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Tailoring your application

Tailoring your application

Matthew Dow


Almost every graduate recruiter has told me that the secret to vacation scheme success is tailoring your application form. What recruiters mean by this is specifically focusing on the firm to which you are applying in your answers. Recruiters must narrow down successful candidates from thousands of applications – therefore, it is the candidates who have researched the firm who stand out.

Admittedly, this tailoring process is time consuming. For instance, I have heard anecdotes that a minimum of eight hours should be spent on any application. Now, people differ and eight hours is, at best, an artificial yardstick for quality. Nonetheless, it is advisable for all applicants to examine firms in depth and to understand each firm’s key practice groups before answering the open questions.

Why research?

Lengthy research permits better insight into the nuances of a firm’s work. Further, you will pick up on the hints and phrases that the recruitment team have carefully chosen to distinguish their firm.

For instance, perhaps US Law Firm A describes itself as an ‘international’ firm, rather than emphasising its US origins. Alternatively, Firm B portrays itself as an IP specialist boutique. Elsewhere, Firm C may pride itself on its legal tech, while Firm D highlights its tradition and historic client relationships. Ultimately, if a candidate’s description of a firm’s identity is incongruent with how it markets itself on its website, the application will not be sufficiently specific.

Saving time

It is a false economy to send out a plethora of blanket applications. Clichés about international work, interest in business and a desire for global travel simply will not cut it.

Generic candidates will almost certainly receive equally generic emails containing that dreaded sentence “… after careful consideration”. This repeated rejection will mean more time being spent applying overall, rather than a strong, focused application that hopefully progresses you to an interview.

Gut feeling

It is worth considering how effortlessly this research time passes for you.

For example, did you find it engaging learning about the changes to financial regulation or was it a slog? Were you more excited by the prospect of working on yacht acquisitions than criminal defence? 

This gut feeling will give you a strong indication of whether you are truly interested in a firm’s work. This is important because if you are passionate about a particular area of law, your applications will inevitably be more tailored to that firm’s cases, clients, deals, partners and pro bono projects.

So, how to tailor your application?

Events, positions and lectures
Tailoring your application starts before the vacation scheme form even opens.

Where possible, try to attend the firm’s events. For example, the largest corporate firms will put on lectures and socials at universities, appear at law fairs and often host in-office open days. Further, the firm may have on-campus brand ambassador positions available and offer insight days of which first-year students can take advantage.

Ultimately, it is hard to justify the firm investing in you if you have failed to take advantage of abundant opportunities to get to know them. In addition, any lectures will provide you with valuable content that usually addresses the key clients and practices on which the firm focuses.

This initial impression will provide you with clear direction to focus your attention ahead of any applications. Further, the experiences will provide you with unique content that is tailored specifically to a firm’s recruitment initiatives.

I was once told that you will know when a firm is right for you because you will feel like you have “found your people”. I think that this insight regarding the importance of colleagues rings true for all firms, irrespective of their culture. Recruiters want to hire individuals that they believe will fit in at the firm.

Therefore, spending time talking to current employees or connecting with trainees on LinkedIn will help you to make your application more precise. For instance, trainees may be able to reveal niche, unpublished aspects of the firm that will impress a recruiter. This information demonstrates a candidate who has gone above and beyond to learn more about that firm.

Firm values
Almost all companies and partnerships will have a mission statement or set of values. These statements will share many common themes across firms – for example, delivering excellent client service and generating outstanding work.

Yet, contrasts in values also are useful. For instance, does the firm aspire to be the biggest or most elite? Does it use global or national terminology in its language? Are teamwork, inclusivity or entrepreneurialism mentioned at all?

Values are essential because their prominence or absence can help to distinguish firms. In addition, candidates’ answers are often assessed against these values. For example, if one of the firm’s values is excellent communication and you are asked a question about skills that lawyers need – discuss communication. Moreover, if a question enquires about how a firm differs from its competitors, discussing a value with notable examples is a strong starting point.


Eventually, all candidates realise that they must make their applications more bespoke. Of course, the difficulty in this approach is the inevitable time restrictions that each applicant faces. After all, buying a personalised suit from Saville Row takes far longer than purchasing an off-the-peg option. Nonetheless, preparing fewer tailored applications will more likely ensure that you get the results that you deserve. Importantly too, the firm will be the right fit.