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What to do in the limbo period following applications?

What to do in the limbo period following applications?

Matthew Dow


January was a busy month for many aspiring lawyers. The new year entailed increased work demands following the holiday break, as well as study and exam pressures. Furthermore, most firms had their vacation scheme deadlines.

No doubt, this tug of war over your time meant that lots of your evenings and weekends were surrendered to researching, writing and refining applications. Therefore, it is unsurprising that many readers of this website, come the 31 January, breathed a collective sigh of relief. Applications were submitted – there was nothing else that could be done.

Naively, I was among those applicants who adopted the ‘wait and see’ approach. But I would advise against taking your foot off the gas as I did. The interview stage may seem years away. Rejection may have become the norm. However, you must stay prepared.

The assessment centre stage arrives sooner than you expect. Moreover, you are given very little notice of an upcoming interview. After all the work that goes into your application, to jeopardise your chances simply by not being ready represents a real missed opportunity.

Let’s be honest though, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect you to be researching firms every day. Especially when you have other commitments that have been on the backburner for too long. Therefore, here are some real-world, practical tips on how to navigate the post-application limbo period.

1. Block out a weekend in the diary for late February

From my discussions with graduate recruiters, lots of interviews tend to occur in late February/early March. Therefore, applicants may have three or four interviews in one week with various firms. To be successful, you will want to set aside the necessary time to re-read your application and thoroughly investigate the changes that have recently impacted the firm.

If you find that you have many other obligations around March, it can be difficult to dedicate the sufficient time needed and you can end up regretting the commitments that you have made. Therefore, keeping multiple weekends free permits you to schedule some much-needed preparation allowing you to give the assessment day your best shot.

2. Compound your learning

Set aside a small amount of watertight time every day for commercial awareness research. You may know what you are talking about regarding Brexit on Monday only to find out that a week has gone by and the politics have changed.

There are many quick ways to keep current without much commitment. For instance, use the Finimize app, listen to a daily news podcast or pledge to read one article a day.

3. Active research

It is easy to absorb information about a firm and fail to critically analyse that information. But you will forget that content and consequently only be wasting your limited time. Therefore, I would urge applicants to have questions in mind when reading a blog post or website.

For instance, what is the firm’s business strategy and how does this case fit in with it? Who are their clients that this new regulation might apply to? What practice areas are also involved in this high-profile M&A deal? What are the firm’s key industry sectors? What is unique about the way that the firm tackled the deal? Where should X and Y open a new office given the recent events in the energy/automotive/insurance sector?

Trying to answer these questions will make the material that you read far more useful. Furthermore, it will show a tangible interest and open up more engaging questions for the end of the interview.

4. Pick a dispute, pick a deal

This nugget of commercial awareness wisdom was given to me and I think it is well worth sharing.

Corporate law issues are always in the news. Yet, if you learn by osmosis, I would put money on you developing a sudden mind blank/delay when you are asked about any specific aspect of current affairs that interests you. The chances are that you will think of a dated example that you struggle to remember.

Therefore, if you focus on a particular deal and a specific case of litigation, you will have a stronger answer. Also, you can respond better to the interviewer’s inevitable devil’s advocate arguments, as you really understand the topic. Moreover, this approach will concentrate your research time more efficiently and you will learn about the legal nuances of that example, elevating your analysis above that of other candidates.

5. Research the firm’s website

The above statement may seem like obvious advice. However, firm websites are usually not useful during the initial application stage. Repeating what several hundred other law students are saying does not help to distinguish you to a weary recruiter.

At interview stage though, firm websites often offer the most up-to-date and relevant activities that your prospective employer is involved in. Furthermore, it is a great chance to see the practice areas that the firm prioritises. Also, you can view the complete range of services that they try to sell to potential clients. Finally, it is important to know these extended offerings for case study situations.

6. Create a competency grid

This advice is taken from the ‘Law and Broader’ vlog and honestly, I think it is genius.

Interviewers will inevitably ask you standard HR questions about your strengths and weaknesses. So, it is valuable to have prepared answers that you feel comfortable with, that answer the question and that demonstrate personal growth.

Therefore, create a grid with the frequent HR questions in each row. For instance, consider a time that you led a team, dealt with a challenging situation or made a mistake. Then in column one outline the context, in column two the example itself and in column three what you learned from it.

This approach will mean that you answer questions in HR’s favoured STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) answering method. Further, the more that you consider and memorise these answers, the more polished you will become during an interview. It will also be something that you can create once and enhance for subsequent interviews.

7. Let your friends/family/flatmates know that you might have interviews

I think this is more important than it may seem. Not only for being able to manage expectations when you isolate yourself from life’s potential commitments but if you live in a noisy house or halls, these distractions can really disrupt your preparations. Put simply, nobody wants a tap-dancing convention upstairs until 5 am when you need to get a 6 am train to London.

Letting people know should at least encourage any night owls to be more respectful of the general peace and quiet than usual. Acquaintances might even be able to offer you a place to stay nearby for your assessment day. Hopefully informing everyone of upcoming important dates will reduce the drama, bad news and peer pressure until after you have left the office.

8. Research the partner/associate interviewing you

It is rare to be interviewed by all of the people that you were promised. Events may mean that the partner will be busy and will arrange a substitute. However, on the occasions when you are not interviewed by an understudy and you have been informed of your interviewer in advance, it can be embarrassing not to know anything about them.

Furthermore, if a partner is an expert in real estate, employment or anti-trust, then your questions will almost certainly address those specific topics. Offering answers that feature ideas that the partner has recently written about will be warmly received. Therefore, knowing who your interviewer is can really help you to prepare.

9. Find out more about your assessment day format

Lots of graduate recruitment assessment days feature a case study. Although, these studies change every year, knowing the little tips and tricks to score well from people who have been in your position before definitively helps.

For instance, if you are aware that you are likely to be interrupted during a group exercise with an abrupt change of plans, make sure that you are discussing a plan B throughout. Alternatively, if you know that the case study is notoriously time-limited, practice skim reading newspapers. Try rapidly absorbing the key points, or at least ensure that you are quicker than usual on the actual day.

10. Presentation training

Lots of assessment days feature a presentation element. If like me, you are not a natural public speaker, this can be quite daunting. However, the best-known cure is exposure.

Just taking part in free social events like Toastmasters or storytelling evenings like Spark can give you the fun public speaking experience that allows you to be more confident by proxy for when the time actually arrives.

Consider mimicking those speakers who are good, analyse what stylistic techniques they employ and note the phrases that really resonate with you. A few small changes can substantially improve your performance, making your two-minute speech during the exercise an opportunity, rather than an obligation.

11. Engage with the firm on social media

I understand that the idea of learning more about a firm that you have just spent 10 hours writing about probably is the last thing on your mind.

Yet, if you regularly engage with the content shared by the lawyers and graduate team on social media you will be enthusiastically remembered by the author. Every time you share, comment, like or subscribe, that blog receives more views and coverage. It also helps you to broaden your knowledge.

All of us have egos and anyone who writes an article spends considerable time formulating, editing and posting it. Therefore, it is always reassuring to know that your efforts are actually being read and hopefully helping somebody.