09 Mar 2017

To celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, Emma Forrester writes about her experience as a recruiter for our Legal Apprenticeship Scheme.

Emma Forrester

I've been involved with the recruitment of legal apprentices for Bond Dickinson since January 2015. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a little daunted at first at the prospect of taking over the process from my line manager who had not only introduced the scheme but skilfully and successfully ran it to that point, but little did I know then that it was to become one of the most rewarding parts of my role.

I've worked on and off in recruitment for over 10 years, interviewing and engaging with many candidates over that time, but there's something very special about apprenticeship candidates, their commitment to their career so early, the fact that they just know what they want and are determined to go out and get that, foregoing legendary university days that their friends are embarking on, I think is just incredible. I don't know about you but when I was at that stage in my life, I didn’t really have any idea what I wanted to settle into. Even those who don't yet know what industry they want to work in, anyone choosing an apprenticeship has one thing in common, they can't wait, that ambition starts now and that is something I really admire.

What's interesting about apprenticeships is how the perception is changing in actually a relatively short space of time. When I first got involved I spoke to many a student who had their place at university but had only just heard about apprenticeships and would look at me with pleading eyes, saying 'tell me what I should do', 'which route is the best'? I felt for them, it was in its infancy, there weren't enough examples of legal apprentices who had successfully climbed the ladder of opportunity following their schemes, not like today. At least half of the candidates we interviewed for the apprenticeship scheme were also sitting on conditional offers from universities and openly admitted during the interview that they were yet to make up their mind which route to take. However just a year later, and pretty much all candidates we interviewed were convinced the apprenticeship route was the one for them, perceptions were changing.

So what do I look for in a potential apprentice for our business? Aside from the obvious skills and academics necessary, I want to see that fire in their belly, I want to see enthusiasm for our firm, that passion coming through, and their eyes light up as they talk about the tasks they've been involved in while they've been with us. I want to see that commitment to the scheme, their ambition, that drive, they know what they want and they're not going to wait for anyone else to hand it to them, they're going to go out there and get it!

Something I hadn't taken on board was the distress caused to those candidates who weren't successful following our assessment work placement. I've always felt it's important to call candidates following an interview/assessment to give feedback. I know how I've felt when I've taken the time to prepare and put myself through what can be a stressful environment, only to be sent what looks like a standard decline email. There isn't one recruiter who doesn't find it difficult to decline candidates but I feel very strongly that phoning and physically speaking to the candidate is the most professional and thoughtful way to go about it. What I hadn't taken on board was how deeply these candidates wanted this, the day I spent ringing around the unsuccessful candidates was just awful. I know this sounds dramatic but I felt like an X Factor judge, crushing dreams, if I wasn't consoling a distraught candidate, I was advising mum or dad how best to support their child in their disappointment. As cliché as it sounds, we all know the knock-backs are just part of your career journey to the right opportunity, it’s how you learn and improve but for some of these candidates, this was the first time they'd felt rejection and it's a hard lesson in life.

Of course on the flip-side, being able to give that good news to someone who's worked hard to prove how much they want it, is just wonderful and I'm proud of our decisions to date. Our apprentices, past and current, are a credit to our firm; they're ambassadors for the scheme, not just for our scheme but for apprenticeship schemes in general.

My vision for the future is that in years to come I'll be able to look at a number of our talented lawyers and even Partners in our business and say, I spotted that raw talent all those years ago!