‘Rosie, to be honest with you, you’re just going to have to re-do that.’ That was the feedback I got from a graduate recruiter on the first draft of my first ever application. She didn’t beat around the bush, but she wasn’t wrong.
Today I looked over that application. And boy, was it harrowing. But I realised that there are a number of things that you don’t know until someone tells you. So I’ve written a quick list of really beginner points, just to make sure you don’t trip over these low-but-invisible hurdles.
1) Never use the word ‘company.’ A law firm and a company are different things.
2) Spell the firm’s name right (Don’t roll your eyes at me.) It is Baker McKenzie, not Baker & Mckenzie. Allen & Overy not Alan and Ovary. Simmons & Simmons, not Simmon‘s and Simons. It costs millions in re-branding when a firm changes its name- the least you can do is spell it right (which includes the ‘&’)
[Update: I spelled a firm’s name wrong in a recent post. If you spotted it…well…ten points to Gryffindor.]
3) Stop saying ‘you’ and ‘your.’ It is always ‘the firm’ and ‘the firm’s.’
4) Don’t use bullet points. This isn’t the last paragraph in an exam when you’re running out of time. Demonstrate your beautiful writing skills by using full prose.
5) Your application should be at least 40% research. Go through your application and highlight all the details about the firm in yellow. If it doesn’t glow like the sun, you need more.
6) Include everything law-related in the work experience section. Don’t be tempted to miss out presentations, open days, workshops and dinners.
7) Treat every application like it’s an essay; an essay that your whole degree depends upon! That means bullet pointing ideas, researching, drafting, re-structuring, re-drafting and proof reading. PROOF READING. And give yourself ample time. (I recommend no less than 2 week’s worth of evenings and weekends per application). I can hear you freaking out. But it’s way better to invest this time in one application and get it, than in 5 applications and get none.
8) Don’t go banging on about another woman…I mean, firm. If you had a really amazing time at a workshop run by a different firm, great! You should 100% talk about that. But focus on what you did and what you learned. If I were writing about it anywhere other than the work experience section, I wouldn’t even include the firm’s name. I think that saying, ‘I attended a workshop on M&A, and here’s what I learned’ (paraphrased) would suffice.
9) Make each application unique to the firm. (Ok, to be fair everyone tells you this) Rule of thumb: if it would take you less than an hour to make this application work for another firm, your application needs work. That’s not to say you should burn it to the ground, but you probably haven’t included enough research. Cut out the waffle, write efficiently and make room for more firm info.
10) Be strategic. Some firms recruit their trainees almost exclusively from the vacation schemes. At these firms, there might be 1000 applications for 4 Training Contracts. Now, I’m an optimist to the end, but even I don’t fancy those odds. So before you apply for a TC, find out if the firm is like this. Sometimes the website tells you, but you can also get a vague idea of the number of direct TC applicants they recruit by seeing how big their vac schemes are, and how many they run. If the firm invests time and money into running 2 schemes every spring, summer and winter, they are going to recruit largely from these schemes. Otherwise, the firm would be wasting money.