Four tips for getting a training contract or vac scheme with Clifford Chance

Clifford Chance won the 2014 Graduate Employer of the Year Award at the TARGETjobs National Graduate Recruitment Awards. After the event, we interviewed Laura Yeates, graduate recruitment and development manager at Clifford Chance, about the firm’s ethos. Based on our conversation with Laura, we have written advice for candidates to improve their chances of getting a training contract with the firm.

Show Clifford Chance that you are resilient

The firm values and supports the building of ‘resilience under pressure’ in lawyers and it will show that you chime with their values if you can demonstrate it too; Clifford Chance are keen to hire candidates who share their values. ‘One in four of us is likely to suffer from a mental health problem at some time and research has shown that lawyers have a higher incidence of mental health-related issues than the general population,’ says Laura. ‘That is why we are committed to help raise awareness of the importance of psychological wellbeing, as this is the biggest predictor of engagement, productivity and performance. This has led us to introduce an “enhanced performance” course for senior associates and to launch a “mental health advocate” programme championed by senior partners in each practice area and heads of functions within business services.’

How can you use this information to improve your chances of getting hired by Clifford Chance?

  • Think of a time when you have remained ‘resilient under pressure’. Did you organise a summer ball at the same time as revising for your exams – and resolve any problems that cropped up without letting your academic results suffer? Did you come through a seasonally busy period in your part-time job and, rather than crumble under the pressure, gain a promotion? Mention such examples in your applications and interviews.
  • Think of a time you have provided part of a ‘supportive structure’ for fellow students under pressure. Have you introduced a process to make other people’s lives or roles easier? Maybe you have volunteered for Nightline? Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or Free Representation Unit (FRU) experience also shows you can support colleagues or clients.
  • If there are health reasons why your grades are lower than the stellar results expected by Clifford Chance, then include these mitigating circumstances in your applications. As Laura points out, the recruiters at Clifford Chance realise that we’re all human, and coping with adversity while still managing to attend lectures and exams can show true resilience and strength of character.

Make the most of your contact with Clifford Chance representatives

Don’t rule yourself out of applying to Clifford Chance because you think the firm is out of your league – due to, say, your school or university. All the magic circle firms are keen to make sure that students don’t self-select themselves out of the process – and one of the ways they are doing this is by increasing their contact with students on campus.

Clifford Chance targets over 50 different universities, using social media and CV-blind interviewing to establish a diverse workforce, so don’t let any pre-conceptions put you off. And with 100 trainee vacancies on offer each year, the odds of getting a training contract are immediately higher than with some of the American firms that offer fewer than ten trainee positions in London annually.

‘One of the main drivers has been connecting our employees with students,’ explains Laura. ‘Face-to-face interaction has been a key focus over the last 12 months and has seen us increase the number of universities we have targeted from 27 in 2012/13 to 56 in 2013/14, physically visiting more than 30. We have strongly promoted our virtual careers community (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) with live Q&A chats on Facebook and monthly competitions, with prizes such as lunch with senior partners and one-to-one career advice. In January 2014 we were delighted to offer our first training contract to a winner of our Facebook "managing your future career" competitions.'

Laura goes on to explain that the firm is trying to ‘bring the “Together we are Clifford Chance” campaign to life during the selection process. We arrange an informal lunch at assessment days for the candidates and our trainees, followed by a guided tour of our office. Every successful candidate is assigned a buddy at the point of offer and the partners involved in the selection decision will always call the individuals to discuss the offer and, two years later when they join, contact them to welcome them to the firm.’

How can you use this information to improve your chances of getting hired by Clifford Chance?

What is it about the firm’s buddy system and the ‘together’ approach that interests you in particular? What is it about that ethos that attracts you to the firm? Don’t miss this opportunity to tell recruiters why you think Clifford Chance matches your careers aspirations in the ‘Why do you want to work for us? question you’ll be asked in the recruitment process.

Remember the ‘IA’ competition – another way to get a vacation scheme

Clifford Chance is one of a small group of law firms that now allow you to apply for a vacation scheme place by entering an essay competition. If you impress with your essay on a chosen topic, you’ll win one of 20 vacation scheme places.

‘We believe in providing opportunities for people based on merit, regardless of background and the university they come from, and we continuously strive to ensure that there are no barriers to equality of opportunity,’ says Laura. ‘Perhaps the best illustration of our commitment to widening the search for talent is our award-winning Intelligent Aid (IA) competition, now into its fourth year, which has expanded our reach across more universities. IA is an alternative entry route for talented, commercially minded candidates, whatever their academic background, which relies on the submission of an essay and the delivery of a presentation to secure an internship.’

How can you use this information to improve your chances of getting hired by Clifford Chance?

In the interview with Laura, she revealed to us that no matter how hard the firm promotes the competition on campus, on social media and during its roadshow to non-Russell Group universities, the number of entries is much lower than the number of applications through the firm’s standard vacation scheme selection process. So your chances of getting hired as a result of entering are already better than applying for a vac scheme the traditional way.

Read our advice on how the Intelligent Aid competition can improve your chances of a training contract with Clifford Chance.

Be prepared for CV-blind interviews

The legal press has reported widely on how Clifford Chance are pioneering the use of CV-blind interviews, as a way to increase the diversity of lawyers in the firm.

‘We have been keen to look at different ways of assessing exceptional talent, especially when evaluating candidates that come through the traditional selection process,’ explains Laura. ‘This has involved a refocus on how we screen candidates and how we assess different types of experiences, with the effect of evaluating part-time work experience gained while studying, in a comparable fashion to experience gained through more formal schemes. This commitment to challenging the way we have always conducted elements of the selection process has followed through to the way we now interview, with interviewers not being given application forms at the interview stage.’

How can you use this information to improve your chances of getting hired by Clifford Chance?

If you are invited to an assessment day with this magic circle firm, be mindful that the interviewers won’t have seen your application form before they interview you. Recruiters appreciate that most students need to work part time while studying in order to make ends meet. They tell us during our TARGETjobs Law annual recruiters’ forum and our ‘Five minutes with…’ interviews that they are not looking for people to have climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, necessarily. Regular part-time work is often underused as evidence in applications and interviews, they tell us, but it’s a good opportunity to showcase the transferable skills you’ve built up and how they are relevant to legal practice. Whether it’s training new staff in your bar job or a promotion for good client skills in your supermarket role, these part-time jobs are useful when persuading Clifford Chance that you have the raw materials needed for a successful career in law.

‘I’m keen for students to know that, while vacation schemes are important, they are not all we look for in training contract applications,’ adds Jane Croft-Baker, graduate recruitment specialist at Clifford Chance, during her ‘Five minutes with…’ interview. ‘Graduate recruiters appreciate that some students have to work to support themselves through university and any experience that demonstrates commercial knowledge is interesting to us. Law recruiters put a lot of time and effort into vacation schemes but there are a myriad of ways to prove you have the right transferable skills to be a solicitor, such as your part-time job at university.’

Make a note of the experiences and skills you have promoted in your application that you want to talk about in the interview – they got you to the assessment centre stage so the chances are the partners will want to hear about these examples too.

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