Before you started Queen's, where were you and what were you doing?
In 2011 I started studying for my A-Levels at York College while also working as a care assistant for the elderly. Before starting at York College I had taken an early gap year; I had not enjoyed school, and I wanted some time out to decide if further education was really for me. I spent most of that year fundraising. It was excellent experience. At 17 I was learning how to organise and promote events and how to manage money. I then went on a Raleigh International expedition in Borneo for 10 weeks, which involved trekking and completing building projects in the rainforest. It was very tough, and the food rationing started to drive me crazy, but it gave me space to think about what I really wanted in regards to my education and a career.
Where are you now?
I am currently working in the fraud department of a bank in Belfast. My role requires me to talk to customers and review transactions that have been flagged by the security system. However, I also get to investigate reports of fraud and prevent vulnerable customers from being socially engineered and/or scammed.
Although I love my job at the bank, in September I will be leaving it to start a conversion course to law (the GDL at BPP university). I was fortunate enough to secure a training contract with the large international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, and I will be working in their London office starting in 2019. I completed a vacation scheme (a two-week placement) at the firm in December, and found the type of work completed by the trainees really interesting. I worked in two departments, TMT and Dispute Resolution. In the TMT department I researched data protection legislation, and wrote a sort of ‘beginner’s guide’ on the topic. This task was a good introduction to how legislation develops over time and the impact it has on businesses. I also learned a lot about computer mainframes and how ageing technology can influence banks. In the Dispute Resolution department, I read through several case files and flagged information that was relevant to the case my supervisor was working on. I also created bundles of documents which were later used in court.
How did you get there?
I think there were three key steps that led me to choose a career in law and secure a training contract with Herbert Smith Freehills:
Initial work experience – I had an inkling that I wanted to be a solicitor when I was in college, but it was not until I had secured work experience in a firm that I was sure it was the right career path for me. I sent out a speculative CV and cover letter to nearly all the law firms in York, and eventually one got back to me and offered me work experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my week in this firm, but it helped me realised that I wanted to work in London.
Extracurricular activities- I got involved in a number of societies within QUB, and worked towards winning competitions and taking on positions of responsibility. I did this because I loved the groups I was involved in (particularly the Literific) and it gave me a lot to talk about on my applications. I also started volunteering with the Witness Support Service. Their training is excellent, and through supporting witnesses in Laganside Court I have developed a much better understanding of how the criminal justice system works. I still volunteer there twice a week, and would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in a career in law.
Building up skills and networking – I attended numerous law events held around Queen’s, including presentations given by Freshfields and HSF, a dinner hosted by Baker & McKenzie (which lead to a vacation scheme at the firm) and two law fairs. I also attended an extremely helpful application tips presentation given by PwC.
Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills at Queen's
In April 2015, I attended a presentation on studying in China given by the British Council, hosted in the Student Guidance Centre. I quickly decided that this was something I would like to do, and was offered a scholarship to complete a Mandarin and Business course in one of China’s top universities. I had a fabulous time in Shanghai, and it helped me develop my global business acumen which is so important to being successful at assessment centres. (https://www.studychina.org.uk/programme/)
Around the same time, I joined the Alumni career mentoring program, and asked the career counsellors to find me a mentor working in commercial law. The counsellors went out of their way to find a mentor for me, and eventually put me in contact with Ross, who was an associate at HSF. I cannot overstate how much Ross’ help contributed to my success. He helped me with writing applications, developing my commercial awareness and practising my interview answers. And when I was on a vacation scheme, he was the person I frantically text when I could not figure something out. I honestly cannot recommend the programme enough, and I would encourage all students to get involved, whatever their chosen vocation.
Advice for current Queen's students
My advice to current Queen’s students is to pro-actively seek out opportunities that will enhance your application to your dream job (even if you don’t know what that is yet). Choose extra-curriculars that you love, but also ones that make you look well-rounded. For example, I gravitate towards activities like debating and editing student publications, so I completed an intensive rock-climbing course to show that I do not shy away from challenging physical activities.
Also, do not feel like you need to do everything right now. I decided that getting a First in my degree was more important to me than getting a graduate job, so I only made three applications in my final year. There was an awful lot of pressure to have something lined up straight after university, but I decided to take the first year after I graduated to make applications and this technique worked out well for me.
And finally; go to events, sit in the front row, ask intelligent questions. Recruiters are brilliant at remembering names and faces, and a great first impression goes a really long way.