With applications for university places and competition for training contracts at all-time high, being able to show that you have some experience may be the difference you need to succeed.
By now I'm sure that we have all seen and chuckled at the satirical image which shows a queue of young children dressed up in high-vis jackets and hard-hats, together with the quote: "When employers want 10 years' experience before the age of 22..." As ironic and funny as this image may be, there is an important point which lays behind it: you need to proactively embrace experience as early as possible.
Arming your CV with a variety of practical knowledge is an incredibly valuable asset to any prospective employer. Perhaps even more so in an increasingly competitive legal market where the number of available training contracts simply doesn't equal the number of new law graduates entering that market each year. The simple fact is: good grades alone are not enough.
In the past, having a solid academic background may have been enough to see a law graduate walking through the doors of the big legal firms. However, over time it has become clear that both knowledge and experience go hand-in-hand; without knowledge you may not be able to open the doors to gain practical experience, conversely without practical experience you will find it difficult to strengthen and develop your knowledge. In addition, experience must at some point be considered as part of knowledge, in the form of putting ideas and thoughts into practice. Experience is vital and will transform just how much you can stand out on an application form.
If I use myself as an example: I have always had good grades, but they were never excellent. However, what I did have was the experience through completing a placement-year at Shoosmiths. It was the rapport and relationships that I built with colleagues during this year that gave me confidence in making my application. The experience offered me the opportunity to see first-hand what the job of being a solicitor actually entailed, and it provided me with an invaluable insight to the internal workings and positive culture of the firm, which Shoosmiths so heavily nurtures. Without this, I was only as knowledgeable as the things I read online, or the information I was given at law fairs. It is nearly impossible for a prospective candidate to fully appreciate a firm's culture without already having been a part of that firm. The opportunity to actually work within a team, in an environment which would naturally prepare me for any upcoming interview was invaluable and I owe my current position to the success of that experience.
Additionally, I am a very sporty person and have been involved with a number of sports programmes. These types of experiences are great for developing and shaping a number of core transferable skills, such as confidence, team work, leadership and communication, and being involved in sports and other societies goes a significant way in showing an employer that you are the well-rounded candidate that they are looking for to take their business forward.
It is important to immerse yourself in every possible opportunity and proactively seek out experiences where you can, whatever stage of your career you are currently at. If you are a university student, speak to your lecturers, tutors or get in contact with legal firms around you to gain those experiences early. Plenty of people are now seeing the value in undertaking a placement year, just as I did, but it's the things that you do during that experience that is going to set you apart. As I have already mentioned above, it is the people you work with and the relationships that you build with those people that will help you to deliver the results that you want - ultimately, an increased chance of a job at the end of your studies!
So, there it is. The important of gaining experience. It will be a critical and crucial weapon in your armoury when it comes to making job applications, so it is well worth investing in, now. And when you are given the opportunity to secure those experiences, whatever they may be, however big or small, my only advice to you is to ensure that you do everything you can to make the most of it!