It is THAT time of year for law students – applying for graduate positions. Don’t panic. It is very important not to panic. Your CV and covering letter must be the best work of art you can create with a document. It is your written personal marketing document – remember this when writing it.

Here are out top tips for your written application:


Covering Letter

A covering letter is an introduction to you and why you are applying for a role. You do not have to write a novel, and certainly don’t need to repeat all of the information that is found in your CV. Do not go over one page.

  • Proof read it. Several times if necessary. Make sure you are applying to the right firm and person. So many people copy and past the text from one letter in to another, forgetting to change the address details of the firm, or the salutation, putting in the wrong name of the person who will be reading it. Adopt a ‘four eyes’ policy – get someone else to read it too in case you have some blind spots
  • Remember with bulk recruiting, HR staff are likely to receive more CVs than they need – they will be looking for a reason to exclude you from the process, and if you make a mistake indicating that you do not have attention to detail you are making their job easier.
  • Set it out in a simple way
    • brief introduction explaining who you are and the position you are seeking
    • brief summary of why your skills are relevant to the position
    • brief paragraph of why the firm to which you are applying is of interest to you (i.e. why you can add value, and what interests you about the firm – do some research and show that you know something about the firm)
    • A thank you for considering your application



Try and keep your CV to three pages at this stage of your career. It is not necessary to include your experience at school unless relevant – e.g. leadership positions, or teamwork, as long as you show how that is relevant to the current position.

  • Again – spell check and proof read the whole document and get someone else to read it
  • Keep the layout simple – readability is important. Large chunks of text do not make it easy for your CV to be visually ‘scanned ‘ for relevant information.
  • Use lots of headings, in bold, and bullet points
  • List your skills, not just your experience. If you have not worked in a law firm before, draw out the skills that are transferrable – e.g. teamwork, leadership, communication, and customer relations.
  • Use reverse order for your work experience – most recent experience first
  • Make sure you tailor your CV to the position – think about the firm and what they need
  • Do not exaggerate your achievements – experienced HR people know to look out for expressions like ‘ involved in’ when referring to transactions and will ask about the level of your experience.

Good luck!



The Internet is full of advice on how to succeed – whole libraries of books have been written giving sage advice on climbing the career ladder, dealing with difficult people, having difficult conversations, how to get that promotion, ask for that pay rise.

There are several things you need to succeed, and none of them require any particular expertise. But if you use them, your expertise will grow, in line with the trust afforded to you. Use the simple gifts you already have, probably instilled in you as a child, by your parents and at school.


Show up

Be on time. Attend firm functions or learning and development activities if you have said you will. Being there, and being seen, is essential. Not turning up when you’ve said you will is just rude.


Manners matter

Manners never go out of style. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are still magic words, especially in the workplace. Acknowledge the help of others, say please when asking for assistance.


Be a scout and be prepared

Never go to a meeting, either with a client or colleague without being prepared – read the file, know what the latest is on the file, and what you think the next steps are. Prepare for presentations by practising your speech. Prepare for the next day the night before. Personal organisation is essential in a business that charges for time.


Accept feedback

Be open to the fact that you can improve and that criticism or constructive feedback is given with the intention of helping you improve your skills. Don’t get defensive. Can you imagine an elite sports person arguing with their coach? No they don’t – they get on with it.


Be curious

Don’t assume you know everything or that when you have mastered one thing you can rest on your laurels. If you have some down time, look at previous files or transactions to see if there is something you can learn. Read a recent case. Offer to write something for a blog, and research the topic.


Go the extra mile

Always be prepared to put in some extra effort or stay back to help others if they need it. This will be noticed and appreciated. Effort is never wasted and always appreciated. Doing a good job is its own reward.


Have a positive attitude

No one wants to be around constantly negative people. It is so draining, and can be contagious. Having a smile rather than a frown when someone comes into the room, will not just make you feel better but also the person in front of you.

