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The Oracle

How many training contract applications should I make?

updated on 30 June 2020

Dear Oracle

Last year I sent off over 40 training contract applications, but didn’t get one interview. What am I doing wrong?

The Oracle replies

While we don't know much about your academic background or work experience, one thing that does jump out is the sheer number of applications you have submitted - 40 is a lot! There seems almost no way that you could be putting in the required amount of care and time on each of those applications.

Submitting 10-15 carefully targeted, properly researched, checked and rechecked applications may prove more successful than dozens of identical applications.

Applying for a training contract is a competitive process. You must market yourself in the best possible light, so make sure that your applications are the best reflection of your skills and experience. When choosing which firms to apply to, make sure that you have targeted them well – do they specialise in a practice area that interests you? Are they located in a place you want to work/have a connection to? Are you being realistic about matching up to the criteria they require? Make sure also that you get as much help from any careers advice services that you can. They should be able to give you individual attention, or at least point you in the right direction.

In terms of this year's applications, we suggest that you spend approximately two days on each - researching the firm, doing a draft application, having someone else check it - to make sure that each application is polished and stands a good chance of being taken seriously by recruiters.

A standard application form, including open-ended questions can take between six and eight hours to complete. Some careers advisers we speak to advise making five to six vacation scheme and five to six training contract applications per intake. Review and check each application at least three times. Do not underestimate is the importance of time-consuming research before applying.

Identify which firms to apply to by considering the following:

  • If a firm states that it requires excellent academic achievement, do you have AAB at A level (340 UCAS points) and a 2.1 degree or above? Do you have in the key skills firms are looking for? This is where you need to use your ingenuity. Think of your legal and non-legal work experience (including pro bono and any employment experience). Mention what you enjoyed and what you learnt which demonstrates your understanding and interest in the firm and its clients' industry sectors.
  • Highly desirable/essential transferable skills are: client service; the ability to build professional relationships (ie, networking); innovation and creativity; an interest in the commercial world; and teamwork. In outlining these skills, give specific examples from your academic, work and general interests.
  • Why that firm? Often candidates talk in very general terms. Simply mentioning that the firm has a diverse portfolio of clients, is a great place to work and a strong international network does not cut it and will be an instant screen out! As a guide, you should apply 'the power of three' to answer this question (ie, three specific reasons supported by precise evidence or facts). Above all, it is most important you come across as a candidate who has made an informed and considered choice in applying to each firm.