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How to perform well on a Vacation Scheme


Hi, I’m Alex Roots, graduate recruitment officer at Shearman & Sterling. And today, I am going to give you some advice on how you can perform well on a vacation scheme.

There’s lots of materials out there that talk about how to pass the application stage and how to perform well on an interview. But you often get candidates where they’ve actually got that offer of a vacation scheme, think, “Oh, dear.What do I need to avoid and what should I really be focusing on?” So I’m going to go through three dos and three don’ts. And yeah, I’m going to start with the positives. So the first one seems very simple, but I’ve written you need to focus on the work.

There’s lots to juggle on a vacation scheme. You’ll be prepping for an interview. There’ll be kind of department-led talks that you need to go to, social activities, but ultimately that is how we assess you and we need to see how resourceful you are and how you go away and problem solve on your own. So thinking about the tools that you can use to go away and independently produce some really high-quality work.

So in any doubt, always focus on the work and prioritize that. Number two, stick to deadlines. So one of the great things about a vacation scheme, people find it exciting is that it’s real work, but that means there’s real-life deadlines. And I’ve written, don’t underestimate people’s time. So that sounds like a don’t but it is a do in that you need to make sure you’re always prioritizing those deadlines.

And if you ever think, “Oh, what do I need to do?I’ve got a coffee booked in with a partner that I’ve organized but I’ve also got this piece of work that one of the senior associates has given me.” If you’re really struggling, I would always say you need to complete the piece of work and the coffee could be moved. And you can always speak to graduate recruitment or your trainee mentor to have a bit of clarification on that.

So the third one, be yourself. I’ve put a little bit of a don’t in there to make sure you always have professional boundaries, but really bringing your full self to work. You want to make sure you find a place that you can, you know, show your personality. So when I say professional boundaries, if you’re having a great chat with someone and it’s become slightly informal, if you’re emailing them, maybe don’t put a smiley face or keep that kind of casual.

You want to still keep that professional. You often see that and it sometimes doesn’t always come across well, shall we say. Be curious. You really want to see someone that is just so interested to learn about the firm. Ask as many questions as you can. Make sure you network with people.

Don’t just stick to your practice group. We do let you rotate across two at Shearman but if there is another area that you’re really interested in, reach out to them, find out as much as you can, and to caveat that, make sure you’re really prepared. So if you are going to meet for a coffee, you know, people are busy, make sure you’ve done a bit of research so you can really optimize that time with that person.

So there’s a few dos and a few don’ts. And moving on to the don’ts. So first one may seem harsh, but don’t expect graduate recruitment to help you pass the assessment. What I mean by that is you often build a relationship with us but then that means you ask lots and lots of questions about the case studies, the group exercises. And there has to come a time where we pass that back to you and we can’t pass it for you.

The process has got to be robust and fair and we do need to see how you perform under pressure with limited information, and if you ask lots of continuous questions about how to actually pass that part, it makes it seem that you maybe don’t have as much confidence in it. So really have a think about the impression that you’re giving when you do that. Number two, don’t underestimate the socials. They’re not assessed, of course, but they’re not optional.

So I’ve written here, what is the purpose? You know, law firms often take you to very nice places, have a nice meal, invite lots of trainees, associates of law. It is a chance to network, also a chance for us to say, “Well done and thank you for all of your hard work.” But also, you know, don’t completely relax.

Keep professional…going back to those professional boundaries. And one thing lots of people have done with me in the past is maybe they’ve been on a vac scheme with a different firm the week before, try not to dismiss your experiences at other firms. The market is really small. Keep that respect and just always remember not assessed but not optional.

There is a purpose for them. Don’t completely relax. And finally, talking about relaxing, don’t relax before day one. So I’ve added a little bit of a do in there. Be responsive. Often you find that as soon as somebody gets the offer of a vac scheme, they kind of relax a little bit and maybe aren’t as responsive with getting back to you in emails.

So we don’t want to be chasing you on your department preferences, you know, if you haven’t sent us the rights documents. Attention to detail. If there’s an email with lots of instructions of things you need to send back and you forget a few things and we have to chase you, it doesn’t look good straightaway. So you’re still being assessed. Think about it like that. There is a big difference between a training contract and a vac scheme. So there’s a few dos and don’ts.

As always, you can get in touch with us if you have any specific questions at And hopefully, you found that useful. I will be back for some more “Whiteboard Wednesday” soon. Thanks for listening.