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updated on 09 March 2021
I am proud to be a ‘socially mobile’ candidate. I am the first in my family to have studied beyond GCSEs and pursue a corporate career. I also studied in disruptive environments at state comprehensive schools. By writing this blog, which details the challenges I have overcome and strategies for success, I hope that readers take pride in their identity, feel inspired by their peers, and assured that they are not alone in the application process and beyond.
I am offering my support to you, so please reach out to me on LinkedIn!
My primary school experience
When I think back to primary school-aged Emily, I realise that I almost felt left like the ‘odd one out’. With Ofsted rankings in the bottom 10% of the UK and an extremely chaotic atmosphere, I felt trapped in my ability throughout primary school. I have always been an enthusiastic reader, learner of languages and curious individual, which made me question what future career pathways I could take.
It is so important that children from underrepresented groups are provided with relatable role models, with mentoring being a life-changing opportunity for people like me that lack traditional support networks. This is an idea that I have explored in my role as programme coordinator at the educational technology start-up Talk About, which provides engagement solutions that connect young people and professionals, widening the accessibility of corporate spaces.
Managing academics and work
Being a socially mobile candidate often means juggling numerous responsibilities and commitments, which requires effective time management skills (this is crucial for lawyers and one you should feel proud of).
When I was 15, I started working to support myself financially alongside my academic studies. I found this especially challenging during sixth form, where I studied three A levels and the Extended Project Qualification, worked at John Lewis and held numerous extra-curricular roles. These included chairing my school’s gifted and talented debate team, mentoring two students, teaching fortnightly history lessons to underperforming year nine students and being a youth adviser at the Imperial War Museum. Admittedly, it was tough, particularly with the added pressure of wanting to do well in school to fulfil my high personal expectations and inspire my younger sister to pursue her aspirations.
Going on to achieve a first in every final year module, as well as completing my degree in lockdown, is one of my proudest achievements and proof that with determination and passion you can achieve anything. For me, this is not just an academic accomplishment but a token of my resilience and something that I would urge you to feel especially pleased about!
Overcoming imposter syndrome
As a socially mobile candidate, it is often too easy to allow imposter syndrome to take over, especially at interviews and assessment centres when interacting with other candidates. You might worry that you come across as ‘different’, in the ‘wrong place’ and perhaps, out of your ‘comfort zone’. These are all common and normal thoughts to have. Often, the application process is not a rewarding one so I would encourage you to celebrate every small step towards achieving your goals.
Given my background and upbringing, I could never have imagined that I would be pursuing a career as a commercial solicitor, interacting with such exceptionally talented people – many of whom are the best in their fields globally – and being asked by a platform like LawCareers.Net (LCN) to write an article on my journey.
Therefore, I would love to share six tips and strategies to help harness your strengths and increase your chances of obtaining a vacation scheme.
Strategies for support
I cannot stress enough just how important having a wide and varied network is. The people that I have met through extra-curricular activities like The Business Update and from contacting fellow candidates and trainees on LinkedIn, are the ones that I contact for support and to share my successes with. Despite never meeting these individuals in person, I have met friends that come from different countries, even different continents, which is something I really value.
Since 2019, I have partaken in various mentoring programmes, including Aspiring Solicitors Aspire, Rare Recruitment, GROW Mentoring and STRIVE. These helped me to secure a vacation scheme in 2020 and two in January 2021, showing the importance of sharing knowledge and gaining advice. I would say that, for me, STRIVE has been a real gamechanger. I am proud to be a socially mobile candidate, which is a common interest among all mentees and mentors. Being a STRIVE candidate means that I benefit from application reviews, assessment centre insights, unwavering support from like-minded individuals and a community! I would highly recommend STRIVE.
Attend as many virtual and in-person events as possible, including those held by LCN. Often, events are hosted by recruiters and firm representatives, which enable you to gain an understanding of the firm’s values, LinkedIn bloggers and future trainees.
Develop your personal brand and know your USP. For example, can you solve complex problems with creative thinking? Speak three languages? Make others feel listened to and respected? Are you an IT and coding wizard? Although it can feel embarrassing, ask your family members and friends how they would describe you. That way, when you answer interview questions like “what makes you different to other candidates?” you can give an authentic response.
As cliché as it sounds, remember to be yourself in the application process. In follow-up sessions with graduate recruitment, I have been praised for my ability to be open and show my interviewers what sort of person I am, which helps build rapport!
Know what you want from an employer. Finding your dream job and firm is a two-way process. It is useful to speak to diversity and inclusion coordinators, read annual reports and thought leadership to understand to what extent a firm is committed to fostering an inclusive work environment and not simply following trends for reputational benefits.
Emily Digby is an aspiring lawyer due to start a vacation scheme with Baker McKenzie in Spring 2021 and one with CMS in July 2021.