Weekly Writing Tip 3: Making the most of your experiences

Discussion in 'Public Feedback Forum' started by Hazal, Mar 17, 2019.

  1. Hazal

    Hazal Legendary Member
    Future Trainee

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    For my third writing tip I thought I would try and shed some light on how to write about work experience and extra-curricular activities in a convincing manner. From personal experience, the work experience section can be neglected in favour of the bigger, 250-300 word questions that law firms want answering. I used to believe that bullet-points would cut it. The reality is that this is yet another section in which you can sell yourself and shine, so should be taken as seriously as the essay-style questions.

    1) Before you write, consider the work experiences you have

    It is a very big myth that you cannot obtain a vacation scheme or training contract without legal experience. My first Assessment Centre and interview invites came before I even had an ounce of legal experience, so it is definitely doable. On that note, however, you would need a rich history of experience to draw upon and use to extract the skills that recruiters are looking to see. I think this Shearman & Sterling blog post, which discusses the different experiences that count, is extremely useful and one that everyone should look through – is there an experience you’re glossing over because you think it’s irrelevant? I think this blog post will allow you to re-think your experiences.

    Before I delve into the writing, I believe it’s also important to note that if you see a gap in your experience, there might still be something you can do to rectify that. When I didn’t have any legal experience half-way through my final year of university, I emailed every single high-street firm in the vicinity to see if they would take me on for at least a week. I also attended law society and law department events when I could, to bolster my knowledge of the profession further. This also applies to other kinds of experience. If you want to show you can work well in a team, seek out society or volunteering opportunities which allow you to do that.

    2) Consider the skills a lawyer needs to possess

    In order to focus on and highlight the most important aspects of your work experience, it makes sense to take some time to list and understand the skills a lawyer needs to have and therefore, what a recruiter will be looking for from you. This will help steer you away from simply stating facts when you come to write about your experience and activities. To start off, here are a few:
    • Commercial awareness

    • Attention to detail

    • People skills

    • Leadership
    • Team-work

    • Resilience

    • Written communication
    When getting ready to write about each experience, always try and extract the lawyer-like skills that you've gained. For example, commercial awareness is applicable to working for any kind of business, whereas people skills can apply to all customer-related work experience.

    3) The writing

    i. Dedicate 10% of the word count to set the scene and 90% to the skills

    First, I’d like to tackle the work experience section. I would advise that setting the scene takes a small portion of the overall word count (if there is one). This includes how long the experience was for and your most basic duties. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the most important part is the skill extraction. It might help if you weave your skills and examples when you are providing the scenario of your experience. For example: On my one-week scheme, I helped with xyz, this demonstrated..., which is important for a lawyer because.... And repeat again.

    ii. If it’s non-legal work experience, the skills are the most important aspect, but if it’s legal, discussing practicalities is important

    Below, I discuss my experience as a sales colleague at a supermarket:

    My daily tasks included stocking shelves and assisting customers with their questions about the location and availability of stock. Due to the demanding nature of some customers, I had to work efficiently under pressure and learn on the job, particularly when I did not have the immediate knowledge to give prompt answers. Other skills I have gained from Asda have been the ability to create good customer relationships and commercial awareness.

    I give little importance to the tasks of the work experience because my responsibilities don’t directly translate into a career as a lawyer. The transferable skills are more essential, such as those I’ve mentioned.

    However, when it’s legal experience, the practicalities of what you had to do, matter a little more. For example:

    I participated in team exercises, such as creating a bundle for a fictional Employment court case and suggesting how to make a commercial contract compliant with regulatory rules. This developed my teamworking skills in a similar setting to a solicitor.

    While it’s not my best attempt, what I’m trying to show is that although this activity demonstrates that I can work in a team, it’s also important that I had the opportunity to experience what a solicitor does on a daily basis. This isn’t a skill, per se, but practical knowledge that can be used to demonstrate that you’ve done your research on this profession and know what will be expected of you as a future trainee.

    Side note: some people may wish to leave this out altogether, however, I’m a big fan of linking back my skills to being a lawyer. I don’t do it all the time; however, I do like to mention it when it’s not glaringly obvious. For example, with people skills and serving customers, I enjoy explaining how I will translate that as a lawyer with clients and the importance of that relationship. I sometimes throw in the name of the firm as well, to make it more relatable to the recruiter reading my application. This isn't a tried and tested way of doing things, so do whatever makes you comfortable.

    iii. Specifics are even more important in the extra-curricular section

    Whilst practical experiences such as bundling and learning more about the inside of a business can be taken from your work experience, it’s a little harder to sell your extra-curriculars, as the skills and their importance aren’t as immediately obvious. For example, you can talk about what sports you played, most of which would have had a team-working element to them, but that’s not specific enough. Just because you've worked in a group, doesn’t mean you've worked as a team. Explain what it takes to be a team: the collective responsibility of attending training sessions so you can all better yourselves for the next match, the communication needed within the actual game which is a raw version of the team-work you would use when planning a group presentation and many more examples besides. Also try and draw out the skills that are harder to pinpoint such as dedication, resilience or time-management, all of which are needed to maintain a degree/working life as well as your extra-curriculars.

    iv. Tangible results

    Beyond the above, it is important that your experiences or extra-curriculars have some tangible, possibly numerical results, that have come about as a part of your involvement. For example, I think numbers are the best way to do this, such as the below:

    Using my initiative, I researched book request schemes and successfully pitched a similar idea to my librarian. The result was “More Books - Your Books!” which secured 200 book requests within 3 weeks.

    As long as you have at least some claim to making those numbers happen, getting your statistics in order is impressive and makes your involvement that much more real.
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