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my top tips on training contract applications

5 December 2018

After speaking to hundreds of students about applications, I have grouped together the most popular questions to bring you my top tips on training contract applications.

Timing

Time is a precious commodity, especially around the Christmas and New Year period. Not only is it a time to unwind but most of you will have coursework and exams on the horizon. Register for applications as soon as they open, read the questions and make a note of the word counts. This will prepare you for the style and time to be spent and hopefully trigger you to start thinking about the content and examples you can use. Look into time-saving applications such as 'MyLocker' which will save you from repeatedly filling in all your personal and educational details. Some firms accept applications on a rolling-basis so make a note of this as they are likely to close some time before the published deadline.

Organisation

I learned early on that trying to read scribbled notes of fading ink from last year’s careers fair was not helpful. Set up an excel spreadsheet and type in the firms you are interested in, put in their deadline dates, dates of vacation schemes/open days and the stages of applying so you know what you are doing and when. Keep a detailed note section where you can add in interesting things you have researched or involvement with the firm (including names of the people you have spoken to) so you have a great legible record ready to use.

Selling yourself

In the competitive world of TC’s, writing your application is not the time to be shy but I understand it can feel unnatural talking about yourself. Make a list of all your skills and jot down examples of when you have had to use them successfully. Then make a separate list of your hobbies and achievements and write down what skills you have acquired from them. You will end up with some great examples and this will help you see what you can bring to the table. Work on incorporating at least 70% of them into your application. Be choosy with what you put in and remember, you don’t need to spell out that you have “exceptional communication skills” if you can display them throughout your application. Don’t forget to check out what skills/values the firms are looking for too! Most firms will display these on their website and it is always good to use similar wording throughout your application so it makes it specific to that firm.

Answering competency questions

I would recommend using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Explain each of these in turn and you will realise that your 3 paragraphs of story-telling have turned into 4 or 5 sentences that neatly answer the question. Avoid the urge to dress this up into long sentences or add unnecessary fillers. Be critical with yourself and if a sentence doesn’t add anything to your application then get rid of it. It will be much easier for the reader to follow and show that you are able to be clear and concise.

Work experience

All experience is valuable in some way or the other. Focus on the skills you gained and why this will be relevant as a trainee. You can gain 'legal' experience by working in related organisations such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the Personal Support Unit or Legal Advice Clinics where you help clients by providing them with an independent and confidential service and advise them on their issues. If you want a better understanding of the judicial system, then go to court and ask the Usher if there are any interesting trials or hearings going on. You will be surprised how much you can learn by a few afternoons spent in the public gallery or shadowing a Judge.

Research

Law firms spend a lot of resources on graduate recruitment websites, social media and even trainee blogs so I would always start there. Publications (such as Chambers & Partners, The Lex 100, Legal 500) also provide a great cross-reference so read up on those and you will have a great source of knowledge on which to start your applications. The firm website is great to see what has been going on recently and don’t miss the opportunity to visit an open day/event and speak to the employees! If you’ve met someone at a recruitment event, look them up on LinkedIn and thank them for their time. You will find that they often share updates and press releases about what is going on within the firm so that is a great way of getting more up to date information.

No matter what stage you progress to, request feedback, stay positive and good luck!