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The inside story: how to get a job using your law degree for good

Ever wondered what hiring managers are looking for when they recruit for Australia’s most sought-after NFPs?

In this series we interview the people who hire at the organisations where you want to work – and we’ll give you the inside knowledge you need to make your next job application amazing.

This month we speak to Gabriela Christian-Hare, Chief Executive Officer at the Australian Pro Bono Centre – an independent centre of expertise that aims to grow the capacity of the Australian legal profession to provide pro bono legal services that are focused on increasing access to justice for socially disadvantaged and/or marginalised persons, and furthering the public interest.

Hi Gabriela – thanks for chatting with us! To kick us off, can you tell us a bit about what Australian Pro Bono Centre does?

The Centre is the national peak body for legal pro bono service delivery in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation based at the University of New South Wales.

To that end, we undertake a number of activities. These include administering and promoting the National Pro Bono Target, producing resources to assist the legal profession to build and grow their pro bono programs, running the biennial National Law Firm Pro Bono Survey, advocating for law reform that removes barriers to pro bono work, hosting events and meeting with stakeholders, managing the National Pro Bono Professional Indemnity Insurance Scheme and keeping the pro bono community up-to-date with news from the legal assistance sector.

What are some of the things that might attract candidates to apply to the Australian Pro Bono Centre?

The Centre’s work is interesting, diverse and challenging. The Centre has an excellent international reputation for supporting pro bono best practice, and many of our policy initiatives have contributed to transforming the pro bono landscape in Australia – and influencing policy overseas. It’s an exciting area to be working in!

We also have a fantastic, supportive small team which makes it a pleasure to go to work every day. We offer a very flexible working environment which allows our staff to achieve genuine work/life harmony.

With my experience in legal practice and the not-for-profit sector I was attracted to apply for my first role at the Centre as Head of Policy & Strategy – a role that I spotted on EthicalJobs.com.au as I was sitting in a café one Saturday morning!

Two years later I was very fortunate to be made CEO of the Centre. It’s been terrific to work with our team to help shape the strategy, direction and work plan of the Centre.

Can you walk us through the recruitment process at Australian Pro Bono Centre?

The Centre’s recruitment process follows a fairly traditional pattern. Our job advertisements ask all applicants to submit a cover letter and CV. After the application closing date, we review each application and shortlist several candidates for the position. The shortlisted candidates are invited for an interview, after which we offer the successful applicant the position.

What are the top things you look for when assessing a candidate’s application?

We always check that the candidate has directly addressed each of the selection criteria, and has explained how their experience and skills make them a good fit for the role.

In all positions, we are looking for someone who is proactive, organised, and a creative problem-solver. Candidates should also demonstrate that they have strong interpersonal skills, the ability to work collaboratively in a small team and the ability and desire to build strong relationships with our diverse range of stakeholders.

And of course, given the nature of our work, all candidates must have a commitment to access to justice and an understanding of the role of pro bono practice in the legal assistance sector.

What is the most common mistake you see candidates make in their applications?

We often see candidates submitting applications that include spelling and/or grammatical errors. It is very important to proofread your application!

It is also vital to ensure the information in your CV and cover letter is relevant for the position you are applying for. Tailoring your application to the role is important. As we often receive a large number of applications, it is best to be concise, prioritise the experience and skills most relevant to the job and address each of the selection criteria. We sometimes find that applicants submit CVs that are far too long. Two or three pages is sufficient.

And if they make it to interview, who is a candidate most likely to meet on an interview panel at Australian Pro Bono Centre?

It depends somewhat on the seniority of the position. For a more junior position, you would likely be interviewed by me (the CEO) and the Head of Policy and Strategy. For a more senior position, a candidate would most likely be interviewed by me and a member of the Centre’s Board.

What advice would you give candidates to improve their interview skills?

Our most successful applicants have come for interviews well-versed in the work of the Centre, our objectives and strategy, and have researched the role of pro bono practice more broadly. They are able to articulate which specific skills and experience they can bring to the work of the Centre.

Well-prepared candidates are more likely to feel relaxed during the interview and are able to engage well in conversation about the Centre’s current work plan and objectives. And of course, we recommend using the interview as an opportunity to ask questions! 

Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to work at Australian Pro Bono Centre but perhaps doesn’t have the right qualifications or experience?

If a potential candidate isn’t sure if they have the right qualifications or experience to apply for an advertised role, we would encourage them to simply call the appropriate Centre contact, discuss their experience, and ask if they should apply. Candidates may have developed skills in a different context that would transfer very well to the work of the Centre. We encourage candidates from a wide range of backgrounds to apply for our positions – so long as they can articulate how their qualifications and experience can be applied in the advertised role.

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