So, all your preparation has been done and your application schedule is written. You’ve researched the firms inside out and know which ones you want to apply for and when you need to do it. It’s finally time to start putting pen to paper, so to speak, and pushing forward with the practicalities of writing your applications.
As you will be aware, different firms will be using different application methods. Some will require application forms, whilst others will ask for CVs and covering letters. Regardless of the method, there are several key tips to bear in mind to ensure that you are optimising your chances of success:
1) Stick to the rules
Applying for training contracts is a time consuming exercise. Don’t waste your precious time on applications that are set to fail, either because you don’t meet the minimum requirements or because you ignore the guidelines they give. Use the careers section of their website to gather the information on what they want to see and how they want to see it.
If they ask for a 2 page CV, then submitting 3 page document is a sure-fire way to end up on the ‘reject’ pile. If the deadline passed yesterday then be realistic and move on to the next application.
All that said, if you don’t meet the minimum requirements but would really like to work at the firm, it can still be worth contacting them. Explain your circumstances, particularly what else you have done which might make up for you not making the minimum requirements, and ask if they would consider your application.
2) Make it easy to read
Recruiters have A LOT of applications to read through. They will prioritise those that they believe are easier to read and digest, so making yours as presentable as possible is going to make them want to review it. CVs should make good use of white space on the page. Application form answers should be well structured and formed of concise sentences. Qualifications and work experience should be listed in a relevant order so that recruiters are not having to trawl through the information to find what they need.
3) Tailor your application
As tempting as it may seem, firing through the same CV and covering letter to each firm will not get you a fistful of interviews. Similarly, competency answers should only be duplicated amongst firms if they are asking for EXACTLY the same thing. A mere word change may mean you need to rethink your example from scratch. Be aware of the key competencies that individual firms are looking for and be sure to get across the reasons why you have selected to apply for them. Use the knowledge you have gained from websites, brochures, open days and any personal contacts that you have.
4) Be memorable
Even a 1st class honours graduate with direct commercial experience will have problems standing out in the current competitive market place. After reading through thousands of applications the recruiter needs to be able to recall which candidate you are. But remember – these are serious professional firms. I’m not talking about delivering your application form via a troop of dancing horses. Instead, take time to think about your Unique Selling Point and what separates you from your competitors. It may be commercially related, or it may relate to an extra-curricular experience you have mentioned. But aim to be different.
5) Check, check and check again
It is essential that your application is mistake free. In the legal profession where so much importance is placed on attention to detail, an application which is riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes will not be appreciated. Even one mistake is one too many. So after you have proof read your application, pass it on to at least one other person to do the same.
And finally, before you submit your application, make sure you have kept a copy. Get into the habit of keeping a paper file or online folder in which you can keep on top of all the applications you have made and refer to them when necessary.
Fingers crossed, you will soon be receiving news of interviews and there is no better way to prepare for interview than to re-read the initial application that you sent through. So make sure you have it at hand.