Our vacation scheme, whether virtual or physical, is the best way to familiarise yourself with WFW. They give you the chance to experience the firm in more depth and us a chance to get to know you.
To appreciate the kind of work trainees undertake day to day during the scheme, you will be paired with a trainee buddy from a core practice group of your choice. To complement this, you will also participate in a variety of training and social events designed to give you a good feel for the firm.
We spoke to Anthea, the Graduate Recruitment & Development Assistant at WFW to hear her thoughts on virtual vacation schemes and how they think participants can get the most out of them.
As a graduate recruiter, how did you feel about switching the vacation scheme to a virtual format?
From my perspective, it was initially disappointing not to be able to run our first scheme of the year in the office. We spent some time deliberating as to whether we felt we could still provide participants with an experience that gives them insight in to WFW, our culture and the kind of work that a trainee at WFW does. Attending a vacation scheme at any firm is very much a two-way process: as much as we want to get to know you, the scheme is also an opportunity for you to get to know us and to decide if that is the firm for them.
We eventually decided to take the plunge and run a virtual scheme, albeit a bit later in the year. We made sure that we gathered a lot of feedback from participants afterwards, to help inform our next scheme and to make the experience even better for the future.
What elements of the physical scheme did you keep and what elements didn’t you keep, and why? What would you say to candidates who are worried about a virtual scheme not delivering the same value as a physical scheme?
This is a great question. From our physical scheme, we kept all the core sessions, such as ’Introduction to Assets & Structured Finance’ and ‘International secondments at WFW’ (which are guaranteed, by the way). These sessions form a significant chunk of our physical scheme, in the sense that scheme participants attend at least one of these every day. We also tried to keep a social element by building in an activity with our all of our current trainees. From an assessment perspective, we have treated our virtual schemes in exactly the same way as the physical schemes: there is still a group presentation and scheme participants still have their Training Contract interview at the end of the scheme. Additionally, for the virtual scheme, we built in a written research task to give scheme participants the chance to experience the sort of work that trainees might do and for us to see their work product.
In terms of things we changed or adapted from our physical schemes, we had to bear in mind the limitations of not being allowed to run the scheme in the office. For example, we could not give each scheme attendee a laptop like we would do in the office, as the logistics of sending these out and retrieving them is unfortunately just too complex given our current resources. Unfortunately, this did mean that scheme participants could not work on internal matters or some of the trainee tasks that they typically would. Additionally, we dispensed with the concept of ‘seats’ and instead assigned each scheme participant a trainee buddy who was sitting in a group of interest to them, so that they could still learn about that seat, typical trainee tasks and develop their knowledge. We obviously would have loved to keep all elements of our physical scheme, but we had to be mindful of what we could do with what we had available to us.
In terms of whether one is a better or more valuable experience than the other, I would say that each format has its own benefits. One example of this, is that on a virtual scheme, scheme participants do not have to travel or find expensive accommodation. Scheme participants should treat a virtual scheme in the same way that they would treat a physical scheme.
What key tips would you give to candidates who are about to undertake a virtual vacation scheme?
There are some great things that scheme participants can do at all stages (before, during and after) to get the most out of a virtual vacation scheme.
Before the scheme:
- Make sure you read all the communications sent to you ahead of the scheme, so that you can complete all the onboarding steps on time and go back with any information, if required.
- Start thinking about all of the questions you have about the firm, write these down, and then see if you can find the answers yourself via some stealthy research; if you can’t, add that question to a separate list for the actual scheme, so that you can come prepared to make the most of your time on the scheme.
- Check and test your technology; if you are concerned that your technology will not manage, or it isn’t suitable, don’t be afraid to let the Graduate Recruitment team know. They may be able to help or they may have some useful information and guidance for you.
- Remember that the virtual scheme carries the same weight as a physical scheme, so don’t forget about your Training Contract interview at the end. Start thinking about what you will need to know to do well in that, for you personally.
- Finally, if you feel like you do not have a suitable environment to partake in the virtual scheme, let the Graduate Recruitment team know. We understand that not everyone will have a full set-up at home, but if you let the Graduate Recruitment team know, they may be able to assist or help by making suitable adjustments.
During the scheme:
- I would encourage you to behave in exactly the same way as you would for a physical scheme. That means being prompt on your first day and to all the sessions. Be engaged in the sessions. We know this is harder to do virtually, but my top tips to show that you are engaged are to ask questions during the sessions, turn your camera on (if your WiFi can cope) and respond to the presenters and speakers when they pose questions to you as an audience. You can also show engagement by following up with the speakers after their sessions, especially if you are genuinely interested!
