02-11-09

A personal insight (and practical suggestions) regarding Training Contract applications The following article first appeared in The Times in October 2009: So you have researched the internet, ploughed through the legal guides and identified that dream firm (or probably several hundred) who can't manage without your commitment, time, enthusiasm, intellectual ability and perseverance. What next? You submit your well crafted and considered application and wait for the rejections to come tumbling in. I am the Managing Partner of a medium sized 20 partner firm based in Covent Garden, London. The firm is well known for its Entertainment, Media and Family work. I have spent the summer considering in excess of 2,000 applications for our 2 available training contracts commencing in 2011. What has struck me in carrying out this exercise is how many Applicants are not presenting their case in the best possible light. Given that the majority have good degrees from good universities this was surprising, or was it? We hear constantly about diminishing standards at school and grade inflation at all levels of education but in practice, how does this translate at the job application stage? Too many Applicants got the basics wrong. I would like to offer would-be Applicants some suggestions on how best to present their case for a training contract. Whilst what follows is geared to my firm, Applicants should be able to pick up on common themes. Here are some practical suggestions:- • In our case, the application will be considered amongst thousands of other applications. This means that any covering letter should be concise and limited to no more than three or four short paragraphs. Tell the reader who you are, the stage you have reached and any particular highlights in your career to date. This is not the place to recite how great the firm is by, in our case, reeling off the well known personalities we have represented. We know about what we do. The covering letter is about you not us. It may be your only chance to grab attention so don't waste it. • Keep paragraphs short and run the spell checker. • You may be writing hundreds of applications but there is no excuse for addressing your covering letter to the wrong firm. • So you now have your concise, correctly spelt, well punctuated letter addressed correctly. Have you considered and adhered to the application criteria? Have you applied in time? Is it really worth applying for that job which gives a deadline application of 31st July and is specifically geared towards candidates with a 2.1 degree or better from a top university if you have a 2.2 from a university which appears at the bottom end of the rankings AND you post your application on 31st July? Well, we received some 500 applications on or about the deadline and others after. Consider carefully whether making an earlier application might be advantageous. In our case, given the volume of applications, those received earlier would have been considered more fully. • Now for the application itself. We have a downloadable template application. Some Applicants provide their own CV instead of or as well as this which is fine. Most Applicants submit their application by email with a short note attaching the covering letter and/or application. Again, this is totally acceptable but remember to identify the attachments so the reader knows what is being opened. I wanted to read the covering letter first but far too often this was not readily identifiable. • The effort which quite obviously goes into the majority of applications is considerable. Why then do so many Applicants get it wrong? Far too often Applicants tell their life story, understandable but generally unhelpful. Aim for the right balance between academic detail, experience, personal interests and what attracts you to the firm you are applying for. Again, try to keep it brief, watch out for those killer long paragraphs and avoid telling the reader about their wonderful firm. What works is introducing something which is not readily apparent from the usual searches. For example, one Applicant successfully introduced information only available from a theatre brochure where the firm advised on the legals and another picked up on a deal we had been involved in which was not widely known. These observations stand out and display a real interest in the firm. • So what are we really looking for? For our firm, what you read at university is not of overriding importance. However, a 2.1 degree is a pre-requisite and a good university attracts greater attention. Completion of the LPC is an advantage but not a requirement. Because of the number of post-graduates with experience it is very difficult to short list undergraduates. Applicants put too much emphasis on week long vacation work and the experience they gained during these periods. This uses up valuable CV space and has limited impact. Far more impressive is real work experience of several months or more in duration and not necessarily in the law. A well presented personalised CV is vital. Make it easy to read. As a prospective solicitor, remember that it is harder but more effective to advise using less and not more words. • Very few Applicants drew the connection between being a solicitor in a medium-sized law firm and the running of a business for profit. Few set out what they could offer in addition to intellectual ability, endeavour and the wish to pursue a career at a leading entertainment firm. The majority of Applicants that made the shortlist (17) displayed some understanding that solicitors need to attract and retain clients. At interview, Applicants would be expected to be well prepared, having thoroughly researched the Firm, its competitors and the interviewers. Given that only 7% of how we communicate is by words, Applicants at this stage need to fully appreciate the impact and importance of body language.
Article by John Seigal