Anyone can fit the mould. Anyone can be memorable. But can anyone fit the mould and be memorable at the same time?
For a significant number of trainees-to-be this is one of the biggest concerns of vacation schemes, assessment days and training contracts. How do you stand out from “all of the other white shirts with a willingness to do anything asked of them” when you aren’t brimming over with self-confidence?
So, how do you work in the same role as everyone else, wear the same ‘uniform’ as everyone else and speak about the same things as everyone else and not have to remind people of your name all the time? Below are ten top tips which will help you address that question and I am indebted to Lauren Wilks, Harriet Fairlie, Vikki Leitch and Bethan Lloyd for their relevant, insightful and first-hand contributions to those tips.
1) Get the balance right between being too confident and too shy. You don’t want to stand out for being the arrogant one, but neither do you want to blend into the furniture because you don’t say a word.
2) Give a good first impression. This is vital in a client facing industry – you might only meet a client for five minutes as a trainee, and probably won’t be remembered by them anyway, but the senior fee earner/ partner who introduced you to the client is more than likely to remember how you behaved. You just never know how that good first impression is going to serve you down the line – it could well prove invaluable.
3) Get on with the different teams during your different seats and try to get to know as many people as possible during your short times with each team. The more people you get on with and the more people you work with, the more people will remember you and talk about you to others even after you have moved on.
4) Keep in touch with people. If you see an article, for example, which you think might interest someone you know, send them a link. Use social media to keep you and your profile in the minds of others (LinkedIn is particularly useful for this).
5) Be interested in people. It’s a fairly basic human social skill – if you demonstrate interest in someone else you flatter them and we all love to be flattered. Don’t make it gratuitous – really mean it and show genuine interest in the lives of others. Ask questions and remember what you hear – it’s amazing how memorable asking about someone’s children by name for example can be. An obvious word of caution here – get the names right!
6) ‘To thine own self be true.’ There is a temptation to adopt a new ‘professional’ persona, which makes it much harder for senior colleagues to really get to know you – and can also (depending on what traits are adopted) rub people up the wrong way. If you are not being yourself, you will not be happy and people will see through you. Being honest and genuine and having a sense of humour about yourself is very memorable. Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
7) Do not assume too much authority as you will come across as arrogant, and take care not to fall into the trap of shunning ‘junior’ work to preserve availability for partners. This doesn’t always work out as the associates’ noses are put out of joint, other trainees resent this behaviour and partners are likely to give work to trainees who are recommended to them by juniors they trust.
8) ‘Walk with Kings nor lose the common touch.’ Treat everyone the same, especially secretaries and paralegals. All your colleagues will contribute to your performance reviews, and to the work that you are given, and if you think that you are above people they are hardly likely to rave about you when asked. Remember, some people have been in firms for many years and although their actual ‘job description’ may not be that of partner, their influence and opinion is underestimated at peril. Law firms are small communities and like all small communities people talk – treating everyone the same reduces the chance of poor feedback
9) Be proactive. Get involved in extra-curricular activities such as pro-bono and CSR opportunities. This can bring exposure to colleagues you wouldn’t otherwise meet, along with the opportunity to interact with members of your team in a slightly less formal environment. Volunteering to take responsibility where you can (even if it’s just organising the Christmas drinks) always makes a good impression.
10) Finally (and unsurprisingly) – be positive – even when being handed another mind-numbingly dull task. It seems that trainees who receive all their work with a smile get given better work more readily than those who moan! Be interested in what you are doing – ask questions, do your own research on something, offer to help fee-earners with similar work, etc. If you aren’t interested (and even if you are pretending you are), it can be spotted a mile away and is a very good way of standing out for the wrong reasons. If you genuinely are interested, people will enjoy training you and you will improve much faster and be given a higher quality of work than a disinterested trainee.
Positive people are more memorable than negative people in the long term and if you acquire a reputation for being positive it will precede you and make others more disposed to recommend you. Like so many things, though, the opposite is also true.
So, you can now wear the ubiquitous white shirt without the fear of being a clone. There is nothing above about sartorial elegance (although that does go a long way) but rather it is all about a particular frame of mind. Don’t try to do everything all at once, start as you mean to continue and take your time. The firm is interested in you (that should give you confidence to begin with), so now be interested in the firm.
One final thought – you may be thinking ‘this is great, but if everyone follows these steps won’t we all simply be the same again, albeit memorably?’
Well that may well be true – and how incredible that would be for any firm – but we all know that like so many New Year’s resolutions there are many who will start but few who will persist.
Luan de Burgh of the de Burgh Group is a professional public speaker and presentation coach.