A difficult matter can be seen as a challenge rather than a daunting impossibility. Adopting the right attitude, reframing the way you think about those challenges, will set you on the right path to success

What other innate gifts or character traits do you think you can use to your advantage?




It is that time of year when many graduates are starting work for the first time, looking for jobs, or when people change jobs. It can be a daunting process – after all that study and hard work, you are starting again, at the bottom of the totem pole so to speak. Wisdom comes with age and experience, so we asked some of our clients and senior candidates what they wish they had known when starting out, that they know now.


Here are just some of the things they told us:

“Making a mistake can be terrifying – but it is not the end of the world. Not telling your supervising partner about it though is the worst thing you can do”


“When you are being given instructions, write everything down. If you’re not sure what is being asked of you, ask! It is far better than going off in the wrong direction”


“If you have a bad feeling about a file, you can guarantee the client is feeling it too – don’t put off calling a client, even if it is to tell them nothing is happening”


“It is not the end of the world if you don’t get a job at one of the so called ‘top tier’ firms. There are many options out there and some are better options. Don’t limit yourself by pre-conceived ideas”


“Get to know everyone you can – clients, colleagues, other lawyers. The more people you know, the more opportunities will come your way”


“You might think orientation or induction is boring – but you will want to know who the fire wardens are and where the fire stairs are, so pay attention”


“Be prepared to receive feedback and some you may not want to hear. It’s how you respond to it that counts”


“If you’re in a relationship, having a uterus does not give you sole responsibility for collecting your child from childcare – make sure your partner does his or her fair share as well”


“Sheryl Sandberg was right – it’s not a career ladder; more like a jungle gym”


“Taking a secondment opportunity was the best thing that happened to me for my career – it gave me a deeper understanding of what clients expect and a great relationship with the client. When I went back to work, that opportunity became the catalyst for my promotion”


“If the firm you are with does not fit with your personal values, don’t stick with it, hoping it will get better – it will just make you unhappy”


“Learn how to present – whether it is 5 people or 500, you must be able to present yourself confidently. It is an essential skill”


“Don’t participate in office gossip, rumour and innuendo – rely on your own observations and interactions with people and make your own judgments about that person. If someone is gossiping to you, you can be sure they are also gossiping about you”


“Learning ‘who’s who in the zoo’ early on and remembering names was one of the first things I did – and that includes support staff”


“Don’t underestimate the worth of support staff – most of them have been there longer than you and know more about the firm than you do. The firm can’t operate without them. Treat all staff as you would wish to be treated yourself.”


“Diary note everything, even if you left a message for a client to call you six times. It could be important”


“HR is not the enemy – they helped me with some very tricky inter-personal situations”


So there you have it – some great advice. What would you add?




Giving honest and constructive feedback to your staff is one of the most important things you can do to develop them. Doing it well really is a skill that you can learn – the day a staff member says ‘thank you for the feedback’ when you have given negative or constructive feedback is the day you know you have done it well. On the other hand, ruling through a letter with a red pen and writing ‘start again’ in large block letters before leaving it on staff member’s chair for them to see first thing in the morning is not optimal.

Woman yelling at people dressed in suits through a megaphone

Here is an easy guide on what to do and what not to do:


Give feedback promptly, as close to the event as possible Put off giving feedback hoping it will get better
Provide negative feedback privately – in an appropriate space. Open plan offices require careful thought Give negative feedback in public or in front of colleagues
Prepare what you are going to say and how Keep a list of problems to give your staff member at the annual performance review
Prepare for objections – most people will automatically want to defend themselves Be in a rush – your employee is bound to have questions
Where possible, start with positive feedback Assume that if there are no questions, the employee has accepted the feedback. This could be a time bomb
Have examples of the issue to give to the employee Discuss the issue with anyone else in the work group
Be specific about the issue Offer your solutions without giving the employee an opportunity to provide a solution
Make sure the feedback is about behaviour, not the person. Be vague or have no example
Describe the impact the behaviour has – either on you, clients or colleagues. Go off on a tangent and start discussing something unrelated
Take your time – show that you have time to discuss the issue Make assumptions about behaviour
Diary note the discussion  
Follow up at a time and date agreed  
Give the employee an opportunity to respond  
Commit to dealing with issues that may be impacting the performance – eg other under performing staff, systems issues  
Be open to receiving feedback yourself  


Giving negative feedback is never easy, but once given, you will be pleased it’s been done.


