With the global Covid19 pandemic resulting in the jobs market for newly qualified solicitors almost grinding to a halt during the previous two qualification rounds, final seat trainee solicitors who are due to complete their training contracts in August or September 2021 will naturally feel anxious about their post-qualification options.
Below are my top ten tips to help put you in the best possible position for securing those all-important NQ roles.
1. Start by doing some honest self-reflection and ask yourself how your training contract has REALLY gone? What went well for you? Where is there room for further improvement? What aspects of your work have you enjoyed the most and why? Which is your preferred practice area? When thinking about which team(s) you’d like to qualify into try not to overly focus on the people. Think about how you would like to spend your working day? Are you a bookworm and enjoy research tasks or do you enjoy client contact and negotiating? Do you see yourself as a litigator or transactional lawyer?
2. Think short, medium and long-term. What direction would you eventually like to take? Are you planning to stay in law long-term or will you eventually want to try something completely different? Would you prefer to move in-house at some point? The latter point is a key consideration because some practice areas lend themselves much better to an in-house position whilst others are more suited for particular industries. Also, how do you feel about issues such as work/life balance? If this is an important consideration for you qualifying into a non-transactional department is likely to be a better option.
3. Do you want to stay in law? A small handful of trainees who have been put through my outplacement programme have decided against applying for NQ roles and instead opted for a fresh start. Though this proved to be the right route for those individuals, changing careers as an NQ is a high-risk strategy, and even more so in the current economic climate, because it can prove extremely tricky to get back into the legal profession if you leave on qualification. As such, please give this route very careful thought and guard yourself against doing anything knee-jerk.
4. Aim high but it’s also important to be realistic. Some practice areas and departments, particularly litigation and arbitration are traditionally known for being over-subscribed, whilst others such as real estate are being more adversely affected by the economic downturn. So, it’s now more important than ever to keep an open-mind about second choices. Related to this, use common sense – if a particular practice area is strategically significant for your current firm chances are that is where most of the NQ vacancies will be.
5. Get networking. Most firms operate formal qualification processes that involve partner-led interviews and case studies. Saying that, savvy trainee solicitors will undoubtedly be organising informal coffees/chats (albeit virtually) with relevant partners and other senior/influential members of the team(s) they want to join as NQs in order to make their preferences clear. Such meetings also serve as helpful platforms to get some constructive feedback on your performance.
6. Prepare for internal interviews. Contrary to what so many trainees believe, internal interviews can be just as challenging as ones for external positions. They’re also very different to training contract interviews, which are typically competency based. Interviews for NQ roles are often technical with candidates expected to be able to intelligently discuss the legal issues thrown up by a matter they were involved in.
7. Spruce up your LinkedIn profile. If you’re thinking about making applications for external NQ roles now’s the time to update your LinkedIn profile so any recruiters reviewing it will have a clear idea of when you’re due to qualify. It’s also important to include seat choices, academic credentials and a good quality professional-looking photo. And that’s it. Also, remember the more active you are on LinkedIn the greater your chances of being spotted by a recruiter. Related to this, get to work on a draft ‘master’ CV.
8. Pick up the phone to some recruiters (preferably ones that have been recommended to you). No harm will come out of having confidential conversations with some carefully selected recruiters as they can give you an up to date overview of the NQ jobs market, especially because the situation is constantly evolving. If the recruiters inspire trust and confidence then agree to stay in touch. Avoid, however, blindly posting your CV on job boards or emailing it to an agency before picking up the phone to a consultant first. Also, please do remember that recruiters are not careers advisers. Their job is to find the best possible candidates for the vacancies they are instructed on so remember to present the best version of yourself as soon as you open your mouth. Also, do take some of the stuff they tell you with a gigantic pinch of salt.
9. Don’t be afraid to make direct applications. Although the vast majority of NQ vacancies with larger commercial law firms are handled by recruitment agencies many firms will welcome direct applications. So don’t be put off making direct applications because they don’t take as long as you might be fearing. And if possible do try to apply through your contacts as they are typically best placed to ensure your CV gets to the right people.
10. Never lie to potential employers about missing out on an internal NQ role. Securing an internal NQ role will give you the best possible chance to bag an external one as well. But the truth is that most candidates will not be sitting on internal offers meaning you’re not alone in having to explain the ‘elephant in the room’. The key here is to offer an honest but short explanation of why you weren’t offered an internal NQ role. When doing this it’s important to avoid being overly negative about the firm you are exiting and instead focus on points that sell you in the best possible light.