Graduate story: Gaspare Chirillo, Law

GaspareI am Gaspare Chirillo and I have recently graduated from Queen Mary. I have completed a Law degree with a first class and, also, I have been a recipient of the Principal’s Prize for outstanding academic achievements. In addition, during my third year, I have been awarded the Draper’s Scholarship by the Law School; thanks to it, I will undertake an LLM in American Legal Studies in the USA. Particularly, in order to secure this scholarship, I have received great support from the QMUL Careers & Enterprise Department and would like to share my experience.

My time at Queen Mary has been a great ride which equipped me with all of the skills and experiences that I believe would be significantly helpful for my future career. Thanks to the quality of the well-structured law degree and the excellence of the academic body, I have gained a significant knowledge of the legal and commercial field. Moreover, I have been supported by the Careers & Enterprise Department throughout my law degree, which I feel has made me more employable and has helped me in obtaining important results.

Since the first year of the LLB, I have relied significantly on the Careers service which is available to all students of all degrees. I attended many 1-2-1 sessions with Careers Consultants and learnt many skills, including how to make a job application stand out tips

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Application advice – Covering Letters for Science Students

As an Application Adviser who works primarily with the School of Engineering and Materials Science at QMUL, I meet a lot of students who are writing covering letters for jobs and internships. The problems these students encounter are by no means specific to SEMS, nor even to science subjects in general, but there are some specific challenges that science students face when writing covering letters.

One of the main difficulties is finding a balance between technical detail and marketing your more general skills and competencies. Many jobs in engineering require, as you might expect, a high level of technical knowledge and expertise. If this is the case then you need to demonstrate that you have these skills in your covering letter by detailing relevant experience. The trap that some students fall into, however, is to spend most of the covering letter describing, in precise technical detail, the projects they have worked on.

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Graduate schemes – not the only option!

There are lots of attractive things about graduate schemes: they’re usually well-paid from the beginning, offer job security for the length of the scheme and the opportunity for career progression afterwards, and often give you the experience of working for large, prestigious or well-known companies. But it’s worth remembering that graduate schemes are NOT the only way to begin your career.

There can also be some real disadvantages to applying for graduate schemes: they can be extremely competitive, have early closing dates and long, time-consuming application procedures.

One option could be to think about applying to jobs in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

There are many SMEs which also recruit graduates and offer the opportunity for career progression. This route has valuable benefits:

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Student story: make your part-time job work for you

Like many students I could not afford to study unless I had a job. I’m in my third year, and the chilling realisation of ‘the real world’ is looming. I’ve emerged blinking into the blinding lights of numerous graduate schemes and initiatives and feel woefully underprepared. I blame this partly on naivety, but mostly on my absence of free time. I want to get a first – thus every moment I’m not ‘on the clock’ I’m putting in the hours at the library.

So now I’m in this position how do I demonstrate relevant work experience to an employer?

There will be many of you, like me, who look at the vast, gaping hole in the ‘relevant experience’ part on your graduate applications and feel like crying. In my darker moments, I wonder why any employer would pick the girl from the coffee shop over the girl who has done one million internships. Well, I’m about to tell you.

Take the time to look at your part-time job. The fact you have managed to keep popping into work and focussed on your degree is an achievement in itself. Pat yourself on the back – you’ve earned it. So look right there is a little thing called ‘time-management’ (essential in any field of work) on the job description. Think up a great example of when this has been crucial and tick that off the list!

Now remember what you are actually doing at work. Most student part-time work is customer-service based. Congratulations, you little social-networker – what you are practicing every shift shows you have excellent ‘communication skills’. In the real world of work, these will be essential all the time. You will be able to build relationships with clients and workers effectively and easily.

Take a look at the person next to you – your co-worker. Are they your friend? Your enemy?  Your lover? (naughty!) Whatever relationship you have, the fact that you work together effectively reveals your ability to ‘teamwork’. Being able to ignore their screechy laugh and humour them when they show you the umpteenth picture of their cat means you will be able to work toward a team goal without irritating each other. Well done you tolerant lot.

Is your work fast paced? Well that shows that you are driven. Work in sales? Then you are target orientated and used to working under pressure.  More creative? Then you are ideas led. You get the idea, people.

Essentially what I am saying is that you must make the most of your part-time work. There are plenty of graduates who have the luxury of time and money to complete ‘relevant’ unpaid placements, and they are your competition. However, does this actually make them any better? You have to convince your potential employer how and why your seemingly irrelevant job actually reveals your inner strengths in the same way a placement would.

Well I hope that this piece puts the fire in your belly to succeed. Take your part-time job and make it work for you, fellow students – you’ve earned it.

Application forms – What recruiters look for

Be specific when answering application form questions such as “Why are you applying to us?”.  It is really important to avoid generic statements such as “you are a reputable firm, deal with top clients and offer excellent training prospects”. This can be said about a lot of companies, so is actually a poor response. Employers are looking for answers which show what it is about the business that stands out for you. Whatever your reasons are, they want to know why it is important to you.