As Bill Gates said: “ We all need people who will give us feedback – that’s how we improve”.




There has been a lot of depressing news of late about job prospects for law graduates. I decided to do a little digging to see if I could find a crystal ball. And I found one….big-services-graduate


The Australian Government publishes statistics in jobs outlook ( and they hold very promising news for law students, recent graduates and junior lawyers.


As well as telling us that the unemployment rate for solicitors is below average, the great news is that for the next four years, to November 2019, employment prospects for solicitors is expected to grow significantly after moderate growth over the last 5 years, but strong growth overall in the last 10 years.


In terms of actual numbers, the number of employed solicitors across Australia in November 2013 was just below 57,000 – this number is expected to grow to almost 69,000 by the end of 2019, with job openings across all sectors (private practice, government, and corporate) expected to be above average.


I do wonder, however, what happened to the 15,000 lawyers who disappeared between 2013 and 2014!


The statistics also show us that lawyers work longer hours than the average person (no surprise there), and that 36% of the profession is under 35. I expect this number will increase as more and more universities open law schools.


What does this mean for you? For employees it is good news, in that after years of only moderate job growth, demand for lawyers looks set to increase. But (there is always a but, isn’t there?), it also means that you have to work hard to develop your expertise and networking skills, as well as think outside the box in terms of where you might look for your next job.


For employers, I hope this means that the expected increase in lawyer jobs means that this is as a result of increased demand from clients. When recruiting, the vast majority of people you see will be very young, but don’t dismiss the idea of recruiting someone more experienced.


You can read the statistics here for solicitors, and here for barristers.


Picture this – you have prepared for your interview for a new job. You updated your CV, researched the role, prepared for questions specifically relating to the role, looked at the LinkedIn profiles of the people interviewing you.

The interview goes well – it is a very conversational style, you think you have answered all their questions well, with lots of examples from your experience highlighting how you will be perfect for the job.

Then you get this question:

“Do you have any questions for me?”


This is the worst possible end to a job interview.

As well as preparing for the interview in terms of the role, and your fit for it, you also need to be prepared with interesting and interested questions for your interviewer. You may have specific questions about the role, but think about taking the questions further than the actual role – to make it more personal. These sorts of questions will not only demonstrate intelligence and emotional awareness, but will also lead to a very conversational end to the interview. These examples are only our suggestions, you can probably think of several others:

  • What do you like most about working here?
  • Do you have any concerns about gaps in my skill set that you would like me to address?
  • What are the challenges facing the firm?
  • Can you tell me about the team I would be working with?
  • Does the firm have any growth plans?
  • What do you think would be the biggest challenge for a new starter in this group?
  • What is the induction process for new starters?
  • How do you measure performance in the team/firm?
  • What are the next steps in the recruitment process?
  • If I am successful, is it possible to meet with another member of the team before I start work?

Of course, we don’t suggest that you ask this number of questions. Two-three questions will be more than enough to show your interest, and the questions you ask will depend on what is discussed earlier.

Have you ever asked a question that was received well by your interviewer?

First impressions can be lasting impressions – The Employer – Part 2

In the previous blog post we talked about how first impressions are so very important for employees. Similarly for employers, the impression you give to new starters will be a lasting one of you as an employer. Here are some of the things you can do to create a good impression with your employees, and help ensure that they continue to look forward to coming to work:

  • Make sure whoever is on reception knows who is coming and what their name is so they can be welcomed accordingly.
  • A large organisation will have (or should have) a formal orientation program. If you are a smaller organisation, or don’t have an orientation program, a small welcome pack which contains stationery, a list of commonly used phone numbers and a floor plan is a really good start.
  • Have someone show them around the office so they can familiarise themselves with the important things like fire escapes (!), bathrooms, and the chocolate dispensing machine.Thank you!
  • Make sure that whatever desk your employee is sitting at has been cleaned and ready for them to use. There is only one thing more dispiriting for new employees to come into an office and find that the belongings of the previous occupant are still at their desk and that no one has been told they are starting!
  • Make time – make sure your new employee is given time by their immediate supervisor to have the role explained and answer any questions the employee might have.
  • Set calendar appointments for probation reviews so that the employee knows when to expect those meetings and how to prepare for them.
  • Assign a buddy – if the organisation is a large one, assign a buddy for your new employee so that they have a peer they can turn to if they have any questions.
  • Say thank you – nothing brightens the day for a new employee than having the boss say “thank you”, even for the smallest things.
  • Wrap up – at the end of your new employee’s first week make sure you take the time to sit down with them and just ask them how they found it and if they have any questions they need answered.

Remember – It’s the little things that count.

First impressions can be lasting impressions – The Employee – Part 1

Do you ever wish you could press the ‘rewind’ button on the remote control of your life? Like the poor person who turned up to work on his first day at work to find out half way through the day that his fly had been undone the entire time?

Our brains have to process thousands of pieces of information at any given moment and this includes decisions about people. Snap judgments about other people – rightly or wrongly – are easy to make. Regrettably when we start a new job, it is very easy for mistakes made early in the piece to create lasting impressions with our employers and colleagues.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the speed with which we “size up” people we meet, in his 2005 book “Blink: The power of thinking without thinking”. Our brains have developed in a way to enable them to process information quickly – this is a mechanism that serves us well in dangerous situations but not well in social situations or in situations requiring us to exercise good judgement.

So here are our top tips to make sure you make a great first impression with your work colleagues instead of a bad lasting impression:impressions

  • Avoid giving work colleagues a nickname in your first week. A nickname is an intimacy that has to be earned so try to resist calling people “mate” or adding an “o” to John’s name to make him “John-o” or calling someone whose name is Sharon “Shazza”.
  • If you have a nose ring that you took out for the interview, it will be considered a deception if you turn up to work with it visible, especially if the organisation has a dress code that limits visible piercings. The same goes for tattoos.
  • Beyond time – nothing says “slacker” as someone who is disorganised enough to be late on the first day of work (severe weather events excluded).
  • Avoid saying “in my last job” ad nauseam. No one cares. You’re in this job now and unless you are specifically asked what your previous employers did in a certain situation, keep it to yourself. In any event if there is a better way of doing something it’s best people think it’s your idea not something you’re copying from your previous employer.
  • Smile – even if you’re feeling nervous. Smiling will reduce the stress that you’re feeling and basically tells people (whose brains don’t forget are making thousands of tiny decisions every moment) that you are friendly and approachable.
  • Always shake hands when you’re introduced to someone – regardless of whether that person is a peer, a superior or a junior colleague. Shaking hands (and don’t forget to smile) is a very quick way to establish a friendly rapport.
  • Dress professionally – most recruiters know that what job seekers wear to an interview is generally their best effort, and employers are starting to know this as well. Don’t underestimate the message you send when you turn up to work. Although there is a growing trend for people to wear thongs (shudder) or sandshoes (shudder again) to work and then change into work shoes, we don’t recommend that you do this on your first day.
  • Repeat back people’s names as you’re introduced so that you can try and remember them. If you don’t remember someone’s name the next time you see them, it is okay to say “I’m so sorry I’ve forgotten your name” rather than letting it go 6 times by which stage it’s too late to admit that you’ve forgotten.
  • If someone tries to engage you in gossip, avoid it like the plague. If someone is prepared to tell a new colleague gossip about someone in the office, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be talking about you just as quickly.
  • Say thank you to everyone who helps you along the way – gratitude is a much underrated virtue and showing genuine gratitude to people who assist you along the way will make you go far.
  • And unlike the fellow in the opening paragraph, double check everything is as it should be with your clothing

Your first few days in the job may determine how others perceive you. Make it count.

