests. Commercial awareness is all about engaging with what is best for the clients and knowing what affects your chambers and their clients too.
I.e. What can you do for this firm/chambers? Explain a situation where you have done xyz.
Again, the temptation to Ctrl C and V into an answer box will be immense, but not every chambers wants to hear you ramble on about the same skills you have copy and pasted to 9 other chambers. Employers want to know how your personal skills will have direct influence on their chambers and the clients you will work with.
I take this opportunity to emphasise that these skills do not just have to come from legal experience, i.e. mini-pupillages or vacation schemes. Your experience working as a tutor at a learning centre is just as valuable. Your experience dealing with aggressive or having to understand parents who were concerned that their child was struggling at school is transferable. How you may ask? Simply put, working in the legal industry is about problems and solutions.
For example, explain to recruiters how you took initiative to adapt learning styles to one of your students; and parents were impressed by this. Then you apply this skill to the chambers. You are well aware that you will come into contact with a diverse range of clients. You had experience dealing with parents who come to you with a need. You had experience conversing with parents about their child’s behavioural issues and how you can work in their best interests. The same can be applied when you relate to clients in chambers. No, you do not have experience relating with clients, but you had experience working in a child’s best interests and relating well with the parents. A parent would trust you to provide a solution for their problem, similarly, a client would trust you to provide a solution to their problem.
REMINDER: Recruiters are not looking for robots.
You want to persuade the recruiter that your approach to such situations will be an asset to their chambers and will help with retaining clients. Do not undersell yourself. Your experiences, however unconventional or difficult, will make you stand out from the many ‘Ctrl C and V’ applications that a recruiter would not give a second glance to.
QUICK FIRE TIPS (some issues I found I had when filling applications)
- Research the chambers you are applying to. Have they done anything recently that interested you and why?
- Make sure you have the time to complete applications, you will need your applications to be chamber specific and you will need time to think and plan this
- You do not always need to fulfil the word count – sometimes short and simple does it.
- Slight contradiction to the above – do not be under the word count. This is your free pass to SHOW OFF. What makes you unique?
- Remember you are good enough to apply. Stop automatically assuming the recruiters will say no, when you have not even applied.
I am not a professional at all when it comes to applications but these are thoughts that I am constantly picking up and I wanted to share. I feel like I’m speaking to myself to stop getting so overwhelmed by the possibility that chambers could possibly want to recruit me. Why is that so shocking? That shouldn’t be the case.