How to Succeed on Virtual Vacation Schemes: Q&A with Graduate Recruitment at Clifford Chance

The sudden transition to virtual vacation schemes and internships, as a result of COVID-19, has left candidates with unanswered questions about the nature of virtual schemes and what they can do during their virtual experiences to land the training contract of their dreams. In this article, Leen Kayali, co-founder of the Legal Line Up, interviews Zoe Jenkins, a Graduate Recruitment Specialist at Clifford Chance, to offer insights into virtual vacation schemes and provide candidates with essential tips to help them succeed.

What benefits do you think virtual vacation schemes will have over traditional vacation schemes?

Going virtual with our vacation schemes has given us a brilliant opportunity to personalise the programme to students, even more so than before. For example, as we are not constrained by a lack of rooms, we can host as many sessions as we like, and the students can really shape their own experience by selecting what they’d like to participate in ‘live’ and what they’d like to watch later on. We have been able to tailor the sessions according to what the interns want to learn about on a much larger scale, which is great for the students’ skills development. There’s also something very real about seeing your colleagues in the comfort of their own home. It’s likely students will see pets and family members run by in the background, and it’s a great reminder of the human side to the workplace.

How can candidates prepare themselves for virtual schemes?

As with a physical scheme, students will need to be engaged, curious and organised to make the most of it. They also need to think about the art of virtual networking, how to interact and build rapport effectively over video, and how to ask effective questions online. It’s very important employers recognise that communicating virtually in a professional environment is something that’s new to the majority of students, and employers need to provide guidance ahead of virtual schemes to ensure students are fully prepared and ready to make the most of the opportunity.

How can candidates network with legal professionals on their virtual schemes?

Building networks has always been an important and exciting part of vacation schemes, and we will facilitate this through a number of online networking opportunities as part of the scheme, and by connecting students with a trainee buddy whom they can have ‘virtual coffees’ within the lead-up to and following the scheme. Networking online will require students to use their initiative and initiate conversations, which is great preparation for the workplace and will stand them in good stead for their future careers in law.

In your opinion, what will make certain candidates stand out on their virtual schemes?

We find that students who show curiosity and have a willingness to learn tend to be those who ask thoughtful questions and add their own insights and opinions on the topics and issues raised. There will also be plenty of opportunity for the students to demonstrate what they’ve learnt through a series of individual tasks, and those that are fully engaged in the sessions will really stand out here.

How is Clifford Chance tackling some of the challenges that may be associated with remote work?

It’s very important to reach out to students and ask what support and equipment they need to have a practical and productive remote working set up. Students needs and home environments are very individual, therefore an individual approach is required. However, one thing we are doing for all our students is recording all the sessions across the scheme to account for time zone differences and limited access to quiet spaces at home.

What additional advice would you give aspiring lawyers who want to make the most of their virtual schemes?

Prepare, actively listen to the sessions and workshops, and enjoy yourselves! You are part of something completely new and exciting that we will all be talking about for years to come, so make the most of the opportunity and what the virtual platform and programme has to offer.

Below are some general tips that you may also want to consider:

  • Join networking sessions and team meetings 5 minutes before they start to avoid technical difficulties.
  • Familiarise yourself with the platform you will be using ahead of the scheme.
  • Try to have a clear background and a clean space.
  • Brush up on your commercial awareness.
  • Research how COVID-19 is affecting businesses in different sectors, including your firm’s clients. Try to think of ways your firm can mitigate some of the challenges faced by its clients.
  • Take breaks in between work and networking sessions to recharge.
  • Prepare some icebreakers and a couple of facts about yourself to introduce yourself.
  • Wear business appropriate attire at all times.
  • Try to handwrite your notes during video meetings and networking sessions instead of typing them. This is to avoid others thinking that you are using your laptop for other purposes.
  • Review your notes at the end of the day and use these to create a work log. This will help you track what you’ve learnt and will be useful when reflecting on the scheme and preparing for the all-important Training Contract Interview.
  • Make sure you are sitting in a quiet space away from distractions. Remember to put your phone on silent during calls and meetings.
  • Have questions prepared for the different stakeholder groups you will be interacting with (eg. graduate recruitment, trainees, associates and partners) to make the most of the networking opportunities.  
  • Speak clearly and avoid interrupting others.
  • Ask for feedback on your tasks.
  • Try to look at the camera and smile when communicating with others.   
  • Brush up your knowledge of the firm (eg. practice areas, recent deals and news stories).
  • Ask questions if you are unsure about something or are experiencing technical difficulties.

I hope that after reading this article, you feel more confident about what to expect and how to make the most of virtual schemes. As explained by Zoe, this is a new and exciting process, so try to be creative with the way you present yourself, and most importantly, enjoy the experience. I wish all candidates the best of luck on their virtual schemes.

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