How to convert your vacation scheme into a training contract offer

Demi Joannides is in the final year of her law degree at Warwick and has successfully converted a vacation scheme into a training contract offer at top city firm Herbert Smith Freehills, where she is now a future trainee. She also secured a place on their international vacation scheme and recently spent two weeks in their Singapore office sitting in Disputes. Following her previous post about how to succeed at the application and interview stages which can be found here. I asked her how she converted her vacation scheme into a training contract offer. Here’s what she said:

‘If you’ve managed to secure a vacation scheme, congratulations! In many respects, the most ‘difficult’ part is over. Statistically speaking, the ratio of applications received to vacation scheme places is incredibly high, often with thousands of applications for circa 40-60 places. Although you have done fantastically well in securing a vacation scheme, for most people the ultimate goal is to convert that into a training contract offer.

I view vacation scheme interviews as attempting to convincing the firm that you deserve to be there for 2, 3 or (sometimes 4) weeks of work experience. Getting a training contract offer is about convincing the firm that you deserve to be there permanently – or at the very least for the two-year training contract period. Undoubtedly, all of this convincing requires some pretty hard work!

From the outset, I think it is important to stress that the success rate of converting a vacation scheme into a training contract offer varies considerably from firm to firm. For some firms, the vacation scheme is predominantly a work experience programme, for others this is the main (or sometimes only) way of recruiting trainees. At the beginning of my vacation Scheme at Herbert Smith Freehills, graduate recruitment emphasized that there were enough training contracts on offer for all of those whom the firm is impressed by. At other firms, there may be a strict quota of vacation scheme to training contract conversions.

From my own experience on Herbert Smith Freehills’ spring vacation scheme last year, I have formulated a few key tips on how to convert a vacation scheme into a training contract offer:

1. Never, ever (under any circumstance) act competitively towards your fellow vacation schemers

This is a major no-no. If you are competitive towards your fellow vac schemers this will backfire, especially if the culture of the firm is non-competitive. Sometimes people tend to assume that the 20 people in your vacation scheme cohort are competing for, let’s say, 10 training contract offers available. While this may be the case at some firms, such rigid quotas are very rare. Most firms will tell you at the beginning of the scheme that there are enough training contracts available for everyone who the firm is impressed by. (i.e. if you’re good enough, you’ll get a TC). Don’t forget that commercial law firms thrive because their lawyers work together in fantastic teams to provide the best advice and secure the best results for their clients. Likewise, as a vac schemer, you must convince the firm that you are also able to work in a team. This starts with how you interact with your vacation scheme cohort!

2. Pretend it is a two-week-long interview

Not to sound like Big Brother, but you are being watched at all times. I say this because, after a couple of days, it is very easy to feel comfortable at a firm. Very quickly I was familiar with my surroundings, became friends with my fellow vac schemers and really enjoyed the vacation scheme. Don’t let such comfort be the reason for a slip-up! Be aware of what you say and to whom. What might seem like friendly banter between vac schemers at after work drinks may be completely inappropriate in the context of the vacation scheme. You often hear stories about how some firms (apparently) instruct restaurant staff to keep note of their vac schemers’ behaviour when there are no firm representatives around. Whether or not this is true, I would always act on the side of caution and be aware of how you present yourself both inside and outside the office. Likewise, how you interact with everyone from partners to canteen staff is important! After my vacation scheme I received feedback from graduate recruitment on my performance. One of the points noted on my file was how friendly I was towards the canteen staff when I went to get a coffee every morning. The moral of the story is this: being part of a firm consists of so much more than just being a fantastic lawyer. For firms which advocate a friendly and approachable culture, it is imperative that their future trainees are friendly and approachable people!

3. Ask questions

I was quite surprised about how much responsibility I got from day one. I was even asked to write an email which, after being approved by my supervisor, was sent directly to the client. It is natural to feel under-qualified to do the tasks you have been set (it’s because, quite frankly, you are!). Both of my supervisors were more than happy for me to ask questions about the tasks I had been set. It is important, however, to try and use your common sense and attempt to figure things out first. I was assigned a trainee buddy who I used as a second port of call if I really didn’t understand. If I still needed help I asked my supervisor, obviously taking care to ask at a convenient and suitable time. Asking questions is the best and most effective way to show that you are interested in the firm and in the work you are doing. If the firm is not convinced that you really want to be there, you won’t be offered a training contract, no matter how impressive the work you produce is.

4. Demonstrate an interest in everything the firm has to offer

During my vacation scheme at HSF there were lots events and talks held at the firm during lunchtime or in the evening. Attending such events is a great way for you to get to know the firm, as well as showing that you are making the most out of the vacation scheme and that you have a real interest in the firm as a whole. At HSF every event had a sign-in sheet, this meant that graduate recruitment could see whether any vac schemers were in attendance. During my training contract interview (which was conducted on the last day of the vacation scheme) I made sure to talk about all of the events I attended and how this helped me gained a real and well-rounded insight into life at the firm. On a similar note, it is a false presumption that vacation schemers should arrive to work very early and leave very late. I think there is a fine line between showing a keen interest in the firm and taking things a bit too far. If your supervisor requests that you stay later to finish some work, then by all means do. But vac schemers who intentionally work late (with no real need or reason to do so) end up missing out on events, talks and activities that happen in the evening which I think are better ways of proving your interest in the firm. Ultimately this is a personal judgment call and different firms with different cultures will look for different personality traits in their trainees.

5. BE YOURSELF

This is very simple: firms are not looking for clones of themselves, they are looking for you!’

Demi Joannides, School of Law, University of Warwick


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