Grad Recruiter Secrets: What Makes an EXCELLENT Training Contract Application

I asked some experienced graduate recruiters a question I often hear….

In your experience, which factors differentiate an excellent application from a good application?”

Paula McMullan, Graduate Recruitment Manager at Gide Loyrette Nouel LLP (London), had this to say:

A great application is one where I can tell that the person:

  1. has taken the trouble to understand what we do,
  2. is interested in what we do, and
  3. knows what it takes to sell themselves.

Recruiters want to see a spark in an application that tells us this person has something special.

Too often I read sections from our website or brochure, or candidates simply talk about our practice areas or deals that have been publicised.

A great application will talk about why they are interested in finance (our specialist area) and where they want their career to go, how they know what we have to offer and why that appeals.

They should highlight what they can bring to the firm beyond the generic:

I have excellent communication skills/team-building/leadership skills”.

I’m also looking for someone with a lively interest in the City and business, but who doesn’t try to be clever.

Remember, you need to be able to talk about your application so if you’ve written about the LIBOR scandal, make sure you can discuss it with your interviewers.

Most of all, I’m looking for someone with the confidence to let their personality out in their application rather than only telling me what they think I want to hear.

Ben Morris, HR Manager at Morgan Cole, had this to say:

Over the years I have seen a lot of applications, both good and bad, and narrowing what makes a difference in such a short format is not easy!

However, for me, on balance, the two things that stand out are composure and forethought.

The vast majority of applicants spend a lot of time thinking about their applications but the really good ones give the impression of having pursued the thought process.

There are several indications of having thought not only about portraying and displaying their knowledge, skills and attributes but also about how they might fit in their target firm.

They have then communicated that with the outcome in mind.

That is to say, not just saying “Here I am, I’m great, draw your own conclusions” but taking the next step to present their application in a way which demonstrates “and this means x to you”.

This may sound like game playing or “patter” but is an advanced form of communication – delivering with your audience in mind.

I think that supporting this is composure.

Whether in written applications or at the assessment centre stages, knowing the difficulties of securing a training contract, keeping a rein on their desire in order to use that energy to help survive the application process and present themselves in the most complete way, rather than it overwhelming them is a difficult skill but one that will serve them well.”

Sam Lee, Recruitment Manager at Bond Dickinson LLP, had this to say:

We receive hundreds, if not thousands, of training contract applications every year and so many of them are very good, but given the ratios of applications to training contracts available these days it really is only the excellent that are getting through the process.

The very good applications are doing everything right; they all demonstrate really good quality legal and/or commercial work experience; evidence of extra-curricular activities and competency answers that are recent and relevant.

The one thing that really differentiates the excellent from the good, however, is the research that a candidate has undertaken and the way in which it is then reflected in each and every application.

The very strong candidates will be able to put themselves in the shoes of their target audience and think about what it is they really want to hear from their applicants, i.e. an understanding of what is to be a commercial lawyer, particularly a commercial lawyer at that firm and how their skills and experience may benefit that firm.

It’s the tailored applications that really stand out to us and demonstrate that a candidate has really given a lot of thought to why they want to be a part of our business.

Read more: Essential Guide to Training Contract Applications

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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