Five things you need to know before applying for a first year work experience scheme

If you are rejected, life is not over

London-night

With global giant Norton Rose Fulbright having this year extended its first year open days into a week-long work experience scheme, First Step, the firm’s trainee recruitment manager, Caroline Lindner, demystifies the application process ahead of the 29 February deadline.

1. You don’t need to have done legal work experience to get a place

While previous legal work experience is a plus, it’s far from essential. Indeed, our First Step programme is open to students with no legal knowledge at all, so you could be a non-law student who has never set foot in a law firm.

At the same time, applicants obviously need to show a clear interest in pursuing a career as a lawyer in a global law firm. They may have developed an interest into what lawyers do more generally and have explored this further through, for example, spending time on our graduate recruitment website, which contains an abundance of information about life as a junior lawyer.

It’s at this stage students can start to link skills they have gained while working in part-time jobs or volunteering — such as teamwork, communication and powers of persuasion — to their interest in becoming a lawyer.

2. Gap years are just one way to add to your CV

Some students do fantastic things on their gap years, and certainly anything involving positions of responsibility is well worth including in an application.

But we are equally interested in people who have done evening and holiday jobs in bars, restaurants, supermarkets or retail. These are very useful experiences for your future career, even if not all students have realised this yet, as many of the skills required for these roles will be transferable into a career in law. For example, working with different people, under pressure and in a professional environment, and managing your time..

Similarly, if you have joined societies and attended events in your first few months at university, this will be of interest to us. And while it’s obviously great if you do speak another language, it’s fine if you don’t.

3. School grades are important — in context

If you have some first year grades, put them down on the form. But most students won’t have received them by this stage. So we will be focusing on school grades. Grades are very important, and are needed to be able to become a lawyer at a leading firm, but we are aware that they are influenced by other factors.

This is why we operate contextual recruitment and consider applicants’ grades in the context of their economic background and personal circumstances. There is a dedicated section on our application forms for this information.

4. Think about not only what the firm can offer you, but what you can offer the firm

During interview we will ask not only about your motivations, but about what we can expect from you. What we want to see is open-mindedness, enthusiasm, curiosity and an ability to work hard. The more you put in, the more you get out.

This is the approach we encourage from all Norton Rose Fulbright work experience participants including our PRIME initiatives which are aimed at students in Year 12.

Certainly, the students on the scheme won’t be photocopying — we are very proud of our reputation for learning and development, and it will be a very busy week. They will be sitting in a department, selected as far as possible according to the areas of law in which they have expressed an interest, and working with lawyers and trainees as part of the day-to-day business of the firm.

There will be professional and personal development sessions, where students are given assistance in areas like making presentations and negotiating — all geared to helping them improve their skill set as a future lawyer. There will also be social events, where the 15 successful First Step students will experience the social side of the City and have opportunities to network with trainees, lawyers and partners.

5. Don’t let rejection get you down

Work experience schemes in your first year are very much a taster. You won’t get a training contract through them — although we of course keep a record of students who have performed well, and use that when we are selecting candidates for our full vacation scheme. Instead, the aim is to see if you would like to do this job day in-day out.

The same applies to the process of applying for First Step. Just have a go. Completing the application form is in itself practice. If you don’t get a place, don’t let it be a negative.

It’s hard for students at this stage because, for many of them, this is the first time looking for jobs and they may have to deal with rejection. In doing so, they have to face the inevitable disappointments and then begin to look at their application form submission critically, from the employer’s perspective. Would they have accepted themselves? How could they improve?

It’s at this point that students often begin to really take ownership of what they do. And many go on to be very successful.

The application deadline for Norton Rose Fulbright’s First Step scheme is 29 February. You can apply here.

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