Do you ever feel disheartened whenever you hear people talk about their internship or job at a law firm? I think as law students, we have an inherently competitive nature and even more so for international students as there is more at stake. Although international students may be disadvantaged by the limited working hours and firms that do hire international law students, you do offer unique insights such as intercultural competence, an international education and eclectic experiences that sets you apart from local applicants. Understanding what makes you stand out and highlighting these skills is a key way to get your foot through the door.
Important things to note
- Your student visa enables you to work up to 40 hours per fortnight during semester and unlimited hours during semester break
- Not all firms accept international students, so it is good to do some research. The Social Justice & Equity Guide, which can be found outside the LSS office, offers a snapshot of some firms which do accept international students.
Here are some top insight tips from recruiters and international students who have secured internships and grad jobs.
1. Have a holistic degree
As international students, it is understandable to place a strong emphasis on your grades and prioritise studies since your aim of studying abroad is to get a degree. However, this is not only unhealthy for your mental health, it also fails to show your ability to multi-task and manage your time. Simply excelling at academic endeavours is insufficient to succeed in Australia’s dynamic environment. It is equally important to have a colourful extracurricular to demonstrate your leadership, time management, ability to work collaboratively and various other skills. Joining clubs, competitions and volunteering are some ways that indicate this. However, do not go crazy signing up for everything and overworking yourself. Pick 1-2 things that you are genuinely interested in and stick with that. This highlights your interest beyond studying law and also gives you an opportunity to destress and pursue something you like. It is also a great way to make new friends. So why not kill two birds with one stone – you get to impress recruiters and improve your mental wellbeing by taking time off studies.
2. Any experience is valuable
You do not need to intern at the Big 4 firms every summer to impress recruiters. What really stands out to them are the skills you have acquired or demonstrated, and your willingness to learn. Sure, stating you’ve done a summer internship at Allens may be impressive but sometimes smaller firms can be equally beneficial as you are more likely to get hands on experience. If you plan on interning in your home country, try not to focus too much on local top tier firms but rather pick a firm which specialises in a field you are interested in or an international firm such as Clifford Chance or Ashurst. This is because Australian firms may not be aware of the brand name of firms in your home country, however, they do recognise the experience. It is important to emphasise skills you acquired or demonstrated that is universal across law firms eg. Legal research.
If you are unable to secure an internship, fret not. Volunteering is another great way to learn and gain exposure in the legal scene. There are plenty of legal aid centres which provide amazing legal opportunities for students. Some suggestions include MOLs (obviously), asylum seeker centre and the Springvale Monash legal Service. The Victorian Bar also provides barrister shadowing or mentor opportunities for any law student, which are also great ways to gain exposure in the legal field. It is also offers valuable networking opportunities and insight.
3. Polish up your CV
Your CV is a reflection of you as a professional is a way you convey who you are and your capabilities to a potential firm before they meet you. This is why having an updated, neat and well-written resume and cover letter is always a selling point, as it helps win half the battle of any application. It is also important to ensure your CV is tailored to the specific job that you are applying for. For example, if you are applying to be a paralegal, they may be less interested in your amazing customer service skills compared to a waitressing job. Monash also offers lots of tips and services to help ensure your CV is well-written. Careers connect usually has resume writing sessions and even appointments for someone to review your CV and cover letter, as well as mock interviews. This is also a good time to create a linkedin if you don’t have one
4. Be authentic
Although it may be too early to pick a specialty, try to identify some possibilities and pursue firms specialising in areas that genuinely interest you. Firms enjoy seeing students who are authentic and have passion as opposed to chasing another title to add to their CV. Try to highlight why the firm/area of law interests you, your plans in the future and how that firm fits into that plan. I’ve had friends email firms specialising their area of interest to ask for short unpaid work experience and managed to secure an internship. This evinces their desire for the experience as opposed to the position itself. It is also important not to be discouraged if you are rejected. Everyone experiences rejection, even the best of students. This is why pursuing your passion is key to staying motivated.
Networking is not only a great way to spot opportunities and build professional relationships, but it also helps you boost your self-confidence and social skills. More importantly, you can better understand a firm’s culture and what they are looking for. This gives you an insight on how you can position your cover letter as well as allow people within the firm to form a good image of you. Furthermore, it allows you to reconsider if the culture and work environment is suited to what you are looking for. Business matters aside, networking allows you to widen your social circle and meet people beyond your usual social demographic. You are able to build interpersonal skills and learn how to engage with people from diverse backgrounds which is also a quality that recruiters look out for. Many of these people can also provide insight that expands your knowledge and inform you of opportunities that you may not have discovered.
Ultimately, there is no magic formula for finding an internship. However, it is important to put yourself out there, try new opportunities that come out and attend events. Regardless of whether the events are social or professional, they offer you a chance to network and learn from people around you.
If you feel like you are being unfairly discriminated against in the work place, you can contact the Fair Work Ombudsman here.
Written by Priya Naresh Kumar (Co-founder)