Converting a Vacation Scheme into a Training Contract

Hello readers! I hope you are all keeping well in these hectic times. I was recently invited by The Legal Mile to host a webinar to share my top tips on converting a Vacation Scheme into a Training Contract. This also applies to those participating in work placement schemes or work experience trying to gain more permanent roles in the same firm or another firm. I hope you find this blog useful (warning: it is a long blog)!

Overview

The 4 topics that I discussed in my presentation were:

  1. Networking
  2. Attitude
  3. Etiquette
  4. Continuous learning

During the open floor Q&A session, one attendee asked me a really interesting question about online Vacation Schemes and I thought it was such a great question that I’d address it here in my blog too!

1 – Networking

I firstly discussed the importance of networking, who it benefits as well as how to prepare for networking and networking events. It is inevitable that in your Vacation Scheme, you will have to network with those in the firm as well as others on the Vacation Scheme. It may be an informal or formal event, or just lunch time networking during lunch breaks.

I want to stress that networking is HUGELY important. It is crucial for making connections, growing your network, improving your communication skills, making better conversations and learning from others! You never know who you will see again in the future or who you can bring up in a conversation with another person. Networking benefits you because it helps you to stand out from a big crowd but it also helps recruiters/speakers/panellists because they may be able to offer you some advice or point you in the right direction.

Preparing for networking

You should always prepare before a networking session. This involves researching on the person/people you will be networking with, the firm, the sector etc. For example, it is likely that you will have a supervisor and/or buddy during your time with the firm – you could do some research on the partner, which will give you some things to talk about when you meet.

Don’t ask questions that the person with whom you are speaking will not be able to answer. For example, don’t ask a corporate partner how the Visa process works for working in the UK. Also, don’t ask questions that you could easily find out online – use the opportunity to find out answers, opinions or insight that is not readily available online.

Prior to arriving at the firm, or a networking event, you could send an email or LinkedIn message to those at the event to introduce yourself. Your message would be along the lines of introducing who you are, when you’re joining the firm/when the event is, and that you are looking forward to meeting them. This then allows you to bridge the gap when you meet the person on the Scheme or at an event and gives you an instant way to open a conversation:- “Hello X, my name is Amelia and we have messaged before on LinkedIn. How are you?”.

How to network

Some people find it difficult to start conversations with new people and that’s totally normal. I know that ‘awkward silences’ are a thing in the back of people’s minds. In your Vacation Scheme, you’ll usually be placed in one or two departments but you’ll have time to mingle and network with other departments and sectors. I always find it easier to start by getting to know everyone in your own department first before branching out and run the risk of forgetting people’s names! Once you’ve had a chance to meet those in your team, for example, you have met X, Y and Z, then when you meet A, B and C from a different department, you can start by saying “I have been working with X, Y and X in the department, have you worked with them before?”.

When you are making conversation, it is always best to try and find some common ground. You could discuss where you both studied, whether they have worked elsewhere, how they got into their department and why you’re interested in the same department etc.

When you are networking, use the opportunity that it presents. For example, you may be able to ask to sit in on a client call or meeting, or ask them to send you some work if they have anything available for you to do. You could also use the opportunity to ask questions about insight and their expert knowledge, such as their predictions on market trends.

A summary of the do’s and don’ts of networking!

2 – Attitude

1 – Firstly, let’s talk about the enthusiastic attitude that you should have throughout your Vacation Scheme. It’s important that you show that you are keen, willing to learn and happy to take on responsibility. You can show this by always have a pen and notepad handy to show that you’re ready to take instructions, asking for more work when you have capacity and asking questions about the work you’re doing to show your passion for the law and that you are willing to learn.

2 – Secondly, you must persevere! Although it is unlikely that you will be given SUPER hard tasks to do during your Vacation Scheme, you may be given a task that you find quite difficult because it is in an area of law that you have never encountered before or you have never seen the document in question before. It’s important to stay calm, and think about how you are going to persevere and tackle the task you’ve been assigned. It might be to start with a quick Google search, a systematic search of Practical Law/Westlaw or asking your trainee buddy/supervisor for some tips on getting started. Don’t be put off by the work that you’re given, but show that even though you don’t know everything that is going on, you are willing to persevere and find out how you can accomplish the task.

