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Do you have the key skills every recruiter wants?

03/06/2014

There are a handful of core competencies that the majority of firms/chambers want to see in their recruits. Here we detail (in a light-hearted way) how to identify if you've got them and, if so, how to provide evidence of their existence. Read on for a review of the attributes you'll need to succeed.


It's simple really. Most employers (or at least 'professional' employers - this advice won't get you a job as a roofer) want broadly the same thing. The trick to landing a training contract or pupillage is giving recruiters what they want to see. So let's build up the profile of what a potentially successful lawyer might look like. Inevitably, different roles within the profession will place varying emphasis on the following skill sets, but you can be confident that all are extremely desirable, indeed essential, when you are being assessed for suitability.

Here, we take a look at the many ways you can use your lifetime's actions to sell yourself to recruiters and demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to identify skills and attributes that you have and that employers want. And that's the other key point; you need to deliver evidence that you possess the skills you claim to have.

Academic ability

You want to be a lawyer. You've got to be clever. Hopefully, you'll be doing work that genuinely makes you think. You need to have an analytical ability to process information, draw inferences and make conclusions. It's a job for swotty types. Tell them how clever you are and back it up.

How to demonstrate it (simple): The main one is your school and university performance (ie, results) - probably the very first thing an employer looks at. They'd better be good; don't shy away from highlighting the bits where you looked really brainy. Another tack is the ability to talk coherently and compellingly about current affairs, which means showing that you have background knowledge, can understand context and draw rational conclusions (regardless of whether they are 'right').

How to demonstrate it (off the wall): Have a minute grasp of an esoteric field of knowledge that you have studied and analysed, even if people think you are a bit weird (does not include conspiracy theories or obsession with a celebrity).

Drive and determination

This job involves lots of work, lots of boring bits, lots of pressure and the big horrid man might shout at you. This should all be grist in your mill as you display a superb track record of getting things done.

How to demonstrate it (simple): Achievement of the highest order, ideally involving physical discomfort (eg, fell running, open water swimming, tractor pulling or playing the bagpipes). If there is anything you've done in the past that you can't quite believe you managed to do, mention it.

How to demonstrate it (off the wall): Highlight some fantastic eccentricity that counters rational sense, such as creating a scale model of the Shard from needles or documenting every gig played by Bernard Manning.

Accuracy and attention to detail

Lawyers do detail. Lawyers do fine tooth comb. Lawyers spot and resolve mistakes. Proof reading comes naturally to them, but they still check again. Show that you have gone to the mat with a morass of material and come out on top.

How to demonstrate it (simple): Talk about a massive computer program that you have written featuring thousands of lines of code, any one of which could have stopped it working. Discuss your single-handed organization and administration of an entire football league including fixtures, results, pitch allocation, and player registration and discipline (interestingly this is one of the ways that the detainees at Robben Island prison in South Africa maintained their sense of community and society in the face of the dehumanizing conditions they were placed in). Highlight your voluntary participation in scrutinising a new piece of legislation with your local MP, on which you picked up dozens of anomalies.

How to demonstrate it (off the wall): Years of train spotting.

Communication skills

There's no point in being clever, driven and attentive if you can't then let others know what you are thinking or suggesting. We all communicate, all the time, so you should not be short of examples. Look for those where your communication skills have made a material difference to a situation.

How to demonstrate it (simple): Running a local campaign involving written and verbal evidence giving; examples of journalism in which you present complicated ideas simply; debating and mooting.

How to display it (off the wall): Hostage negotiation.

Teamwork and leadership

Look at you - you've already proved you can form an intellectually rigorous, detailed, difficult argument and communicate it to others. But hang on! You seem to be a total loner who shuns cooperation and collaboration! You'd better dispel that impression pretty quickly. In the law, teams are everything - while there is much solo work to be done, even the lone wolves (eg, top advocates) perform within the context of a team in which everyone contributes to the whole. You must be committed to working this way. Again, you've probably done more of this than you think - teamwork is how society works (or at least it should do, but let's not get into an argument about the individual's naked self-interest versus society). Remember we are talking about teamwork AND leadership - show where you have led, but also show where you have bowed to the will of the group.

How to demonstrate it (simple): Well, being in teams. Sports teams are the obvious ones, but any communal activity where different tasks contribute towards a whole can be used: orchestras and bands; clubs; Duke of Edinburgh activities; science projects; or communal debating.

How to demonstrate it (off the wall - not advisable): Involvement in complicated criminal activity of the type seen in caper movies (eg, Oceans 11 or The Sting) where an improbably convoluted plan involving split-second timing and cooperation leads to an unsympathetic rube being fleeced.

Commercial awareness

This old favorite keeps on tripping people up, despite it really being an exercise in common sense. Commercial awareness boils down to understanding people's or businesses' motives for acting the way they do. If you cannot understand your clients' (be they corporations, small businesses or individuals) motivations, goals and constraints, your advice on how they should act is going to be worthless. Furthermore, the place you will practice law will be a business, be it a multinational corporation making megabucks or a struggling high-street firm doing its best in straitened circumstances. Your role within it will have a direct relationship to it achieving its goals as a business. Make sure you think about how the business of law works and keep in mind the words of Mr Micawber.

Commercial awareness boils down to understanding people's or businesses' motives for acting the way they do.

How to demonstrate it (simple): Talk about real-life business scenarios in which you have been involved and have observed, no matter how junior or peripheral you were; it's all about insight and analysis. Demonstrate that you have followed commercial and business stories (eg, in the press) over a protracted period and can construct a narrative argument about why a business or sector is expanding/contracting/changing.

How to demonstrate (off the wall): You run a blog on The Apprentice in which you analyse why the contestants are and are not successful (and you talk about their abilities in business rather than their dress sense or physical attributes).

Work experience

The chances are you already have many of the above skills and the tough part is coming up with the evidence for them. Most of the examples above are drawn form the academic and extracurricular field. However, the richest pickings may well come from the work and work experience you have encountered. This implies two things; first, you must get some sort of proper work to put on your applications. If nothing else it demonstrates that you understand what it means to turn up on time each day and put in a proper shift.

Presenting yourself as a credible candidate is not at all dissimilar to a piece of academic or legal research.

The chances are you have already done paid work along the way, which brings us to the second point. Take the work you have done and make a note of all the tasks, challenges and achievements associated with it and marry these up to the skills we've described above. This is your key evidence and the way you present it is, in all likelihood, the difference between success and failure so don't be shy about spelling it out. Within your MyLC.N account (sign up now if you haven't done so yet, it's free) the MySelf tool allows you to do this in a systematic fashion. The same applies to other activities, break them down and look for the nuggets of achievement and insight that demonstrate and have developed your skills.

Presenting yourself as a credible candidate is not at all dissimilar to a piece of academic or legal research. Determine your goal (finding a career in law); take a body of material (you and your life); analyse it against a set of criteria (the skills employers seek); and  present your findings clearly and economically (make an application). Simple really!

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