- Make the most of your trainee buddy, or any contact person you are assigned. They are essentially the person you can ask almost anything about the Firm, whether your question relates to the type of work they do, or the culture. They are a really invaluable resource and they know what it is like to be in your position, so they will typically be as helpful as they can be! If they don’t reach out to you, don’t be shy to contact them and schedule an initial meeting. This also shows good initiative on your part.
- Make sure that you get what you want to get out of the virtual scheme. Ask as many questions as you need to feel content that you have all the information that you need to make an informed choice for you as an individual. The worst feeling in the world is when you walk away from something realising that you haven’t made the most of the opportunity.
After the scheme:
- It is not essential, but it is always nice to send a polite thank you e-mail to the Graduate Recruitment team and to anyone else who assisted you on the scheme. It is a nice way to show your appreciation, to demonstrate your confirmed interest in the firm and it is also a great opportunity for you to provide any feedback that you may have.
- On the note of feedback, you should always try to complete any feedback surveys or questionnaires that are circulated to you. This will help us to understand your experience, where we could have improved or where things went well. Your feedback also shows us that you have fully engaged with the scheme. Whilst giving us feedback is important, asking for it is also really important for you as an individual, especially for your personal growth and development. You should do this, whether you ask about your interview specifically or about the formally assessed tasks, or about all of it. It will not only help you improve, but it will also show us that you have a keen appetite for learning, which is a great quality to demonstrate.
- Lastly, keep the Graduate Recruitment team updated. If your circumstances change, let us know. We know you will be looking at other firms too so if we are not the firm for you, or if another firm is your top choice and you have received an offer there, letting the us know is just the courteous thing to do.
What challenges did you face in planning and delivering the scheme, and how did you tackle these?
One of the biggest challenges we faced in planning and delivering the virtual scheme centred around the issue of culture. A key element of a physical scheme is that participants get a real sense of the culture of the firm from just spending time in the office, soaking up the interactions between people and working with others. We wanted to make sure that participants on the virtual scheme were still able to get a sense of our culture and not to miss out on that key experience.
We thought about how to tackle this, and it really just came down to giving participants as much exposure to as many people in the firm as possible.
One of the things we did to achieve this was to organise a social quiz with all our trainees, so that participants could see how our trainees interact with each other. We also went above and beyond to put participants in touch with a wide range of people across the firm, so that they could ask all their questions!
The feedback we received from our inaugural virtual vacation scheme was that the participants felt that they really gained a good sense of our culture, so we have carried these social elements through to our other virtual schemes and built on them. I think it also worked so well because all the participants were eager to make the most of the opportunities they had on the scheme.
The other challenge we faced was to do with technology and access to firm systems. When schemes take place in the office each participant usually has a desk and a dedicated laptop however, due to the logistics surrounding this process and COVID-19, we were unable to provide participants with firm equipment which meant they could not necessarily undertake the same type of work that they would have done in the office. With our other schemes, this has continued to be an obstacle. To tackle this we asked one of our Practice Support Lawyers to create a research task, pitched at trainee-level, for the scheme participants to work on to give them a sense of the work they could be doing. We have also taken this a step further for our future virtual schemes by creating a ‘bank’ of tasks, submitted by our current trainees, for any willing and eager participants to work on whilst they are with us.
What common concerns did your scheme participants have and what did you do to address them?
I think the biggest concern most people had was to do with whether their technology would work for the scheme. In the current circumstance this is a very valid concern, as not everyone has superfast fibre broadband or a good working set-up at home.
To address the concerns, we offered every scheme participant a test run with the technology. We also offered everyone access to Zoom via AllAboutLaw, the organisation we were working with to deliver the scheme. This seemed to address some of their concerns and everyone who we have invited to a virtual scheme has, to-date, been able to partake successfully
Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to candidates who are due to participate in a virtual vacation scheme?
My one piece of advice (and this has been echoed by our previous scheme attendees) is to come prepared! Think about all the questions you want to ask and jot them down. Following that, structure them and then see if you can find the answer yourself by carrying out some initial research. If you can’t, think about who you would want to speak to in the firm to find out the answer and then make a note of that! That way, on your first day, you have a list of questions and an idea of who you need to ask to speak to ready, and so you won’t lose time by only getting this together half-way through the scheme. In fact, coming prepared will give you the opportunity to find things out early on, and then possibly to ask any follow-up up questions that you may have!