Competition for training contracts is at an all-time high. In its Winter 2015 Graduate Recruitment Survey, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) reported that law firms receive 42 applications for every training contract vacancy they advertise.
And according to the Law Society's annual report, just 5,001 training contracts were registered from 16,116 law graduates in England and Wales in 2014.
Those numbers speak for themselves; bagging a training contract has never been harder. So, in such a competitive environment, you can't afford to make silly mistakes during the application process.
I've listed the top 10 slip-ups (beyond the usual CV spelling and grammar errors) I see candidates making throughout the recruitment process.
1. Not putting yourself out there
Students and graduates always ask me: 'How can I stand out?' The answer I give is simple: attend as many events as possible, and make contacts and friends.
The trouble is not many people go away and follow that advice. You can meet recruiters really easily at a university careers event, or an insight evening. Start by learning how to network effectively. And say 'yes' to as many events as you can. If you don't know anyone at first, you soon will.
2. Applying for the wrong vacancy or year
Many firms recruit far in advance of the training contract starting, which can be confusing when it comes to applying. So, first things first, make sure you're applying for the year you're eligible for.
For example, if you're a first year student who graduates from a three-year law degree in 2018, you won't be eligible to apply for training contracts that commence in 2018. Why? Because you'll also need to complete the one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC) before your training contract starts.
This means you'll need to apply for training contracts that commence in September 2019 (which is when you'll have finished your LPC).
3. Mentioning an office location that doesn't exist
If you tell us how excited you are to work in our Bristol office, it's clear you've not done your research or you're confusing us with another firm. (Shoosmiths doesn't have a Bristol office - although I wouldn't mind if we did!)
4. Selecting options that don't apply to you, such as mitigating circumstances
In Shoosmiths' online application form, we ask: 'Are there any important mitigating reasons why you feel the exam results you have listed do not fully reflect your abilities?'
Be sure you know what a mitigating circumstance is before you tick this box. It isn't the place to give us a step-by-step account of reasons why you resat exams, or why you got a 2.2 when you think we want candidates with a 2.1. We know that things happen and sometimes you don't achieve what you set out to; that's just life!
What we really want to see is a genuine reason why you didn't achieve the grades you were predicted. We'd usually expect you to have support from your school or university to show that they also took your circumstances into account.
5. Using the wrong firm name
The first question on our application is: 'Describe why a legal career at Shoosmiths appeals to you.' If you go on to describe why a legal career at [insert competitor law firm name here] appeals to you, it's obvious that:
- you have poor attention to detail
- Shoosmiths doesn't appeal to you as much as the other firm
We know we're probably not the only firm you're applying for. But we want to know we're a firm you've considered at length and know the reasons why you might like to join us.
6. Failing to use the full word count
We set a word count on our application form questions because we believe you should be able to answer them in the best way by using the full word count (which is 300 words).
If you're seriously short on words you won't be answering the question properly. Be sure to include all the relevant skills and knowledge we're asking you for. And remind us of the value you think you'll bring to our firm. Even better; tell us why those skills and experiences will make you a great lawyer!
7. Not formatting your answers properly
As a lawyer you need to communicate clear advice to your client in an easy-to-read format. If you fail to do this at the application stage, how do we know you'll be able to do it in your career?
Space out your answer and use paragraphs to convey your message. It's simple: you need a beginning, middle and end.
8. Missing out entire questions
Yes, this really does happen. Triple check you've answered every question. Then check again. Then ask your friend to check it too.
Missing out a whole question is the equivalent of not submitting an application at all. Just don't do it!
9. Forgetting that recruiters are human too!
It's easy to think that the HR and recruitment team is one big faceless team of people shooting off rejection emails left, right and centre. Usually it's just a team of one or two - in fact, you've probably met us at a careers fair.
There is one thing that's guaranteed to stick in our minds, though. And that's the name of a disappointed candidate who sent a mean email one minute past the time they thought they'd hear back about the vacancy.
In any professional career you'll need to take the highs with the lows and remain positive, even if things don't go your way.
10. Not engaging with us on social media
We love social media because it's such an easy way for us to show you first-hand what working at Shoosmiths is all about. Our trainee solicitors help to run our social media pages, along with the recruitment team.
We're on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and, of course, LinkedIn. We post about what we're doing, legal updates, deadlines, careers advice, commercial awareness and corporate responsibility.
Strangely, students are still reluctant to engage with firms on social media. Perhaps because you think we'll look at your profile and judge you (we don't!), or because you don't know how easy it is to have lots of advice just turn up on your news feed.
Quite simply, ask a question via social media and you're guaranteed a quick response. Why not hit one of those links to follow us now and ask a question? You can ask anything!
These are the most common mistakes I see candidates making on their application journeys year after year. But they're the mistakes that never seem to get mentioned! So bin the blunders and maximise your chances of training contract success!