Top tips to make the most of your summer

Haven’t secured the much sought after vacation scheme placement this summer? Fear not! As Nick Touati, Manchester Metropolitan University’s career adviser says, it doesn’t necessarily mean your legal career has ended prematurely.

As torrents of news reports continue to confirm the difficulty graduates face in securing a training contract, the already competitive environment seems to have become even more challenging; with some recruiters developing a sort of immunity to the ‘tick box’ nature of CVs.

Notably, students appear to be taking part in more ‘non-traditional’ activities to ensure their distinctiveness in the application process. Graduate recruitment officer Victoria Wisson of law firm CMS Cameron believes an interesting gap year can be a useful tool in helping graduates stand out. (Lawyer 2B: Spring 2009: “The Gap Band” p. 36). For those of you not able to take a year long hiatus, the summer holidays are an option no less favourable.

In comparison to gap year programmes summer activities are restricted to much shorter periods of time and often limited to a single activity; however, it is the belief of Hammonds’ graduate support manager Anwen Jones that these shorter initiatives allow students the flexibility to continue with their studies yet provide valuable experience for professional applications and their career. Jones notes that some of her firm’s trainees have taken part in charity projects or travelled to unusual destinations, adding that it’s what you gain from the trip that really matters.

So does that mean you should all be preparing to climb one of the world’s tallest volcanoes in the name of philanthropy? Hardly, but for Tom Doyle, a first year law student at Nottingham University, a week’s trip with the aim of conquering Mount Kilimanjaro for the charity Child Reach International is just the thing to do over the summer holidays. Organised through his university, he and his fellow students will band together to accomplish this incredible feat. When asked what he hoped to achieve from this experience Doyle says: “Travelling, but also the opportunity to gain a better perspective of the world in general.”

When deciding what to do Taz Bhachoo, a second year student at Exeter University suggests students should “think outside the box” and that is certainly what he has done. Bhachoo has been volunteering for the Air Cadets for the past seven years and is now applying for commission into the RAF reserves. He claims that this experience will improve his organisational and leadership qualities and demonstrate his commitment to see projects through; these are all skills, which he can certainly transfer to the work place. But not only has Bhachoo strengthened his skill set he has also gained shooting and piloting qualifications at the same time, which should help him to stand out from the crowd.

Looking for something a little less death defying? There is a wealth of alternative options available that will allow you to keep your feet safely on the ground and your head out the clouds. In deciding what to do, graduate recruitment manager Caroline Lindner of magic circle firm Allen & Overy suggests you choose something that is of real interest and allows enjoyment. “You should be able to recognise the skills you are going to learn from the experience, which will be transferrable across to future employment,” she adds.

For Adam Burrage, a third year law student at Warwick University, volunteering at his university’s summer school which aims to provide insight into higher education for Year 10 and 11 students is just the solution. Proud to be acting as an ambassador for Warwick Burrage says that passing on wisdom and experiences is very satisfying.  “For me the experience allowed me to gain leadership skills whilst still being able to demonstrate an ability to work within a team. Moreover, it showed an interest in university life beyond the academic side,” says Burrage.

Touati of Manchester Metropolitan University says that work experience within medium/small law firms as well as talking part in pro bono work is an excellent way to gain legal experience; whether you are aiming for the magic circle or high street firms. James Savelli-Holt a recent LPC graduate from the College of Law has decided to do pro bono work for the National Campus of Domestic violence. He signed up for this scheme through his pro bono team at the College of Law. Initially his duties involved interviewing victims by telephone but he has recently progressed to the role of a ‘McKenzie friend’ – a position that involves accompanying victims of domestic violence to court. He believes that the emotional pressure attached to this type of work has enhanced his ability to work under difficult time constraints and in trying situations.

Last but by no means least, perhaps you might gain inspiration from the popular jaunt of gap year students and embark on a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. A common misconception is that these courses are only available for long periods of time.  For a second time Christopher Kerr, a second year student from Nottingham Trent University, will be spending his summer teaching English in Italy. Kerr believes this is a perfect way to recharge your batteries whilst doing something productive, which you can talk about in an interview.

These opportunities are a fantastic way to mix learning and travel but are also a constructive way to spend your summer. Learning a language and interacting with people from a different country is bound to develop and expand your communication and interpersonal skills and it certainly something, which will make your application form different from the rest. Touati of Manchester Metropolitan University says: “Whilst law firms can be impressed by students travel experiences, actually working abroad may be of more value and shows independence and the ability of students to handle themselves in new situations and respond to challenges. There are various ways to do this such as charity work, teaching or summer camps to name a few”.

The prevailing words of wisdom for your summer are be proactive and don’t despair if you haven’t landed yourself a vacation scheme. Nick Touati of Manchester Metropolitan says that what firms are looking for are trainees to hit the ground running.

“When writing of your experiences on an application form demonstrate your transferable skills and mention any impressive achievements; be concise, brief and very specific whilst trying to be different without being whacky or over the top,” advises Touati.

So provided your experience this summer can show that you are ready for a challenge, can shoulder responsibility at an early stage and demonstrate those all important transferable skills then it will not be a waste of a summer and will still impress on your CV.