Don’t be lazy with your CV

When a candidate comes to talk to us about wanting to look for a new opportunity, we often get a copy of their CV, which is one that they’ve used for their last job application, simply updated. And usually their LinkedIn profile has not been updated either.

Of course we can help candidates with their CVs, but we want you to think about writing your CV for the particular job you’re applying for. A one size fits all approach to preparing your CV is not going to make you stand out from the crowd, particularly for roles, which are going to have a number of applicants.resume

Your CV and your LinkedIn profile are your best marketing and personal branding tools when you are searching for a new job, or career.

A CV that is a chronological list of your work experience is not only boring to write but it’s boring to read as well! Employers are looking for skills not a list of where you have been employed:

So here are my tips for preparing the CV that will get you noticed;

  • Look at the job description or role you’re applying for and jot down the major parts of your experience that fit the job description
  • Think about the skills you have acquired that are transferable to this role even if they do not quite fit. This could be from something you did five years ago that you generally think is irrelevant now
  • Now look at your CV and see how it can be re-worked so that the person looking at it can see that you have the skills required to do the job
  • List your skills first followed by your employment history
  • Use keywords from the role description or job advertisement that are going to attract the attention of the person reading it

Once you’ve done that, redo your CV for the next job you apply for in the same way.

Of course we are always available for help.

Know Your Strengths But Be Aware of Their Shadows

How often do you hear the expression ‘play to your strengths’? It is good advice and there is nothing more certain that your success will depend on your ability to not only know your strengths and develop them, but to work on and improve your weaknesses as well.Strengths

But did you know that the very strengths you possess have a ‘shadow’ side which are in fact weaknesses, or in some cases, faults to which you may be blind. We never see ourselves as others see us – as people tend to focus on our positives in a career sense, and self reflection, or getting feedback from others can often be a shock when we realise that the very character attribute we are proud of is seen as a flaw or weakness by others.

Sometimes we know what our strengths are and sometimes not. Your performance review will provide some insight into your professional development but not necessarily the character traits that are your strengths and weaknesses. A great way to find out by independent assessment is through the Gallup Strengths Center*. This is a relatively cheap online tool and will give you a good guide to your strengths and how to best use them. But what are the shadows? The dark side of our strengths?

The table below will give you some insight into some common strengths and the ‘shadow’ that comes with them. If you identify with any of the strengths statements in the left hand column, honestly assess whether others may see the shadow side of those strengths, listed in the right hand column and commit to minimising those, while at the same time adding value with your strengths.

Strength Shadow
I make decisions quickly Perhaps don’t listen to the suggestions of others; bossy
I am an excellent drafter of documents Perhaps nitpicky with others if they don’t write exactly the same way
I am extraverted and get on well with clients Perhaps seen as loud and obnoxious; intolerant of introverts
I set high standards for myself and others Perhaps unforgiving of others
I am very assertive Perhaps aggressive
I am very spontaneous Perhaps disorganised
I am very ambitious Perhaps self centred and impatient
I am very intelligent Perhaps arrogant and dismissive of others
I am strategic Perhaps one eyed
I am a perfectionist Perhaps overly criticial, uncompromising
I am very detail oriented Perhaps may miss nuances in situations
I am very driven Perhaps hard on others, and may become exhausted and won’t admit it


“In the shadow of your strength lies your weakness”

 *empire careers has no interest, financial or otherwise, in Gallup Strengths Center, and this tool is for personal use only by clients.