Our Intern Program Coordinator Vivian Tham spoke with two HR interns now working at Clayton Utz to find out the lessons they have learned and their tips for getting ahead. And Julia McFadden, PeopleConnect Manager at Clayton Utz, shares her thoughts about the value of the HR Intern Program within the Shared Services Team.
In September 2015 Shakura Sharmin began an internship in the People and Development team at Clayton Utz through Peoplecorp’s Intern program. She was subsequently offered a permanent role in March 2016 and has since been promoted to a People and Development Co-ordinator. When Shakura became a permanent employee, Colin Chang then secured an HR internship in the same team.
Shakura, now that you are practicing HR, what areas are you finding most interesting or leaning towards?
SS: The interpersonal aspect of the workplace and team communication coming to life has been particularly interesting for me. During University, much of my experience with HR was theoretical and it was difficult to grasp how it all really fit together, but through the program I had the opportunity to observe and engage with the working environment, make my own judgments, and really get involved in strategic planning within the team. I have had the opportunity to dip into marketing, business development, and the payroll side of things and see they operate on a day to day basis.
In a shared services function, I’ve found it requires branching off and obtaining information from other functions – like putting together the pieces of a puzzle, working as part of a larger team. I’m learning to understand the broader business through exposure to other functions, instead of having a microscopic view.
My interest in HR Strategy is really growing through the exposure I am getting and the different projects I am helping with. I am very passionate about planning for the future, diversity and inclusion, employee retention and engagement at work. I hope to be further involved with projects that aim to improve the business strategy and improve employee wellbeing simultaneously. I am also very intrigued by how we can most effectively tap into the labour market to pull the best talent and so for me, there is a lot of interest in talent acquisition and retention as well.
What has been the biggest lesson so far?
SS: I’ve learnt so many things! Off the bat, I’d say the impact and power of communication. Theoretically we are taught different ways to communicate, and my previous experience has given me some exposure, but even if you think there is a certain workplace culture, if you want strong engagement and the chance to build rapport, you need to observe everyone’s individual preferences.
I’ve also been able to take the theory learnt at university to analyse how and why our policies are structured the way they are. A prominent example is aligning the business strategy to our diversity policy and being open to the various circumstances of employees within the firm.
For me, the value of flexible working and diversity has come to life. I see a genuine business case for why policies are being modernised and the move towards inclusiveness. As the labour market changes, we need to be more accommodating for other important life commitments. We put this message forward to newcomers and our Head of Strategy and Diversity talks with teams across the country, encouraging employees at all levels to take up the opportunities which suit them. A big part is building the awareness around flexible working. It’s inspirational for me to see Senior Managers or part-time Partners set the example that you can comfortably be a parent to young children and still be supported by your team – it really challenges the myth that it can’t be done. I’ve learnt that the split doesn’t have to be 50/50; it’s based on each unique situation and what works best.
CC: For me, I’ve realised that working in a relatively large team, self-confidence and self-value are highly important – having a positive attitude and believing that you have the ability to do the work you’ve been asked to do. There are days where I’m still in disbelief, asking “How did I get here?” You certainly learn to be a team player. I’ve been able to speak up more and contribute more, give a different perspective on tackling tasks.
By seeing HR in action I understand its value a lot more, that HR acts as the glue for an organisation. To me, it represents culture, diversity, behaviour, values; whereas at university it was more often strategy (in a reactive as opposed to proactive way).
Shakura, congratulations on your second promotion at Clayton Utz in under a year. What has been your experience of working in HR at a law firm so far?
SS: I have been particularly impressed at how collaborative an environment it is.
For example, Town Hall meetings are held every 6-8 weeks for the People and Development Team providing an open forum to discuss our objectives for the year ahead. It is essentially a way for the management team to exercise transparency and give others in the team the opportunity to get involved in projects and ask questions. These meetings are very inclusive, with national offices dialling in by video conference. The wider HR function really feels like a team that has a purpose behind it. You know the work you’re doing is being well considered at top levels within the business. This allows me to see the long-term vision and work in a diverse, less transactional way.