Stand out from the crowd by giving clear evidence to demonstrate your transferable skills. For example by talking about some charity work you were involved in – helping people, raising money, working with people to achieve a goal – it shows useful skills important for a variety of careers.

In addition, what makes candidates stand out is not just studying hard and getting good grades, but also being committed to a number of additional interests.  This shows how you are a well-rounded person, who is likely to have gained a broad range of skills from a wide range of experiences.

Commercial Awareness is a common competency that recruiters look for. To perform well when answering questions relating to this on an application form, make sure you give an opinion as there is often no right or wrong answer. For example, they may ask questions like “what do you think is going to happen to interest rates in two years?” or “Do you think banks should be privatised?”.  Make your answer even stronger by talking about how the industry you are applying to fits in with this, e.g how law firms can help make sure this is being done correctly.  Reading  magazines for the industry you are interested in, such as ‘The Economist’, ‘Marketing Week’  or ‘The Lawyer’ etc, are useful to keep up to date with developments in the business area.

Work experience in the field you are interested in is vital. This does not have to be a formal internship or vacation scheme. Even a week in a local firm or some work shadowing is valuable, as it shows you have commitment and an understanding of the job.  If you have a part time job in retail, or a restaurant for example, use your existing contacts to see if you can gain some experience in the head office doing work experience within the finance / marketing / sales etc department.  Working for a charity in one of their business functions is another way of building experience.

Communication is key. When reading your written communication employers are impressed by writing which is to the point and articulate. It is  important it is to maintain a professional image in ALL communications with the company,  as text speak or lower case ‘i’s’ in an email about your interview date for example can really destroy your image with them.

Make yourself more employable

What can I do to make myself more employable?

As a Careers Consultant this is one of the questions I am asked the most at the moment (both from recent graduates and current students).

This is my advice…

1. Get some experience – this could be internships, work shadowing, summer jobs, part time work, volunteering, a year in industry, work placements – anything and everything! These experiences demonstrate your skills  such as teamwork,  organisation and communication skills.  It will also give you commercial awareness (business understanding), which is what most recruiters really want from you and will help you stand out from the crowd.  Often the more you have, the better your chances of getting a job.

2. Start job hunting early – Don’t leave it to the last minute to start looking. Many vacancies open early in the autumn term. So look now for jobs and internships starting in July.

student 23. PROPERLY tailor your application Don’t just copy and paste answers into application forms and don’t send the same CV to all companies – making an effort with your applications really pays off. It’s better to make a few good applications than knock out loads of almost identical ones which aren’t really targeted to the job.

4. Research the Company – When writing a cover letter or answering the question “Why do you want to work for this company?” never just look at their website for two minutes. Make sure you do lots of research into the company – what they do, who their clients and competitors are etc.  It will really show how motivated you are to work there.

5. Talk to people – Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid of speaking to people in the real world. Ask questions about them, their job, and what they do day-to-day. You can also ask for advice about what you can do to get an advantage when applying for jobs, where to look for vacancies and who else you can speak to for information and advice.

PwC no longer looking at your A-Level results

Points no longer always mean prizes.

If you’ve surfaced from revision and essays over the last couple of weeks you will have seen the announcement from PwC that they are relaxing their entry criteria around A-Level grades[1]. This has been met with interest in the recruiting world (see this article on LinkedIn for example).

So what does this mean?

Well put bluntly A-Levels have been used by larger graduate recruiters for a long time as a useful first barrier to filter out applicants automatically. When you receive over 25,000 applicants for 2,500 roles a year as quoted in that article then you need something to filter out people.

Many people, myself included, have often questioned the ultimate logic behind this as there are plenty of people who might achieve poor to mediocre grades at A-Level, yet perform brilliantly at university. Thinking back to my own experience around 15 years ago I only got two A-Levels (both at B), but then went on to achieve a Masters at university. Using my A-Levels as a metric I wouldn’t have got onto any graduate programme.

So how will a company like PwC filter those applicants?

So far PwC are the first to drop the A-Levels as a first step metric, but I’ve spoken to a couple of other high volume graduate recruiters in the last week (who I am afraid have asked to not be quoted) that are looking to relax their criteria around A-Levels.

This means that similar to many smaller employers these high volume graduate recruiters will be placing even more scrutiny on your grades throughout your degree and also looking more in-depth at your work experience and transferable skills. So yes – it will mean more people are eligible for some of these schemes, but there will still be a high level of scrutiny about your aptitude to do the job.

What can you do?

The message remains pretty much similar to always – do well at your studies and also take the opportunity to do as much as you can to maximise any work experience you are doing.

If you need any support around this make sure you visit our website

James Weaver

Employer Engagement Manager

Careers & Enterprise