Five minutes with... Amelia Scott, graduate recruitment and development officer at Ashurst
It’s important to be able to show that you’ve gained an understanding of what working as a solicitor at a law firm is like so, if you’ve missed the vac scheme deadlines, try to gain some other legal work experience: informal experience at a high street firm or through attending workshops, presentations and open days offered by law firms.
The key to this is research. Employers want to be made to feel special; in-depth research about the firm – far beyond the highlights gained from a ten-minute Google search – really tells me that the candidate wants to work here. Follow a deal in the press over a significant period of time, for instance; this suggests that you have been keen on us for a while, rather than just before making your application.
Another tip is to remember the recruiter or trainees’ names at a law fair or workshop and mention that conversation in your application. A good candidate will ideally have chatted to us at our stand at a university law fair, and/or attended one of our workshops. The more contact you’ve had with a particular firm, the more you will understand it and your application should be stronger as a result.
Your profile on TARGETjobs Law online points out that foreign language skills are favourable. Can you tell us more about that?
Language skills add another string to the applicant’s bow when applying to a big international firm. At this firm, European languages, Mandarin, Cantonese and Arabic can be useful. Once someone accepts a training contract offer with us, we give them a £500 language bursary to help them brush up on their language skills or learn a new language from scratch.
Are you looking for applicants who have already made up their mind about which area of law they want to practice?
No, candidates should definitely keep an open mind. In the past, anyone who has begun training with their sights set on qualifying for a particular practice area has rarely chosen to work in that department on qualification. You’re not in a position to know what happens in each legal department until you sit there during your training contract. But you do need to have an understanding of the firm’s main practice areas: all Ashurst trainees spend one seat in the finance department and at least one other in a transactional department. If someone is very set on a niche practice area they should apply to a firm which specialises in that particular work. We look for candidates who might have an interest in a certain area but who also have an open mind about where they would like to sit as a trainee.
Do you think candidates should focus on getting a first, or are you more interested in their extracurricular activities?
If going all out for a first is at the expense of everything else, then I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s about balance: get the best grades you can without becoming a hermit! Ideally, we’re looking for people who are bright and don’t need to give up all other interests in their life to get a strong 2.1. Being able to balance a varied and heavy workload is a key competency for a City lawyer and being able to juggle lots at university demonstrates this capability.
What’s your view on the importance of A level grades versus a good degree grade?
We’re looking for consistently strong academic results but, at the same time, we appreciate that students will have come from different schools and education systems and we take this into account – particularly if someone had done very well at degree level but was less successful at A level. That said, you still need to get 340 UCAS points unless you have mitigating circumstances.
What stands out about your vacation scheme?
We will have a smaller number of students on our three vac placements this year (no more than 20 on each scheme) so we can afford to make it very tailored and personal to each student. Some firms put a vac schemer in an empty desk wherever it may be; we don’t do that. We take into account which practice areas students are keen on and try our best to place them in that department.
If an individual has language skills, we aim to place him or her with a supervisor who can use those language skills. We have a trainee placement scheme committee, which allows our current trainees to help run the scheme, organise the social events and act as mentors. It enables us to make sure that the vac scheme students have a real-life trainee experience.
Do you use an assessment day as part of the recruitment process?
Assessment centres are designed to assess a large number of candidates efficiently in a short period of time. We are lucky that, with the number of trainees and vacation visitors we recruit each year, we don't need to run a process like this. Instead, we prefer to see candidates individually so we can really focus on them; that doesn't mean we won't test their capabilities though. Candidates tell us that they enjoy our process because it stretches and challenges them.
What’s the worst question a candidate has asked you at a training contract or vacation scheme interview?
Asking a question at the end of an interview for the sake of it is worse than not asking a question at all. I find it off-putting when an applicant asks a question and, while you answer it, their eyes go completely blank – it suggests that they’re not listening to the recruiter’s response. The best way to look interested in an answer is to ask a follow-up question – the interviewer gets the feeling that the individual is engaged, has listened well and genuinely wants to know the answer to their question.
What sort of interview questions impress you?
I like it when I’m asked what I value about the firm. One candidate impressed one of our partners by asking: ‘If you were in my position, where would you do your training contract?’. Good candidates can pitch their question depending on whether the interviewer is a practising lawyer or a graduate recruiter: I’m not the best person to ask about the nitty gritty of a deal; equally, don’t ask a partner about the logistics of the recruitment process.
Don’t ask something that can be found on the firm’s website or brochure. Questions about the number of trainees we take on or the dates of the placement scheme feel like the applicant is clutching at straws.
What can you say about Ashurst that would surprise our readers?
A lot of candidates who apply to us do so because they have heard about the supportive culture here; what some might not be as aware of is how global we are. For instance, last year 43% of our profits were generated outside the UK. We're becoming an increasingly global firm and we not only encourage our trainees to spend a seat in one of our overseas offices, we expect them to want to spend part of their career outside of the London office.