10 steps to writing successful training contract applications

With the training contract and vacation scheme application season being just around the corner, here are 10 easy-to-follow steps that will help you turn a good application into a great one:

1. Have a clear structure

One way to make your application stand out is by being organised in the way you present your answers. Tell the reader from the outset what your answer will cover by identifying the key points you’ll be discussing. Then, instead of writing your answer in one big chunky paragraph, dedicate a paragraph for each point you’ve identified. Once you’ve answered the question, bring your answer together by summarising your key points in a concluding sentence. While this is a simple step to follow, having a clear structure makes it easier for recruiters to read your application and allows you to explain your points in a clearer, more concise manner.

2. Tailor your application to the firm

It’s very tempting to copy and paste your answers to certain questions across many applications. However, this will not serve you well, as recruiters can tell if your application isn’t tailored to their firm. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t tell which firm you’re applying to after taking out the name of the firm from your application then it’s not tailored enough.

3. Avoid applying to too many firms

Many candidates feel the need to apply to many firms at once because of the competitive nature of the legal industry. However, this is not always the best decision to make since writing many applications means you’ll more likely dedicate less time on each application. The quality of your applications is much more important than their abundance. Writing a reasonable number of applications will help you better tailor your answers to the relevant firms and will give you more time to network with the firms in question. By doing so, you’re more likely to get invited for assessment centres. So, make sure to only apply to firms you’re passionate about.

4. Show them, don’t tell them

It’s no secret that recruiters are looking for certain transferable skills from their applicants. However, instead of simply telling them that you possess certain skills, show them by providing examples of how you developed those skills and what you learned from your experiences.

For instance, when talking about your teamwork skills, provide an example where you contributed to a team and talk about the outcome of your work. This can look something like this: ‘At university, I was a x, and as part of my role I had to work with my team on x. I was responsible for x but also helped my team members with x. I learned the importance of communicating with my team members and taking initiative by assisting my peers. As a result, our work was a huge success and we x’.

5. Take advantage of the work experience section of the application

Law firms have a dedicated work experience section on their applications. Take advantage of this section by showcasing your skills and attributes. Talk about some of the challenges you’ve experienced and how you’ve overcome them as well as what you’ve learned from your experiences.

It’s also important to note that any experience, whether legal or non-legal, is good experience as long as you talk about the skills you’ve gained and how they will help you in your career as a trainee solicitor. Attending events like open days is also a great thing to include in this section, as it shows firms your commitment to a career in commercial law.

Further, it’s important to quantify your experiences by sharing certain figures where possible to help recruiters better understand your achievements. For example, if you write about an event that you’ve previously hosted, talk about the number of sing-ups and attendees as well as how you promoted the event to make it a success.

6. Talk about your interests and hobbies

This point is often overlooked by many candidates, although it is a very good way of standing out in an application. Talking about your interests outside of law is a great way of showcasing your personality to recruiters.

7. Research the firm carefully 

Doing the right research when applying to firms will help you tailor your application to the firm you’re applying to. Remember to always link the firm’s work and culture to your interests.

If you had the opportunity to meet the firm’s representatives, ask them questions you are keen to find answers to and mention in your application how certain conversations resonated with you. The legal industry is a people business, so interacting with a firm’s representatives is a great way of showcasing how you’ll be a great fit to the firm. For more details on how to research firms properly, make sure to give this article a read.

8. Identify the firm’s unique selling points and tie them to yours 

Each firm has a unique selling point (USP) so it’s important to have a clear idea of what motivates you to train at a certain firm. Avoid using cliché sentences of how you would ‘relish the opportunity’ to work at a firm because of a stated reason. Instead, talk about the aspects that you truly find unique about the firm, whether that’s the work they do in a certain sector, their collaborate culture or their pro bono work. Interacting with the firm by networking with its representatives is a great way of helping you identify the firm’s USP.

9. Showcase your commercial awareness 

It’s no surprise that law firms are looking for candidates who are commercially aware (ie who have a good understanding of the business world around them). The question is: how can you showcase your commercial awareness? You can do so by talking about the firm’s work and its innovative ways of adding value to its clients or by mentioning recent news stories that are affecting the firm and its clients.

10. Ask someone to read over your application

It’s so important that you proofread your application and ask someone to read over it for typos and errors. One small typo can be the reason you miss out on getting invited for an assessment centre, so don’t overlook this step!

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