24 December 2021

This article was written by Ben Urquhart

A question I’m often asked by hopeful applicants is 'how do I convey I have the skills required to be a good trainee?' The answer I tend to suggest is to demonstrate what you have learnt in your spare time endeavours, be that part-time work, volunteering or sports/social clubs, and connect how those experiences will translate into trainee life. But articulating what it is you have done and how it will help you can be challenging, especially with the restraints of an application word count and the pitfall of fearfully thinking 'I need to say something that is really "out there" in order to impress!'

Not being a straight A* student, it was all the more important for me to make sure I got this part of my application right. Prior to the commencement of my training contract, I had worked in everyone’s favourite nugget serving fast-food chain, a clothing retailer, an amusement park and a few pubs intermittently throughout my studies. Those experiences were nothing out of the ordinary and certainly would not jump off the paper alone, but there were plenty of useful skills I gained and developed during my time in those roles that I was able to deploy in winning application answers. My tips to do the same would be:

1. Don’t undersell your part-time work, but don’t go OTT – find that balance

You do not need to have walked seven marathons in seven continents in seven days to get across that you have determination and resilience. Getting up at 6am for a Saturday morning shift at your local shop after a week of lectures can evidence just the same. I am a firm believer that ordinary part-time jobs teach you a lot about yourself, especially when juggled around other commitments, and if deployed correctly in an answer, can give you an element of realism and likeability that will set you apart.

2. It’s not so much about what you have, but how well you can sell it

My university careers advisor drilled into me that a well-written, simple answer stands out far more than a convoluted one trying-but-failing to wow. If you can state 'this is what I have done, this is what I have learnt from it and this is how it would make me a good trainee within your law firm' in a clear and concise way then you’re going to stand out from the crowd. Not only that, but recruiters will likely find it a welcoming read as they’re not having to re-read your answers just to make sense of them. You do not need to dress your experiences up or litter your sentences with fancy words. Whoever is reading your answer should be able to understand the message you are trying to convey on a first read.

3. Connect the dots between your experiences and trainee life

Flipping burgers as a fast-food kitchen staff member and drafting contracts as a trainee solicitor might seem worlds apart but there are some vital skills mutual to both. I’ll draw upon one as an example: Being an effective communicator in a fast-paced kitchen was imperative to ensure food stocks were managed and orders went out timely to the standards the customer would expect. It is equally important now as a trainee solicitor working on a big project in a law firm to effectively communicate to colleagues, lawyers on the other side and to the client so that expectations can be managed, agreed deadlines can be met and the work can be done to a high standard. Deep delve into your own experiences and connect the dots to legal life. Everything on your application should link to the bigger picture; why you will be a good trainee solicitor for that particular firm.

4. A natural way to convey your personality

The last point is to try to take away a common application stress I see candidates face and, I myself felt, which is getting across your personality. Again, I will cite my careers adviser here (to whom I am much in debt!) for some invaluable advice, which was that not only will ordinary jobs teach you a lot about yourself, but also they will say a lot about who you are to others. If you have worked as part of a team and can cite examples of where the team has performed well and achieved success, then chances are those team members enjoyed working with you. That itself conveys a positive image for your personality without having to find a way to describe yourself in a sentence. Remember, your spare-time endeavours will only play a part in the image you convey in the application process. The rest will be made up through factors like academic grades, legal experience, research into the firm and law in general. That being said, a well-written synopsis for your spare-time endeavours is a useful tool to have in your belt when writing applications and will equally apply when discussing experiences in interviews. Know your experiences and how to use them properly and they will serve you well.

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