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Applying yourself to your application

Applying yourself to your application

A solid application is the first step down the path to a coveted training contract, and it's where you definitely don't want to stumble. Luckily, our experts were happy to share their top application writing tips and to go over some of the most common critical errors they see on a regular basis. Here's what they said...

"The starting point should be asking yourself 'What does a trainee do? What does their role involve and what skills would they need?'. You’ll obviously need to do some research at this point – most firms websites and other legal sector media will give you a good place to start from. Think beyond your application to the bigger picture. Consider why we're asking the questions we are, and what they give you the opportunity to tell us.

Depending on how you think and how your mind works, you might want to take a very structured approach or you might want to write TRAINEE SOLICITOR in the middle of a piece of paper and brainstorm! Write down everything you're good at and you've done and then start to narrow it down and link it back to the skills and competencies you would need to display as a future solicitor. This should help you avoid generic responses and individualise your application as you will be working with your skills, strengths and experience, which is what we're looking for.

The final thing is to make sure you've answered the question we've asked, not the question you wish we'd asked! Relevance is key and so is ensuring your answers are succinct, to the point and avoid repetition."

"All law firms are different. They may not look like it at first glance but I can assure you they are, and this question is asking you to show us what has interested you about our firm in particular. The key is to only apply to firms that actually do interest you and then try to illustrate what it is that sparks your interest. This may be the deals, the clients, the culture, the international spread or a combination of these things and other considerations. Try not to be generic and remember if you can remove the firm's name and replace it with another's then you haven't shown us what it is about our firm that is attractive."

"This is a question you should have asked yourself before you started the application so the answer should come easily! Don’t be tempted to edit an answer you have used in an application for another firm – start with a blank page. This way you won’t make the fatal mistake of getting the firm’s name wrong.

Your answer should focus on what appeals to you about the firm – the work it does, the clients it has, the opportunities it offers and how this suits you and your aspirations, your experience and your skills. It should convince the recruiter that you understand what is different about the firm.

You don’t need to impress with your knowledge of the firm, we take it as a given that you will have done your research, so don’t reel off facts and figures or name drop deals and transactions if they don’t have any context – make every word count!"

"The most common mistakes we see are candidates not proof-reading carefully enough and/or not researching the firm well before applying. Simple errors can occur from relying too heavily on spell-check or copy and paste functions. Lawyers have to be meticulous in their work as an error in a contract can change the meaning. We're looking for people who can demonstrate the same level of care. My advice would be to print out what you've drafted and read it on paper rather than on screen. Your eye is more likely to see the changes required. If necessary, ask someone else to check it for you.

The second main error is not researching firms well and making generic applications. We want to know why you'd like to work here and generic wording, such as "I would relish the chance to train at a leading firm who work on ground-breaking deals such as [insert deal from the news section of our website] isn't likely to answer to demonstrate this convincingly. Good research is likely to lead you to make fewer applications but of far better quality."

"The training contract or vacation scheme application form is often the first contact that you will have with a firm and, as always, first impressions count. Needless to say obvious errors such as spelling mistakes or poor grammar detract from your application, but some other common errors that we come across are:

  1. referring to another firm instead of the firm you are applying to;
  2. not tailoring answers so that they are relevant to, and show an understanding of, the firm;
  3. not answering specific questions or not providing specific examples when asked to do so; and
  4. leaving unexplained gaps in your academic or career history.

Any of these errors will suggest that you are just filling in a form and are not particularly keen to join the firm that you are applying to. I know it is time consuming to fill in application forms, but it is worth putting the time and effort in as it is easy to spot when applicants have not!"