CV for Training Contract Application – An Essential Guide

A CV for your training contract application may turn out to be one of the most important pieces of work you ever produce.

You should see it as a piece of work that you take pride in rather than something that needs to be thrown together to enable you to submit a job application.

The Importance Of Your CV

There are a few key things you always need to keep in mind when writing your CV:

  • Your CV (often together with your covering letter) will be the first introduction you are making to your potential employer.
  • It will be viewed in competition with many other CV’s.
  • It will form the basis of much of what you will be asked at an interview.

Time and care should, therefore, be taken over your CV, both in terms of its content and its appearance.

If this is your chance to make a good first impression and to stand out from the crowd then a poorly laid out or worded CV will often blow that chance for you.

Help The Recruiter

Make things easy for the recruiter by writing short and succinct points rather than long wordy sentences.

The job of wading through lots of different CV’s is extremely time-consuming for graduate recruiters. They will, therefore, be grateful to those candidates who make their job easier by presenting them with the right information in an easy to read and understand format.

What To Include in Your CV

A CV for a training contract should fit onto two pages of A4 (except where extraordinary experience or skills need to be displayed, eg in the case of mature students, or where all relevant experiences are not sufficiently covered in two pages).

A common format for a law CV would include the following:

  • Basic personal details (not your religion, favourite colour, waist size, etc)
  • Education and qualifications going back to secondary school (and including relevant electives)
  • Legal work experience (paid or otherwise)
  • Non-legal work experience (if it demonstrates key competencies such as commercial awareness or teamwork)
  • Other law-related activities and experience that display your interest in the law
  • Interests, extra-curricular activities, positions of responsibility and achievements
  • Additional information such as language skills, if relevant

Consider All Your Experiences

Many CV’s accompanying training contract applications can be quite one dimensional, particularly if there is little legal work experience on them.

If this is the case, then non-legal work experience or interests/extra-curricular activities should be highlighted to demonstrate skills that might be valued by a law firm.

As for positions of responsibility and achievements, some people add these as a bit of an afterthought and miss the chance to use them to demonstrate additional skills.

Always seek to flesh these out to something more than just a record of what you have done. Expand them to describe those aspects which demonstrate relevant skills and competencies, such as working as part of a group.

You should also remember that in an interview you will most likely be asked about the interests you put down on your CV.

This is, therefore, a great opportunity for you to develop a rapport with your interviewer so think through which of your interests will best lend themselves to an interesting discussion at interview.

Should You Include A Personal Profile On Your Law CV?

Candidates often ask me whether they should include a personal profile on their CV.

More often than not my answer is “No” – although there are some exceptions you should be aware of.

What Is A Personal Profile?

A personal profile is an introductory section at the top of a CV, which you might also see called “Profile”, “Overview”, “Career Objective”, “Personal Statement”, or similar.

Ordinarily, it might include some or all of the following: an introduction to who you are, what you’re currently doing, what you’re looking for in your career, your motivations, and your most relevant achievements and skills.

Whilst such profiles are recommended by many generic CV writing guides and careers advisors this does not mean it’s right to include them on your law CV.

Why Not To Include a Profile

If you’re applying for entry-level roles in the legal profession (such as a training contract, vacation scheme, paralegal role or legal work experience) I would not recommend including a personal profile, as a rule.

The main reason is potential employers usually prefer to see a CV accompanied by a covering letter or email. And that is where you would include the information you would include in a personal profile.

You should never submit both a covering letter and a CV personal profile! It just takes up valuable space on your CV in which you could include something else to sell yourself further.

When Is It Ok To Include a Profile?

Despite the general rule being “Don’t”, a personal profile can add something to a CV in some situations:

  1. You are a career changer or mature student – a profile can be useful in summarising an extensive work history and explaining your motivation for the career change.
  2. You are dealing with a recruitment consultant – they will often just ask you to email them a copy of your CV and a good personal profile will grab the reader’s attention as they quickly scan your CV.
  3. You are providing a paper copy – you may have opportunities to physically hand someone a paper copy of your CV, for example at law fairs or networking events.
  4. You are using a job search website – some law job search websites allow you to upload a copy of your CV for potential employers to see. Again, you want to grab their attention with a strong profile.

What Should a Personal Profile Say?

It’s easy to get a personal profile wrong and for it to work against you rather than for you.

So, be careful to ensure it has the following characteristics:

  1. Avoids vague and generic statements – if you could change the name at the top of the CV and the profile still works it needs to be more specific.
  2. Gives evidence of skills – don’t make claims about skills without backing them up with evidence from your experiences.
  3. Contains substance not hot air – avoid the use of clever language, long words, superlatives and flattery. Words on their own will not impress, substance will.
  4. Avoids unreasonable claims – don’t show a lack of awareness and humility by going overboard with claims about your strengths and what you can do for the firm.
  5. Identifies your RELEVANT highlights – focus on your best experiences, skills and achievements which are most relevant to the potential employer.
  6. Explains career motivation – be specific about what sort of role you are looking for and where.
  7. Short and concise – the best profiles are 2–4 lines long, use short sentences and are edited ruthlessly to remove unnecessary padding.

Use The Right Tool For The Job

You should, therefore, think about when you are going to need a CV in the coming months.

Whilst the main CV you will use in any applications will most likely be profile free, I recommend you have another version of it with a profile included for one or more of the purposes above.

And like any part of a training contract application, you must think long and hard about the very best content to include your unique profile.

Read more: Essential Guide to Training Contract Applications

Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one to one coaching to those struggling with training contract, vacation scheme or paralegal applications and interviews. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>

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