Application forms - the finishing touches

Application forms - the finishing touches

Ironing out the finishing touches might make the difference between the average application and an absolute stand-out. Our experts were happy to go over some of the trickier parts of application writing to help make your submission shine. Here is what they had to say...

"Everyone finds it really difficult to embrace the application form as way to let your personality shine through and differentiate yourself against the competition. Being successful in the application process is not purely about just reciting, what you feel the employer is looking for, and suppressing who you are as an individual, organisations' really do want to get to know you and your personality.

Firstly, it is worth spending the time assessing what are your attributes, values, strengths, and passions? If you are not sure about these, ask friends or family for help to develop this further. Once these are clear, make sure you thread these key themes throughout your application form to give the employer a clear picture of who you are. It is important to support these themes, with evidence and appropriate examples using your interests and life experiences.

A point of caution, make sure you pay close attention to the question that you have been asked, as well using it as an opportunity to let that personality glimmer through. Therefore, always consider the structure, words used, language and tonality of your answers to make sure you are expressing yourself fully."

"The best research will have breadth as well as depth – don't just use our own website (although that will give you an idea of how we present ourselves) but use a variety of resources to understand how we are perceived in the market and what people are saying about us.

A common mistake is to regurgitate blocks of text on the application form or in the interview, which can give the impression that you might have a brilliant photographic memory but you haven't really taken the time to think about what you've read. The best way to show you've done your research is to personalise it; rather than telling us something we already know, talk about how it resonates with you and ties in with your interests and experiences. This will help us to understand why we're the right firm for you and why you might be the right trainee for us!"

"As law is extremely competitive, the majority of good applicants will have excellent academics, solid work experience and interesting extra-curricular activities.

What makes applicants stand out from the rest is the research they have carried out on the firm they are applying to and the way they use this research to draw on their own experiences in referencing and talking about the firm.

Every law firm is different and it is your job to find out: where the firm sits in the legal market; who are their main clients; and what are their areas of expertise. This information should feed into the ‘why my firm’ question on the application form / cover letter.

At the interview, you will need to feel confident talking about the research you have done and not be frightened if you are asked any exploratory question. Sometimes, you could be asked for an opinion which may require you to make a quick judgment. Don't be afraid to have a view and be ready to maintain your stand. The key is to stay calm and answer logically, evidencing from your own experiences and learning."

"There is no such thing as the perfect candidate, so be prepared to spend as much time discussing your weaknesses as you would highlighting your strengths. I always advise students to look at the key skills and qualities which the firm in question really values. You then need to provide credible examples on your application form and during your interview to prove that you have some experience already.

However, don't forget that we are also looking for potential - and we provide a lot of training during the training contract and beyond - which is why it is also important to identify what you need to get better at. Be honest and, where possible, be prepared to discuss why you feel that you can learn the required skill or, even better, demonstrate that you have already started to work on your weaknesses. For example, if you know that public speaking isn't your strength, get involved with societies or activities which will allow you to practice this skill."

"When presenting your strengths and weaknesses the recruiter is looking for evidence that you are aware of the areas that you excel in, as well as those areas that you are conscious of a need to improve in.

The key is self-development and research. Research of both the firm you are applying to and yourself. Make sure you understand the competencies that a firm is looking for and if your weakness falls in one of these areas, ensure that you demonstrate to the recruiter why it is important for you to work on this weakness. For example, you may not be the most confident presenter but understand that a legal career will involve pitching to clients. It is, therefore, an area that you will focus on developing through volunteering to take the role of presenter in group tasks at work/university.

It is not a trick question when asked to discuss your weaknesses. Nobody is perfect, we are simply looking for evidence that you are able to push yourself to develop and that you would be successful in an environment where constructive criticism is given in order to help you reach your full potential."