LET’S PLAY: Application Cliché Bingo!

Grab your application and one of those bingo pens, and let’s see how many clichés you’ve got! If you get all twelve, email me. You should get an award or something.


Britain leaving the EU is an important thing. It is going to influence absolutely everything in the commercial world. But it’s just too obvious. You can’t show off your amazing commercial awareness by discussing something that everyone knows about. And if your commercial awareness isn’t amazing, you’re not going to fool anyone by talking about Brexit. Frankly the only thing Brexit is good for is boring the graduate recruiters to tears.

Yes, you need to be able to talk about Brexit confidently. And yes, you can mention it in passing. But if they ask you for a news story you have been following lately and you proceed to ramble on about Brexit, the graduate recruiters are going to switch off.

So please please please find something more interesting, unique and niche to talk about. (And that doesn’t mean artificial intelligence, the big four providing legal services or cryptocurrency. I know your game).

training contract brexit vacation scheme help application advice assessment centres
This does not need to be you- sing a different tune

Friendly Atmosphere

Graduate recruitment is a sophisticated marketing campaign. They are selling the firm to you because they know that after a few years, you will become profitable to them. However, no one is going to apply for a job with a firm that looks frightening and unfriendly. But law firms DO look frightening and unfriendly. They have huge glass buildings with serious men walking about in suits looking…scary. This puts graduate recruitment teams in a bit of a PR bind, so they tend to go a little OTT on the ‘friendly’ campaign.

Maybe you think I’m being too cynical? Well. Here are four good reasons why you shouldn’t talk about the firm being a friendly place to work in your application:

  • Lots of law firms are far too big to judge as a whole. Each department will have its own little atmosphere, and the friendliness of that atmosphere will probably fluctuate based on how busy everyone is and / or how close it is to Christmas.
  • All firms say they are friendly/ welcoming / collegiate. If some firms are genuinely friendlier than others, how will you know which ones are which?
  • Even if you are in a super friendly firm, if your supervisor hates you, you are going to have a rough ride. So friendliness isn’t the be-all and end-all anyway.
  • It’s a weak point taking up important words you could be using on something impressive and unique.

[Point of clarification: most of the people I have met in law firms have been really lovely. But I genuinely believe this would be the case whichever firm I was in. Therefore, it’s a bit of a redundant point.]

Open door policy

See above.

Re-stating the question in your answer

Question: Please describe a time that you used excellent organisational skills.

Answer: A time when I used excellent organisational skills was…

WHY? You have so few words, why waste them? The recruiters know you’re answering that question. How? Because you’re writing it in the box underneath that question. Just jump straight in. Situation. Task. Action. Result.

Your answers should be like a bodybuilder; all muscle (your points) and no fat (your waffle). If you are tempted to re-write the question in your answer, then you’re not quite in the right mind-frame. You’re probably not trying to make enough points or give enough examples. That, or you’re listing your examples because you’re not using the STAR technique. Either way, you need to be precious about each and every word, so you have enough room to show off how fabulous you are.

training contract brexit vacation scheme help application advice assessment centres
Want your answer to pack a punch? Well…cut down on the waffle(s).

The firm’s revenue dropped last year (or something else negative about the firm)

Ok. I put my hands up. Maybe this one is partly my fault. I keep banging on at you all to do proper research and read through the firm’s annual reports. And looking at a firm’s revenue change in different departments/ locations is a good way to tell how the firm is expanding and growing. But don’t, for the love of chocolate, mention how their revenue is decreasing. You are on a date with this firm. You want them to like you. Don’t go pointing out their flaws and weaknesses. Don’t tell them that the firm you dated last week was fitter.

You should absolutely stay away from anything that makes the firm look bad. All it will do is make the recruiters question your motivation for working there. And why waste time trying to salvage a bad point when you could talk about LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE.

This is just like being a solicitor because…

Don’t compare your previous experiences to being a solicitor. Yes, you have transferable skills that you should highlight. But that time you gained the trust of those capuchin monkeys on your gap year really is nothing like developing good client relations. The point of your examples is to suggest how you will act in the future and what skills you have developed. You don’t need to make parallels and it is never very convincing when you do.

Firm Awards News flash: this is not research. Why? Because firms advertise it, as it makes them look good. Sometimes it’s even on the front page of their sites. When I was making applications, if I saw a fact on the firm’s website, I would cross it out of my answer; it’s too obvious. You want the recruiters to think you’ve done amazing research, so don’t use anything that is easily accessible. So go search for those resources that no one else is able to find, and drop in some facts the recruiters have never heard before. And anyway, firm awards mean very little. Most firms (if they’re big) have awards coming out of their ears. And they sometimes have to pay to be nominated and then again to attend the ceremony. Regardless, it’s a weak point and everyone makes it. It doesn’t matter if you drop one in, but don’t think it’s impressing anyone. And certainly don’t use an obscure award from 2014 to justify your motivation for applying. You need more than that.
It’s not necessary to have this picture here, I just really love monkeys.

