Even though Law open days tend to be relatively low-pressure events, the basic rules of meeting potential employers still count: look presentable, be on time, be polite and always have a pen on you. It is also a great networking opportunity. Aside from those basics, here are four more key things you need to remember.
1. Do your research
It may just be a day, but that can feel very long if you suddenly realise you have no interest in anything this firm does. Open days are a chance to find out the facts about a firm that Google can’t tell you, so don’t just pick one at random. Pick one that appeals to you, find out everything you can beforehand and then decide what you will seek to learn on the day.
These mini-interviews provide a great opportunity to impress potential employers without the high pressure environment of an assessment centre, whilst also carrying out valuable research. Try to learn the some of the key names and faces beforehand: look out for the recruiters and the partners. These are the ones that you want to remember you for the right reasons, so even if you’re not going to seek them out, you can make sure you don’t do anything too stupid in front of them. But you really should seek them out to…
2. Ask questions
Firms are trying to sell themselves to you on an open day, but you should take the chance to do the same. Firms receive thousands of applications for their vacations schemes and training contracts; you will have a much better chance of snaring a place if they already know your name.
If there are presentations on the day, then make sure you take notes, which you can then use to start a conversation later. This is how you show your enthusiasm, both for law in general and specifically for this firm. Firms really want you to want to work there, so prove that you do.
This is also a chance to find out about the company culture, the clients they work with, the style of work and other considerations that will help you decide if this firm is for you. Look out for application tips and titbits of information you can use in your application too. Don’t just seek out the higher-ups though, because you can learn a lot if you…
3. Talk to the trainees
Every impression you make matters, whether you are talking to a partner or to a trainee, you are showing how you would fit into this workspace. Many firms are quite tight nit, so you need to look like someone they could work with. Also, those nearer your position have useful perspectives to offer.
If you are looking to apply to this firm for a training contract, no one will have more recent memories of the process than current trainees. These are the ones who have recently done the thing that you will be going through soon. They can offer valuable tips on what to include, what to avoid and generally what to expect on the road ahead.
Find out too about what work they are doing now, as that could be you in future. If their typical day sounds like hell, maybe this firm isn’t for you?
4. Once the day is over, don’t forget it
After making it through the day as the ideal, charming potential trainee, you get to really make the most of it. Mentioning it on your application shows your sustained enthusiasm for the firm, especially if you manage to be more specific. If you can relate your enthusiasm to a particular person you spoke to or to a presentation you heard, then that is even better. This not only shows that you paid attention, but also that you have genuinely good reasons for wanting to work there, rather than the usual prestige/ Magic Circle/ money.
You don’t have to wait until the application to bring it up either, if you have a professional twitter profile then use it as a chance to open a dialogue. Tweet the firm to say what you liked about the day, or if there was a particular presentation you enjoyed with, tell the speaker what you liked about it. There is huge value in making sure they know your name before you apply. This may seem like a lot to squeeze into day, but a well-used open day can really help your future applications. Even if you don’t go for that particular firm, you can use what you learnt about what you didn’t like to help explain to another firm your informed choice.
If you were given a business card or email address by an exhibitor, it might be worth sending them an email a few days after the fair telling them how nice it was to meet them or following up on a question you had. You may even want to add them on LinkedIn.
Top tips for networking with law firms...
- Have a plan: Come armed with notes and pre-prepared questions if you can. Alternatively, if you're not yet sure which aspect of commercial law or particular firm appeals to you, make it your objective to talk to at least one person from a range of firms in very different areas, thereby giving you a greater insight into the breadth of careers available to you.
- Be interested: There is a huge difference between being interested and in trying to be interesting. When you are interested in learning about someone and their work entirely for the sake of learning about the other person, you will leave a lasting impression as someone who genuinely cares.
- Listen with focus: When someone is speaking with you, give that person your entire focus. Even though it is really easy to be distracted at large events by the conversation going on next to you or behind you, make sure you really listen to what the person is saying to you.
- Be specific: Most networking will be opened by questions such as 'which university are you from?' or 'what do you work on?'. You should try to break away from such openers which can often fall flat after a few minutes. If you have researched someone's interests, challenge them about their work. If you are looking for specific help, ask straight away.
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