Training Contract Applications – Common Mistakes

Every year I see candidates making the same mistakes in their training contract and vacation scheme applications. In this post, I set out 10 of the mistakes I see most often.

Eliminate these mistakes and your chances of landing that training contract will be greatly increased.

1. Lack of consideration

Some candidates don’t spend enough time considering which area of law suits them best and into which type of law firm they will best fit.

A lack of this sort of research to inform the decisions a candidate makes is usually glaringly obvious to an experienced graduate recruiter.

2. Not getting to know the firm

When applicants find themselves making several applications it can be tempting to try to write a one-size-fits-all application to send to every firm.

This usually means that the applicant does not fully research the firm they are applying to. This usually stands out a mile amongst a batch of other applications from applicants who have done their research on the firm.

Competition for training contracts is fierce and, for each one, you will be competing with candidates who really want to work at that firm and who have researched them in thorough detail – you must do the same.

3. Showing the love

Many applicants fail to convey why they feel the firm is the best firm for them.

Again, this is about avoiding the scattergun, one-size-fits-all approach to applications. Firms like to read that applicants have carefully considered why they are applying to this firm and why they consider it to be the firm for them.

Firms (and their recruiters) have egos too but don’t go overboard as they can easily spot someone who is not giving their genuine reasons.

4. Showing interest in the law

Firms like to see that this application isn’t your first sign of having an interest in the law. Some form of law-related work experience, vacation schemes, work shadowing, field trips, etc would usually be seen on successful applications.

5. Dishonesty/truth-bending

Being dishonest on an application is never advisable.  Apart from being wrong, recruiters can often pick up on half-truths and it becomes very easy to contradict yourself and forget what answers you have given when you get to interviews.

6. Poor language and spelling

Given that applicants will be required to have an eye for detail in their work, it’s inexcusable for an application to contain grammar and spelling mistakes.

Not rushing applications, using spell and grammar check on word processors (but beware Americanized spellings…) and proofreading several times over will help to avoid this.

7. Using inappropriate language

An applicant’s language should be natural, clear and concise. Trying to be too clever with your language, or using slang or colloquialisms, will usually stand out like a sore ‘primary digit on the hand’!

You need to impress with the content a lot more than with the words used.

Humour, whilst not a complete no-no, should be used with caution – this is something you can bring more into an interview situation than at the written application stage.

8. Inappropriate formatting

For applications where you have a choice over the formatting, for example with CV and covering letter, do not try to stand out from the crowd with anything other than the content.

Ensure the layouts are professional, have plenty of white space and do not include any decoration, frills, different colours/fonts, etc.

Using short sentences and paragraphs will also help the recruiter review the content more easily and will demonstrate your written communication skills to them.

9. Cutting and pasting

There are various examples of application forms, CV’s and covering letters out there, some of which are useful to read at the research stage.

However, it is never recommended that you cut and paste any part of an application from another source. Not only may you be infringing copyright but it may be picked up by recruiters and will never read as well as your own well thought-through answers.

Equally, we would never recommend wholesale cutting and pasting from one of your applications to another. We have seen candidates do this on countless occasions and it not quite fit the new application – graduate recruiters can spot this a mile off and will reject you when they do.

10. Ducking the question

If you find yourself faced with a question that you do not want to answer because it might reveal a weakness in you, or because you maybe don’t have the experience, always be honest.

Never try to fudge an answer so that it doesn’t fully tackle the question or give the information requested.

Bear in mind that all weaknesses can be turned into strengths if you put some thought into them.

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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