First seat trainee Natasha Whitham discusses tackling imposter syndrome and shares her advice for training contract applicants from the perspective of a working-class woman.
As well as being a trainee at TLT, I am also a proud, working-class Mancunian. The first in my family to attend university and having no prior connections to the legal profession, I sometimes wonder how I landed a training contract with one of the top law firms in the UK. The reality is that my success to date is the result of hard work and dedication, as well as the support of TLT and social mobility charities. However, there is a silent battle which I face on a daily basis - imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a nagging, unwelcome feeling that you are incapable of performing your role or are not sufficiently qualified to be there, often leaving behind a feeling that you’ll be caught out as a fraud at any moment. The majority of lawyers will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career, and it is particularly prevalent amongst trainees taking their first steps into the profession.
Coming from a working class background, a career in law often felt unattainable so I perhaps carry this unwelcome feeling with me more than most. As I wrote training contract applications and attended assessment centres, my battle with imposter syndrome became tougher. I competed not only with the internal feeling of inadequacy, but also with other aspiring solicitors who I saw as more aligned with my perception of a ‘typical’ lawyer.
As application deadlines approach, it’s important to step back and address any such feelings and know that they should not hold you back from applying for a position at TLT.
Here are my top three tips for combatting imposter syndrome when applying for a training contract.
TLT encourages a diverse workforce and is not looking for a “cookie cutter” trainee. If you spend your assessment centre and/or vacation scheme pretending to be someone else, it will eventually catch up with you. It is important to work for a firm that appreciates you and hires you for exactly who you are, so present the best and most professional version of yourself when applying. If your application is successful, you may end up having daily interactions with those you meet during the assessment stages, so give them a taste of your personality and show them the person they should look forward to working with.
One of the biggest mistakes people can make when applying for training contracts is being modest when sharing their experiences. Be sure to discuss all your experience, whether legal or not; part-time jobs and extra-curricular activities can often tell a firm more about your passions, personality and skills than work experience at a law firm. A lack of legal experience or connections in the industry shouldn’t put you off from applying nor should it make you feel in anyway disadvantaged. TLT’s assessments are designed to focus on the transferable skills that everyone has an opportunity to build rather than technical legal skills. Focus on letting TLT know about all the positive ways you could contribute to the firm. Now you’re on your way to a successful application!
Completing a vacation scheme with TLT was vital in my eyes as I wanted to get a sense of the culture of the firm. The experience was invaluable and helped make me feel comfortable and confident in my ability to work for TLT, as well as giving me the chance to see how supportive those in the firm were. By the end of the week I realised that the people at TLT wanted to see me succeed and the vacation scheme was designed to provide an opportunity to do this. Feelings of imposter syndrome significantly decreased, largely because I had been able to prove my abilities and received positive feedback from the team. This gave me a big confidence boost walking into my training contract interview.
When applying to TLT, it is important to remember the behaviours the firm hopes to see in candidates – the firm is looking for candidates who are driven, supportive and flexible. Your background does not prevent you from showcasing these behaviours and your unique experiences may have allowed you to do so already. Leave imposter syndrome at the door and apply – you may just be the candidate TLT is looking for!
Natasha Whitham is a first seat trainee solicitor for TLT, currently in the FSDI team. Natasha is based in the Manchester office.