Student story: James Alao

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James Alao, 3rd year LLB student

In a recent interview I had with a partner at a city law firm, I was asked, “What percentage of the information that you learn in your degree do you think is relevant to working in a law firm?” After I’d given an estimate, he responded, “Very little.”  He went on to explain that the skills and knowledge needed to be effective in the workplace are not necessarily the same as those you gain from being a good undergraduate student.

How then are students supposed to gain the skills and knowledge employers are looking for? The simple answer is work experience.

During my time studying law at Queen Mary I have been fortunate enough to get involved in a range of work experience opportunities. One of the most useful experiences was my time as a student adviser at the Legal Advice Centre. The experience provided me with a number of skills and insights that were vital in helping me understand what solicitors do, confirming my desire to practice law and ultimately enabled me to secure a training contract.

It is hard to watch Suits and not want to be a lawyer. The reality is, you won’t know that you’ll enjoy a career until you’ve experienced it first-hand. I have friends who have wanted to be lawyers for as long as they can remember. However, after being on a placement they realized within a week that the job was not for them. Work experience is just as important in helping you decide what you don’t want to do as it is in confirming what you wish to pursue.

If you decide that you want to work in the area you have experienced, then work experience will give you credibility in the interview room. When asked why I wanted to practice law, I could use my Legal Advice Centre experience to say that I had worked with clients on real cases and I had enjoyed the work. Without the work experience and real life examples I could give, I would have struggled to give a persuasive answer.

Having a 2:1 or above and a wealth of work experience is still not enough. In fact, a candidate with worse grades and less work experience might get picked ahead of you if you fail the final hurdle. You must be able to articulate what you have learnt from your work experience and explain why it is relevant to the role you are applying for. This requires you to keep a log of what you have done and think about the skills you have developed, with examples to back them up.

No matter which industry you are interested in entering, work experience can give you an edge over other applicants. In the end this may be the difference between a rejection letter and getting your dream job.

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