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Katherine Sharp is the graduate recruitment manager at CMS, based in London. She started at the firm in April 2018.
How did you end up in law?
I have worked in graduate recruitment for the past 11 years, in multiple industries that include financial services, pharma and the public sector, but never in law before now. However, I have always been interested in the legal profession, including the nuances around how trainees are recruited. I even considered doing the GDL when I left university – although I went for investment banking instead!
What are the most/least enjoyable aspects of recruiting?
The best bit is meeting people, spotting top talent, seeing them come through the process, and go on to join an organisation where they can grow and flourish. The hardest part is giving constructive feedback to individuals who haven’t been successful at such a difficult time in their lives, when they’re desperate to get a training contract.
What is the biggest challenge of the job?
In all industries, the biggest challenge is the planning, but especially so in law when you’re having to plan so far ahead. Something will inevitably go wrong, but it’s your ability to cope with the unexpected that’s important. I face daily crises where I could lose my head, but I just have to sit back and think of a new plan of action; being flexible and adaptable in your style is important. You can be talking to a senior partner one moment and an A-level student the next, so it’s crucial to develop the confidence and communication style to deal with individuals at all levels.
Do you socialise with your trainees?
I think it’s absolutely critical. One, because it gives me the chance to get to know them better in an informal environment. Two, these are the people who can offer insightful feedback into what’s working well with our processes, what other firms are doing, and help us shape and deliver good training.
What are you trying to achieve at law fairs?
The key thing is to promote the CMS brand, who we are as a firm and our USP, especially in light of last year’s merger. It’s also important for us to identify top talent and make connections in person. Fairs are also a great opportunity for students to find out about us and our culture, and how we differentiate ourselves in a crowded market.
How important is your vacation scheme as part of the recruitment process?
Our next generation vacation scheme, the CMS Academy, is integral as we only offer training contracts to people who have been through it. It involves one week in the London office, with everyone from the regional offices coming together to focus on “the business of law”. It is an intense, high-energy week, with speakers including the executive partner, client visits, networking, a corporate responsibility evening … it’s action packed! It’s fully assessed, to give us a view of whether the students meet our key competencies. Then it’s back to the home offices for a more traditional, two-week scheme.
What is the most common mistake you see candidates making, apart from the obvious typos?
Not being able to strike the balance between being too quiet and trying to take all the limelight! Candidates that get it right will do well. Also, you need to really tailor your application – if it’s so generic that you can replace our name with the name of a different firm, and it all still applies, then you are unlikely to get through. Finally, one of my other bugbears is applicants not paying attention to the word count limit – if you’ve got 200 words, use 200 words! You can’t fully demonstrate what’s being asked of you if you don’t.
What are the attributes you look for in a trainee that are particularly suited to your firm?
Tenacity, resilience, determination, attention to detail, diversity of thought, flexible thinking, innovative, collaborative, and mindful of the fact that not everything is going to be handed to you on a plate.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of joining the legal profession?
Commercial awareness is key, so you must develop that. You also need to understand that much of what you’re taught at university is theoretical, so when it comes to practice, things will be different.
What is one key fact that candidates should know about your firm?
The details of our merger – including why the three firms came together, what it has meant for the organisation and the history of the legacy firms. That’s really important; it’s not just about joining the firm, it’s also about where we’ve come from and where we’re going.
What is your dream job (other than this one!)?
There are two – either a hotel inspector of (only!) five-star hotels or the owner of a bookshop.View CMS's details