This demonstrates my ability to…

Extra points if you said ‘this demonstrates my ability to work in a team.’ If you have to tell the recruiter that your example demonstrates a certain ability, then your example is not good enough. That, or you think they’re stupid.

You should write your examples out in a nice STAR format, not forgetting to include measurable results. That way the recruiter can infer which skills you used. And, added bonus, it will save you lots of words which you can put to a better use.


I was helping out at an Aspiring Solicitors workshop when one of the grad. recruiters had a mini-rant about this word. She effectively said you are not intrigued even if you think you are. Law isn’t intriguing. It is interesting and intellectually stimulating, but it’s not quite intriguing.

I don’t care if you’re intrigued or not, quite frankly. I’m just tired of reading the word. Because seriously, did all Vac scheme/ TC applicants get together and decide it was the word-of-the-year? Can’t you just say ‘interested’ like you would in any other context?

Excited / Love

I can forgive ‘excited’ depending on the context. If you say ‘I am excited by the firm’s involvement in debt capital markets,’ then I’m calling bullsh*t. You’re not excited by that. You’re lying to me. Even the people who do that sort of stuff for a living are not excited by it. However, if you say, ‘I had the exciting opportunity to study snowboarding in Switzerland on a scholarship,’ then yes, I think you were probably fairly excited by that.

And maybe it’s just because I’m from Yorkshire and am uncomfortable with feelings, but I don’t like ‘love.’ I would love to work here, I would love to do this, I would love that. It’s just sloppy writing, and it makes your application sound informal and a teeny bit desperate. Sometimes it is the only word that will work in a sentence. But if that’s the case, I think you should re-write the sentence.

training contract brexit vacation scheme help application advice assessment centres

If you’re scrabbling around for alternatives, why not try something like:

“Because of this, I want to work for Norfolk & Way as I am assured I will have the opportunity to…”


“I want to work for a law firm that strives for …something something…. as this assures me I will be given the opportunity to …something something.”


“I was very much encouraged by…”

Enthusiastic, yes. Lovey-dovey, no.

I would relish the opportunity…

The only thing you should relish is a burger.

Firm awards

This is a weak point that everyone makes. Referencing an obscure award from 2014 isn’t impressing anyone, and it certainly does not justify your motivation for applying.

And NEWS FLASH: it is not research. Why? Because firms advertise it. Sometimes it’s even on the front page of their site. When I was making applications, if I saw a fact on the firm’s website, I would cross it out of my answer; it’s too obvious. You want the recruiters to think you’ve done amazing research, so don’t use anything that is easily accessible. Go search for those resources that no one else is able to find, and drop in some facts the recruiters have never heard before.

My international background has given me a global outlook

I’ve heard this a couple of times now and I just don’t get it. When a firm says it is global and has cross-border expertise, it means it has offices all over the world and experts in those offices. And those experts understand their particular market, and are used to collaborating with other professionals in the other offices. When you say you have a global outlook, I have no idea what you mean.

Maybe you have travelled all over the world, and maybe you have an amazing understanding of all the markets in all the countries you’ve ever lived. But. You probably don’t. Not at an expert level anyway. Most people just have a particular interests in specific bits of different markets. And that’s absolutely fine. But why not talk about the knowledge you do have, rather than using this kind of odd and ambiguous phrase.

I’ve also heard people say that because they’ve had an international upbringing (or something similar), they are particularly suited to working in a culturally diverse firm. I mean, it’s a nice idea. But everyone knows an extremely well-travelled racist. (Or at least I do). And I’d like to think that we’d all try to work in a diverse environment in a way that positively contributes to an atmosphere of inclusion.

So that argument…well….

it's a no from me applications training contracts vacation schemes

If you feel adequately frustrated by this article and would like to find out what you should include in your application, why not check out this post on creating a good backstory.

However, if you’re looking for another list of application mistakes, you should take a look at 10 things you need to know (that nobody tells you) about writing applications.

4 thoughts on “LET’S PLAY: Application Cliché Bingo!

  1. I totally agree with your points and do believe applications have become sooo cliche! However, it would’ve been helpful for those reading and currently applying to provide alternatives to what to mention in their application (on areas of culture/atmosphere, brexit etc.) Its already hard as it is “to stand out” (another cliche lol)


    1. Great suggestion John! I have given some pointers in my articles in the applications category. However, I haven’t devoted a whole post to it- which I think is a really good idea.

      I will get round to that…some time…soon… 🙂


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