Shots fired: a critique of expert advice

Yesterday I read some advice that made me feel panicky. Which is ridiculous, as I already have a training contract. So, like the history student that I am, I’m going to work through it and pick apart the points in its argument. And that way, when you read stress-inducing your-efforts-aren’t-good-enough advice, you can remember this article and go happily about your day.

I found it in an article written by a director of a legal recruitment company (I know, I’m taking on the big boys here but…I call it as I see it). The post caught my attention because it’s called ‘How badly do you want a training contract? Test yourself.’ Not only is this click-baity and lame, but it makes it sound as though you need to be desperate to be successful, which is nonsense.

Here’s the first (and in my opinion, the worst) question.

Have you made less than 20 applications for a training contract?

Yes. I made a grand total of 4 applications for vacation schemes.

Believe it or not there are careers advisers in certain universities and colleges in the UK who advise potential training contract applicants to only make less than 20 applications for either training contracts or vacation placements. This is absolute nonsense. I am not sure which planet these careers advisers are coming from. If the advice they are giving is of this standard I seriously question whether or not that particularly [sic.] institution should even have a careers service in the first place. This is irreparably damaging certain students’ prospects of success in the legal profession.

I have spoken to a number of graduate recruiters, and I have never heard any of them suggest you make more than 20 applications per recruitment cycle (which is presumably the time-frame the author is referring to). Most suggest doing somewhere between 8 and 12.

If you’re not convinced, a rough equation can show why you probably can’t make 20 good applications in a year. (You can obviously do 20 bad ones, but what’s the point?)

Let’s say it takes you three weeks, from start to finish, to write an application. That is approximately how long it took me, when doing it alongside my degree and some extra curriculars. (It also factors in preparation time for tests, video interviews and assessment centres).

As there are only 52 weeks in a year, you can write just over 17 applications in total. Give yourself two weeks off at Christmas, a nice summer holiday with your other-half, a boozy city break for your birthday, a week off to see your Grandma and a long weekend in bed recovering from burn-out and that gives you….. 46 weeks in total (i.e: just over 15 applications).

However, this doesn’t take into account the fact that for some parts of the year, firms are not accepting applications. And a number of your applications will be for open days, not vacation schemes or training contracts. So, that brings the number right down to….oh I don’t know, between 8 and 12? Funny that.

assessment day training contract vacation scheme video interview tips help advice
When you try to write 20 applications in a year

There is no magic number of applications to make for training contracts. You make as many as it takes to get to where you need to be.

This is true. No complaints here. Keep writing great applications every year until you get your dream job. (Just perhaps don’t try to cram 10 years worth of applications into six months).

Furthermore, you do not tell firms how many applications you are making if you get to the interview stage. There are techniques for dealing with this.

I have never been asked this. The closest you are likely to get is ‘are you applying to any other firms?’ I always thought the best technique was to give them the names of two other firms that are their direct competitors (ideally ones you are actually applying to). This way it is clear you have an application strategy. It would be unwise to tell the grad. recruiter at Clyde & Co that you are also applying to a small personal-injury firm in Aberdeen. They’ll doubt your motivation, and quite rightly.

Only someone who has made over a thousand applications for a training contract can say that they have done everything they could to get one through making applications.

No. This is not true. Someone who has sent 1000 applications has done nothing but send 1000 applications. They haven’t asked for help.  They haven’t gotten feedback. They haven’t applied that feedback. They haven’t improved their writing skills. They haven’t made a great first impression at an open day. They haven’t slaved away at reasoning tests until they ace them every time. They haven’t stayed up late, saying their competencies out loud until they sound natural. They haven’t balanced their time between a job and an evening course to improve their CV. They really haven’t done anything at all, other than send 1000 applications. Big. Whoop.

assessment day training contract vacation scheme video interview tips help advice
Did this monkey take 1000 selfies? No. He took one, and made sure it was good. 

If you’re reading this article and I’m making you squirm because you’ve sent quite a few applications, let me apologise. My intention isn’t to make anyone feel self-conscious. I made very few applications but I spread them over two years. This gave me loads of time to develop my skills and improve. So my advice to you is, if you are getting nowhere slowly on the application-front, think about your personal development. How have you improved since that first application? You should be working on getting better every single time. And if you are, it’s not going to take you 1000 applications to get a training contract.

So how badly do you think you really want a training contract? Have you given up your part-time job that pays for your evenings out in the pub on a Friday night in order to spend that time instead looking around for work experience that will get your legal career going?

DO NOT DO THIS. Your part-time job is a really valuable thing. The money will allow you to stay overnight in a new city before your assessment day, rather than getting an early morning train. And this could be a make-or-break factor because it has a massive impact on your performance. A job also looks really great on your application, as it shows you can juggle responsibilities as well as behave like an employable adult. Why in the world would you give this up?

Moreover, a grad. recruiter once told me that having one fixed thing a week that lets you blow off steam is vital to stress-management. So you go to the pub and you enjoy it guilt free!

I know I will be….

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