In my first year of university, I sent off applications for first-year schemes feeling really confident about them. A couple progressed to the assessment stage but I got no interviews whatsoever. I was very disheartened and for vacation schemes, I tried to get as much information about how to write a good application as possible. And it worked! I've had a really good amount of interview invites. So, I’m going to impart a couple of personal things that I think have really changed for me over the last year in my applications.
1) Time – Good applications won’t be bashed out in an hour. I used applications as a break from exam revision (fun, I know!) and stopped and started throughout January. As long as you aren’t submitting hours before the deadline, there is no problem with coming back to it. Just be aware that it will probably take longer for recruiters to get to your application the closer to the deadline you submit. And if it is rolling recruitment, you may risk having a smaller chance of progressing.
2) Research – Research is really important. Find out what the firm is known for, what work it has done and why this interests you. Some firms may be known for one thing (eg, private client), but are working really hard to build another area (eg, their commercial practices) so mentioning these could be an angle that others don’t take. Equally, if a firm has a recent trend of growth in a certain area, acknowledge this and why it is good, rather than focusing on the areas it is already established in. Knowing different deals that a firm has been involved in that are interesting to you rather than the ‘headline’ ones that come up a lot. I looked for luxury fashion brands the firm had represented, as that’s something I had an interest in.
3) Copy and paste? – The general rule is don’t copy and paste. However, I think there is some room for flexibility in this. Your answers to some questions, especially for more personal ones such as achievements or awards, might be the same across the board. These applications are long, so as long as you don’t think there is anything that would fit better in that section, copy and pasting from another application might be ok. However, some questions really are specific to that firm. Competency questions need to be tailored to that law firm's requested competencies (usually found on the graduate recruitment website). Your answer to the question of 'why that particular firm' must be tailored to that firm. It is not good enough to put a generic answer for why you would want to work in any magic circle/private client/ medium commercial etc. firm. I have been told a lot that if you can replace the name of the firm with another and it still makes sense, it is not specific enough. This is where the personal experiences of the firm really make it easier. It is so hard to distinguish a firm's unique points from their websites as some are similar, do similar work or have similar strategies. That said, with good research you will learn what makes a firm unique and what they like to be known for.
4) Know your audience – I learnt that every graduate recruitment team will have certain things they do and don’t like in applications. The best way to find these out is to go to the firm and ask questions. They may impart helpful advice on the types of answers they see all the time and how to avoid these.
5) Be yourself – This year, I really put a lot more of myself into my applications. If I had personal stories about experiences at law firms that were positive, I put them in my applications. Some law firms don’t like name dropping on applications but a simple question to a trainee or recruiter about how they view this will let you know that firm’s stance. I put in stories about what I was passionate about, even if they weren’t particularly related to law. Being yourself on a written form is easier said than done, but I found that it was easier to write about why I really wanted to work at a firm if I really did want to work there.
6) Be concise - A really well structured, clear answer reads so much better. I read back on my applications from last year and saw how much I went on. It was difficult to read and meant my experiences got lost in extra words and waffle.