Individual Departmental Experience - Trainee Blog
As a trainee, two things are guaranteed: 1) you will copy a forests worth of paperwork and 2) you will work in at least two departments. If you are lucky – or unlucky – you might work in four departments.
This seemingly routine aspect of the training contract is, to my mind, the greatest cause of anxiety throughout the entire process. The fear of going to court or correcting your boss on a point of law pales in comparison to the almighty seat rotation. Sure every trainee will tell you “I am really excited to try a new department” or “I am really looking forward to getting stuck in with the new team” but underneath that confident exterior lies the truth – terror.
Picture the scene: you are six months into your time with your current department and you have finally acclimatised to the situation. You know how your boss likes her tea; you know which secretaries to avoid and which to smooth talk; you have reached a stage where getting asked to “pop to court on this simple application” no longer fills you with cold, unmitigated, dread (and that simple couldn’t be farther from the truth). You practically skip to work each day knowing that you can tackle most of the tasks thrown your way. You are feeling good.
Then it happens.
In the space of a single day, your entire world is upended. In place of the friendly hellos that used to mark your arrival to work, unfamiliar faces now greet you with a terse “good morning”. Your old work mates may now only be around the corner or on the floor above but they may as well be sipping gin on the beaches of Borneo for how much you will see of them now.
Your first task comes to you from your new department head, a simple job he assures you – “from what I have heard, this won’t be too hard for you at all!” he confidently exclaims as he smirks on his way passed your new desk. You stare at the handwritten memo before you and begin to wonder why you didn’t take those traditional Chinese script lessons because that is quite clearly what decorates the page in your hands.
You decide to take a moment to first make this new space your own – surely you will feel better to tackle the deciphering task once you feel comfortable with your new surround. Sliding open the first draw you realise your hope was in vain. Beneath the mountain of hastily stashed envelopes, paper clips and pens-with-no-lids you find a pile of magazine cut-outs detailing how to “get beach body ready” and “deal with anxiety at work”. Not a great start but that does nothing to prepare you for the small waste food disposal that the second draw has, apparently, been converted into. It isn’t possible to date the food in the draw by conventional standards but the ‘marathon’ wrapper that pokes out of the pile of rotting garbage suggests you may need to bring some marigolds into work tomorrow.
The draw is a bust so you turn back to your first task, take a deep breath and pick up the phone (a number and a name is all you can make out). Quickly you understand that those Land Registry first registrations you were completing in your sleep just 24 hours ago provide no help at all as you talk to Mrs Nelson and try to guide her on the legal ramifications of the fact that her estranged husband, Mr Nelson, has just put to sea again and this time, he took the prized silverware with him.
After a harrowing discussion that leaves you knowing the full goings on of Mr Nelson and “that hussy MRS Hamilton – she is married don’t you know!?” you decide to venture away from the recycling centre that is your desk and meet the new faces that have been giving you the side eye since you walked in.
You politely introduce yourself to each person around the room and surprisingly you are met with smiles and welcoming words. People offer advice before you even know you need it and numerous pen lids are provided to make a start on tidying that desk. Phrases start cropping up like “if you need any help, just ask me!” This is starting to turn you think, perhaps you were worried for nothing?
You then turn to the dimly lit cave behind your desk and are surprised to learn that there is a solicitor in there. The muted light of the computer screen illuminates only two sullen eyes. You take a deep breath and go in. After all, you have met these people before - of course you have. You attended the Christmas Party and, when the lovely HR lady showed you around, they all smiled and said hello – this will be easy right?
You knock at the cave entrance, already worrying you knocked too loudly – or was it not loud enough, does this person let people just knock unannounced... before you can finish your thought a scowl rises above the computer screen on the desk. The scowl eyes you up and down and you freeze in place, forgetting why you came in. Eventually, you begin to say hello but are cut off by a single raised hand. The eyes behind the computer, which strike you as having an odd resemblance to those of the devil, dart towards the phone. You back out but not before loudly kicking the door in your confusion – did that scowl just roll its eyes as well?
Thankfully, the next room couldn’t be more different. The dim dank of the cave is replaced with streaming sunlight and pictures of happy faces adorning the walls. The occupant warmly welcomes you into their room and invites you to sit and asks all about your prior experiences. You instantly feel comfortable and you chat about all your work and past jobs for some time. The interaction ends with a lunch invite and you feel your confidence soaring again. You mentally record this person as the “go-to” person should you have any questions.
As you explore the various offices about you, you are greeted by more and more smiling faces and warm words. The tall ominous doors that stood over your desk like cold sentinels now seem inviting as you put names to the occupants behind them. Strangers swiftly become colleagues and the dread you have felt all morning begins to ebb away.
Feeling buoyed from your interactions, you return to your desk to tackle the newly come task and find this one resembles that deed you had to prepare only two weeks ago. Suddenly, after only one morning things start to click back into place.
Every department is different, very little of what you do in one seat will carry over to another (with a few exceptions) and it is not just that you don’t understand the new work but you also don’t know which of your colleagues to ask for help. There will also be a myriad different systems to now get to grips with and for the most part, you may feel you have to navigate these rough new seas alone.
But you don’t.
In every department you will meet kindly, warm people. They want to help you and they want to see you succeed. It is daunting meeting all the new faces and feeling like you have slipped to the bottom of the knowledge pile but you will quickly realise you haven’t. Work crosses over, tasks bare resemblances and, above all, people are there to help. From the newest secretary to the oldest equity partner, you will find most people want to help and willingly help.
You just have to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.
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