“I’m an aspiring lawyer and due to finish my training contract in August 2020 but missed out on a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor position with my current firm. I’m now struggling to find an NQ role externally so thinking of parking my search until the jobs market picks up. This of course means I’ll end up with a gap on my CV. Should I be worried?”
Though a short gap lasting a couple of months is unlikely to cause long-term damage to your employability an extended period away from practicing law will potentially prove more harmful. As such, owing to the cyclical nature of the NQ jobs market, taking a career break to ride out the storm is not typically advised. If you take a six-month break and put your job search on hold until the Spring 2021 qualification round you will inevitably find yourself competing with the next cohort of NQs who are fresh to the market and have up-to-date skills and market knowledge. And if the jobs market remains tight then, as the candidate with the six-month gap on your CV, you’re likely to be even further disadvantaged as employers continue to become increasingly selective.
This may sound harsh, but frustratingly in the notoriously conservative legal sector many hiring partners / teams typically favour candidates with straight-line ‘vanilla’ CVs. That said, some recruiters are cautiously optimistic. They believe, once green shoots do again start to emerge in the legal jobs market, employers are more likely to be sympathetic towards NQs who have been adversely affected by the pandemic simply because of how severely it has impacted law firms and indeed in-house legal departments.
What’s more, there are some employers who will always be open to meet NQs who have trained at one of their competitors. Alternatively, assuming you wish to do so, it may also be possible to return to a firm that is similar to the one you trained at in stages by starting with a smaller outfit and then working your way back up.
Husnara Begum, contributing editor and associate careers coach