Having legal work experience such as vacation schemes, shadowing and pro bono projects is, of course, a great idea and provides plenty to discuss when applying for jobs. But what about the skills you’ve gained from other work – part time or short term vacation jobs in sectors such as retail and hospitality? Students often forget that these are relevant. They can make all the difference to your applications and interviews, Bethany Martindale explains.
What skills look really good?
1. Ability to work under pressure in busy environments
The ability to stay calm and focus on the customer in front of you is definitely transferable to a legal role. For example, you may have a client to interview or update, (working in legal roles is notoriously busy) and you probably also have a stack of paperwork to get through before the day is over. A firm will be keen to know that you have customer facing experience and that you understand how to make a client feel that you are giving your undivided attention. Client care is key to the success of any legal professional. Think about examples of times when you have demonstrated that excellent customer service in your previous jobs.
2. Commercial awareness and understanding business needs
Wherever you’ve worked the goal of your employer will have been to be profitable and make money. The key is to focus on how you contributed to this. For example, I used to work as a food assistant for a huge international company. We were looking for ways to boost sales, so I suggested we provide free samples as a way to draw customer’s attention – and it worked! This may seem incredibly small but the point is it wouldn’t have happened had I not suggested it. Businesses all exist because of individuals. Any way in which you have exceeded expectation and contributed to your employer’s success is worth a mention as it demonstrates initiative, innovation, enthusiasm and even commercial awareness!
It’s also useful to think about any changes the business underwent whilst you worked there. For example new products/menus, changes to branding or marketing strategies. How did you help to implement this effectively?
When I was working in a café section of a retail store the whole section was refurbished and rebranded with new products. During the change I went out of my way to educate other staff members and customers about the changes, to ensure it was marketed and promoted effectively. If you have any examples like this, it demonstrates to potential employers that you took the time to understand the business needs, its branding and that you contributed to the success of any changes made.
3. Time management and adaptability:
A favourite interview question is ‘how do you prioritise tasks?’ I find this is hard to answer – although it’s something all students have to do – especially when we work part time alongside our studies. But how can we explain the mechanism of what we do it? Each individual will have a different method for this so it’s important to think about what you do. Do you perhaps make lists and rate tasks in order of urgency/importance? However you do it, as students we all balance some commitments for example: personal studies, group project work, part time work, extracurricular activities, society membership and family/friend relationships. It’s vital to explain and provide examples of it – for example: “I have maintained a part-time job role whilst contributing to a team goal for a group study project and organising/attending an extra- curricular event” sounds really good as it shows you can balance a range of commitments. Explaining to potential employers how you organised your time and adapted to changing priorities and routines will show them you’re a flexible person who can help out a team in a variety of different ways.
The list of skills gained from part time employment is extensive and will vary from person to person. A good idea is to think about the benefits of what you’re doing now in your role and make a note of how it will transfer well into a future legal/graduate role. That way when interview preparation time comes around it hopefully won’t feel as daunting as you’ve got some ideas for answers ready to go.
One last thought, you might even want to blog. It’ll showcase your writing skills!