updated on 18 May 2021
As candidates begin to embark on the task of applying to multiple firms, one thing that will quickly become apparent is the use of long answer questions on application forms. Although many still require a cover letter, a great number of firms choose to ask specific, more probing questions. The good news is that this provides you with information about what matters to the firm and so offers some direction. However, these questions can be difficult to navigate and often come with restrictive word limits that force you to be very precise. With that in mind, we’ve gathered up some of the dos and don’ts for long answer questions.
Do: Select your firms wisely and take your time.
Don’t: Use a scattergun approach
It can be tempting to apply for as many roles as possible and while in an area as competitive as law it’s best not to put all your eggs in one basket, it is important to find a balance. These applications take time and many firms share the same deadline days making it easy to spread yourself too thin. Don’t pick too many firms. Firms will notice if you’ve applied to countless others because your research will be superficial, your long answer questions lazy or generic, and your meticulous attention to detail lacking. A solid application to five or six firms will be better than a weak one to 20.
Do: Tailor each application
Don’t: Repeat the firm’s words back to them
We speak to many firms who are tired of reading vague answers that could apply to any other firm. Recruiters see thousands of applications and have a deft eye for spotting an answer that has been prepared with numerous firms in mind. Find out what the firm and, particularly their fee-earners, do and focus on why that appeals to you. However, beware of simply telling the firm something they already know, such as regurgitating a press release or case study you’ve seen. That will simply show them that you’ve done research but haven’t thought about how that research inspired you to apply to them.
Do: Pick a lane and decide what to focus on
Don’t: Just split up a cover letter or copy and paste
Nobody is interested in everything, and with only 250 words to explain why you want to be a solicitor, you can’t possibly be expected to cover everything the firm does. So be true to yourself and your interests. If you have a cover letter prepared, it can be tempting to simply chop chunks out and paste them in but your best answers will be much more successful if you approach the firm with a refreshed, focused commitment to the question.
Ultimately, you should be treating your applications like a first interview and a chance to sell yourself. Remember to keep a copy ready for an interview or assessment centre, although most application providers store these in your account. So, take your time, proofread (ask someone else to proof it as well if you can) and try to enjoy writing them. After all, this is something you are passionate about, so why not appreciate the process?