FAQ: online application forms
Should I use my Hotmail address when giving contact details? Is my personal information secure? How strictly are deadlines enforced? Apply4Law's Amy Elderfield has the answers!
Times have certainly changed since I graduated from university and applied for jobs using a downloadable form, extremely small writing and my fountain pen. Now law firms routinely use online recruitment systems to help them administer their graduate recruitment schemes. The process of applying for a job online has never been easier, which is exactly why you should feel a sense of caution!
Whether you are new to online application forms or a seasoned pro, it is worth remembering that it only takes a few silly mistakes to make your application form look bad. Some of the tips in this article may seem like obvious statements to make, but given the number of panicked calls we get (particularly just before the deadline) it seems worthwhile to reiterate!
Suitable contact details are a basic - but essential - part of a successful application. Most firms send correspondence via email, so it is important to choose an account that you have access to all year. Increasing numbers of hopefuls use Hotmail for their applications, which is causing a headache. Up to 80% of emails are spam and so most email providers have begun to tighten their junk filters. Emails in Hotmail junk folders need to be reviewed within five days of receipt, after which they are automatically deleted.
The obvious solution is to alter your junk filter settings to allow emails from the firms to which you are applying and to regularly to check your emails. However, this may not be enough to ensure the arrival of important correspondence. Hotmail's increased security means that, instead of falling into the junk folder, legitimate emails suspected as junk may simply disappear. The best advice I can offer is to use an alternative email address if possible and check your application home page or contact the firm if you think you are missing correspondence.
Check, check and check again
I am absolutely useless at proofing my own work. This is not an excuse for not doing it, especially if a major job requirement is a good attention to detail or concise writing style. It is vital that you check your applications for typos because the graduate recruiter certainly will.
Sleep on it
Take your time! Start your applications early and then give yourself some breathing space. It is funny how something sounds amazing the first time around and makes absolutely no sense in the cold light of day. Always ask yourself "is my answer interesting?" and remember on this second read through that you want to stand out from the crowd. If you are bored, the chances are that the recruiter will be too.
CTRL C, CTRL V
Beware: if you plan to cut and paste answers from Word, adding the wrong firm name or failing to tailor the answer to the question is brutally obvious to recruiters and will mean that your application is binned.
What not to do
It may be fun to giggle at applicants’ hideous mistakes, but thousands of applications are wasted every year by a lack of attention to detail, so it pays not to be too smug. Here are a handful of common mistakes.
Txt spk ok 4 txtin
The Bible may have been translated into text speak, but law firms generally communicate in full sentences. It sticks out like a sore thumb and is best avoided.
I CAN'T HEAR YOU
Don't litter the application with unnecessary capital letters or exclamation marks. It makes it look like you are SHOUTING! And the inappropriate use of lower-case letters makes it look as if your approach is casual.
Fun email addresses are fine for contacting your friends but they are inappropriate when it comes to applying to law firms. It is not hard to generate sensible email accounts and it is worth it in the long run!
Online application forms are automatically withdrawn at the deadline. If you are applying at the last minute, remember to check the time as well as the date of the deadline. Firms take a dim view of candidates who are not organised enough to submit on time.
How to impress
Online applications are deceptively easy to complete, but you need to plan your approach to them every bit as carefully as you would do with a paper application. In particular you should:
- read all the instructions carefully and review the application form as a whole before you start;
- work out what your main strengths are and where you will include them on the application form;
- give full answers to every section - all the questions will have been asked for a reason;
- avoid making statements without backing them up - simply claiming to be "an excellent team player" is weak in comparison to saying: "I demonstrated my skills within a team when I worked for the university radio station";
- check your application as many times as you can bear and then ask your friends to check it;
- be aware of the deadline - and submit your application before it passes;
- make the firm aware of any significant developments up until the deadline by adding information through the online application home page or by contacting the firm directly; and
- print off a copy of your application - you'll want to review it if invited to interview.
MyLocker was introduced as a central hub where you can store key information about yourself in order to transfer it into the application forms of participating firms. The idea is to allow you to focus on firms’ specific application requirements, such as long-answer questions, rather than spending time repeatedly entering core biographical information. For more information and to set up your locker, click here. Some firms do not allow for the transfer of all sections so please do not rely on the tool to speed your way through applications at the last minute.
The application form is a golden opportunity to market yourself to your prospective employer. Firms and chambers invest a lot of time and money in trainees and therefore it often helps to view your application as a business request for funding. Remember, it ain't over till the fat lady sings (or the deadline passes). Good luck with your applications!
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