By trainee solicitor Sam Charkham
According to Bram Stoker "we learn from failure not from success". On that basis, I consider myself to be very well educated, particularly when it comes to training contract applications. They are hard work, but as I discovered over the course of my education, they needn't be quite as difficult I was making them. It took me a long time to realise the importance of the following points.
1. Know yourself
What do you want out of your working life? What motivates you; is it academic challenge, money, time out of the office, location, excellence, helping people, variety in your work, prestige? We all have different priorities, and so do law firms. Until you know what you want, it is very difficult to know which firm to apply to.
So how do you figure out what you want? One great way is work experience. Working as a paralegal turned my vague desire to train as a solicitor into a series of much more tangible objectives. I decided my priorities, discovered what concrete elements of the work I particularly enjoyed, and gained experience. As a result I focused my attention on a smaller number of firms and had more examples of work that I had done to bolster my applications.
It can also be helpful to analyse what differentiates the firms that are currently attracting your interest. There are thousands of law firms out there, what is drawing you to these in particular? This analysis of your often instinctive choices can help to reveal what you are really looking for.
There is truth in cliché: it is important to be honest as you consider what you want. Don't waste time chasing something that won't satisfy you.
2. Know the firm
Your training contract applications will become a lot easier when you begin to focus on the firms that share your priorities. This is where a well-designed recruitment process can help you. I found that application forms for the firms that shared my values were easy to fill in, they wanted to hear what I had to say and I was interested in the same things as they were. Conversely, the forms for the firms that did not share my priorities were much more effort.
So how do you get to know the firms? Online research is crucial but you can only learn so much from a website. Vacation schemes come into their own here as they give you the opportunity to get under the skin of a firm (to a certain extent) and for them to have a good look at you.
3. Use your own words
Attention to detail will be important throughout your career and it is certainly a priority for those reading your application, so take care over it.
Be yourself. If you are applying to a firm that is a good fit for you then you will have genuine enthusiasm for the firm, so be honest and let this shine through. A good recruitment team will spot that your application has integrity.
Try to use your own words when completing your form and avoid the thesaurus! If you wouldn't normally use a particular word or phrase, then don't use it in your application form.
Finally, be clear. You aren't writing an essay or a novel. Your audience is a team of people who have read many other forms and your answers should be concise and to the point. Bullet points, or lists are completely appropriate for some parts of an application form so don't be afraid to use them.
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