3 – Thirdly, don’t suffer in silence. What I mean by this is that you should not be sitting, facing a blank screen, for an extended period of time, with no idea of what to do or how to get started. This is neither economical, efficient, or demonstrating the enthusiastic discussed above. You will not be punished for asking for some guidance on the task, or for some tips as to where you should start looking. It is worse if you turn up one hour later having made no progress, and then ask for help. It also does not demonstrate that you are keen to learn and improve if you stare at a blank screen for a long time doing nothing. By asking for some help, you are showing to your supervisor that although you have a weakness, you are not afraid to ask for help to be able to complete the task to the best of your ability.

3 – Etiquette

Here are a few things to think about and be aware of during your Vacation Scheme to show appropriate etiquette:

Work hours – know what your work hours are. Don’t be late. If you are running late (e.g. trains running late), make sure to email your supervisor as soon as possible to let them know roughly what time you will be arriving. This shows you care about being on time and respect the time of those around you. Also, know how long your lunch breaks are – don’t take liberties!

Politeness – be polite to everyone! When there is a cohort of Vacation Schemers, you all look similar in terms of qualifications on paper, what separates you from the next candidate is your personality and how your interact with others in the office. Be sure to be polite when asking for help, say good morning to those around you, and SMILE!

Communicating workload – it is important that you are willing to take on responsibility and tasks. However, be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver. Please do not accept more work, just to look good, if you have already taken on more work than you can manage. Doing this makes it look like you are unable to efficiently manage your workload and that you are unable to communicate your workload to others. If someone pops up with a task for you, try something along the lines of “thank you so much for the opportunity to do this piece of work for you. However, I am quite busy doing X for Y at the moment and I think this will keep me busy for the next little while. Would be okay if I got back in touch with you once I have some free time to see if the work still needs to be completed?”

Expect the unexpected – although you may have your list of tasks to do during the day, be prepared to be flexible. You must be able to adapt to the circumstances! It may be that a new urgent case comes in so everyone in the team has to suddenly chip in, IT issues or even there being a powercut (this last one actually happened to me on my Vacation Scheme!) Being able to adapt to the new circumstances, whilst still being able to complete all the tasks that you have been assigned, is a sign that you are able to work flexibly, well in a team and able to manage your time effectively when the unexpected happens.

4 – Continuous learning

It is really important that you are continuously learning and improving throughout the Vacation Scheme. This can be done through a number of different ways:-

  • Feedback – from your supervisor, partner, trainee buddy, colleagues
  • Asking questions – showing that you are interested and willing to learn more
  • Speaking to other departments – this can help you to fully understand a transaction and the cross-sector/department nature of some transactions

Virtual/online Vacation Schemes

Disclaimer: my CMS Vacation Scheme was in the summer of 2019 in pre-COVID times. However, I have had various virtual internship experiences and been on many online events to provide some insight into this!

The main concern is a lack of being able to express passion or enthusiasm through a screen. To address this concern, I think you need to pay extra close attention to your body language. Make sure you’re sitting upright, not slouching, and looking into the camera when speaking. You have the benefit of being able to catch quick glances at yourself to ensure that you’re presenting yourself in a professional manner. You can check out my video professionalism blog HERE which might give you some pointers on setting up your camera to look your best!

I would like to say that in terms of carrying out research, taking part in the planned events, trying to meet and speak to as many people as you can, and everything else discussed above does not change for a virtual Vacation Scheme!

FINAL TIP – BE YOURSELF!

I hope this blog has given you some insight and tips on how I turned my Vacation Scheme into a Training Contract! However, please remember that you really want to let your own personality shine through. Firms don’t want clones and it is true that a cohort of Vacation Schemers can look very similar on paper. So, it’s important that you show your personality and differentiate yourself form the crowd. There is nothing worse than the recruitment team sitting down to determine whether to offer you a Training Contract, and not being able to remember which of the cohort you are!

Please don’t panic and be nervous about the Vacation Scheme, it’ll fly by so make the most of your time there! Remember to smile, have fun and enjoy the experience!

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