What personal development opportunities have there been so far at Clayton Utz?
SS: I volunteered for a number of months with a charity called White Ribbon during my studies, so being supported by the firm to attend an external Domestic Violence Workshop was very interesting, seeing the different ways that domestic violence can impact employees. I’ve also been able to interact with disadvantaged children through the volunteer Beacon Polish Program. This has involved one on one coaching, SMART goal setting and teaching them how to best utilise their skills. It’s very rewarding to give back and work with a firm such as Clayton Utz that has such a strong pro bono culture. It also provides further education and opportunities for employees.
CC: For me it is ensuring business goals and strategies are met. It’s important that all areas of the function are on the same page. With the Town Hall meetings, senior management underlines the strategies moving forward and how HR fits into them. Having that opportunity to see the different functions in action and how HR plays a role is unique at this junior level.
I have also had to liaise with different consultants either in the L&OD space, talent, etc.
How has the intern program worked for you?
CC: I am studying a combined Law/Commerce degree, and finding paid internships within HR is quite difficult. Students are finding it hard to apply what they’ve learnt at university and an opportunity like this is vital, especially when deciding the direction of HR you want to pursue. I am realising how broad HR is, and being exposed to so many specialties. I don’t feel there is enough promotion of what is out there and the opportunities available; I see it in the split of Commerce students and the majors they choose, with not many pursuing HR.
SS: With my peers, most are still studying doing research/Honours – a few have studied the same degree that I have, some have graduate jobs with The Top 4 banks, and some HR peers have gone into recruitment with the view to going into generalist roles. It seems to be the stepping stone, whether agency or in-house. In this generalist role, I love the variety and I’m fortunate that I actually can see the broader perspective and understand how all of our different functions within the team come together. I am making valuable connections and enjoying the opportunity of being on the other side of recruitment and internal talent acquisition.
Julia McFadden, People Connect Manager at Clayton Utz manages both Shakura and Colin and oversees new HR interns within the Shared Services Team.
You have employed two interns in quick succession. What prompted you to do this?
Having an intern within People Connect is immensely valuable. It gives our team members the rewarding opportunity to mentor and coach young students who are just starting out in their careers. We were delighted to offer Shakura a permanent role, but then we soon found that we were missing the benefits of having an intern assisting with important, albeit routine administrative tasks. Our experience with Shakura was so positive due to her enthusiasm and capability, we did not hesitate to bring in another intern quickly.
It is a competitive market out there. Do you have any advice for junior HR professionals applying to join a law firm and what sets successful applicants apart from the crowd?
It is important to show a balance between strong academic achievement and the pursuit of extra-curricular activities. This demonstrates that applicants can effectively juggle study, personal responsibilities and work commitments. We look for students that have similar values to the firm. For example, at Clayton Utz we have employees with a diverse range of backgrounds and we value people for who they are and what they contribute. Community volunteering is a core value and students that can demonstrate this value will be well regarded.
What do you like to see from interns in the first 3 months of work?
We like to see students that have a willingness to learn, take direction, show initiative and value team work. We also like to see strong attention to detail and the application of innovative problem-solving skills. Fresh eyes and fresh ideas are always welcome!
Can you briefly describe the program that an intern can expect in the first 3 months?
A new intern is treated exactly the same as a new permanent employee. They go through standard orientation and training. A buddy is allocated to assist them to build relationships within the team and develop a broad understanding of the various key People & Development functions e.g. recruitment, learning and organisational development etc. They are given tasks with guidance from the team, such as conducting reference checks, organising interviews, checking data and so on. We include them in team meetings, workplace training and events. As Team Manager, I also ensure I catch up with them one on one once a week to see how they are going.
We would like to thank the Clayton Utz team for their insights.
More information on the Peoplecorp Intern Program