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Four tips for writing a great application

Four tips for writing a great application

Harriet Iles


What goes into a well-written application? 

Training contract and vacation scheme assessment centres are commonly seen as the most challenging part of the process – and are the most dreaded.

For applicants, it can be easy to hyper fixate on the future and underestimate the importance of an excellent written application. Here are four tips to help you write a great application.

One: focus on you!

The written application is the firm's first insight into who you are as a person and is the first time they've heard your voice as a candidate. Your application likely accompanies a separate list of your work experience and academic qualifications, so it's essential to show the firm who you are beyond what they already know! 

You should always look for ways to display why you're the right candidate, even in questions that don't directly ask for this information.

For example, in a question asking you to explain some skills that a good lawyer may have, you should:

  • tell the firm how you have developed these skills yourself;
  • convey your reasons and motivations for a career in law – if you don't have legal experience, use your other experiences to make yourself stand out;
  • answer the questions you’re being asked; and
  • tie everything back to you.

One of the most challenging parts of the application process for me was getting used to selling myself. I thought, because I didn't have legal experience, I had no experience. I failed to realise that most kinds of experience lent many transferable skills to commercial law, such as client care, communication and problem-solving. 

Two: answer the questions

When you have a template of answers prepared from previous applications, or you're having a hard time thinking of a response to a question because of the way it's worded – it can be easy to try to 'mind dump'. However, try not to do this! 

There's no greater waste of your time, and the time of the graduate recruiter, than not paying attention to what you're being asked. A competent lawyer should be able to take and understand instructions, so show off how well you can do this.

Three: plan

As with any great piece of work, you must invest the right amount of time into planning before execution. If you're having difficulty understanding the question, use bullet points to jot down possible ideas or even reword the question.

Alternatively, get a peer to read the question, especially a friend who has written successful applications or is in the same position as you. 

When you're writing a rough draft, make sure you constantly remind yourself of the question you're being asked. Perhaps copy it in the header!

An effective method of staying on topic is to create a highlighting legend. When I do this, I highlight separate areas of the question and then highlight parts of my answer where I have addressed these. This ensures that the question is being answered in full and nothing has been left out.

You should also plan your time – write down when you aim to complete first, second and third drafts, or specific sections. 

Four: DRAFT, then draft again

Once you've finished planning, get your first draft done! 

Avoid taking too long getting your initial thoughts down on the page. Trying to create a perfect first draft is something that I've previously drained away days of productivity trying to achieve.

It helps to get into a focused state of mind by:

  • making yourself a coffee;
  • sitting in a quiet space;
  • switching off your phone; and
  • spending a few hours just writing. 

Once you finish your first draft done, spend time editing until you’re satisfied, then give it some space.

If you've left yourself ample time between the writing stage and the application deadline, you should be able to provide yourself with at least a day or two to refresh your eyes.

If you can, use your university careers service to help.

Find out more on how to use your careers service in this LCN Says: ‘Five ways to make the most out of your careers service’.

Send drafts to careers advisers for feedback, and if this is not possible, send a copy to a friend or a mentor. Any fresh pair of eyes will provide value!

After this, go through this process a few more times until you feel confident with your final draft.

I hope these tips were helpful.

If you’re writing applications: