Practical tips for completing excellent online application forms

Should I use my Gmail, Hotmail or an academic email address when giving contact details? How strictly are deadlines enforced? Are there any ways of saving myself some time? AllHires' Amy Elderfield has the answers!

No one wants to work in vain. Gaining a training contract is hard and an application takes hours to complete, so don't miss out because of silly avoidable mistakes.

Law firms routinely use online recruitment systems to help them administer their graduate recruitment schemes. The process of applying for a job online is straight forward, which is exactly why you should feel a sense of caution over the routine tasks!

Whether you are new to online application forms or a seasoned pro, it is worth remembering that it only takes a few silly mistakes to make your application form look bad. Some of the tips in this article may seem like obvious statements to make, but given the number of panicked calls we get (particularly just before the deadline) it seems worthwhile to reiterate!

Spamalot

Suitable contact details are a basic - but essential - part of a successful application. Firms obviously send correspondence via email, so it is important to choose an account that you have access to all year. Academic emails expire; consider this when registering an account and use another address.

When you have chosen your email address remember that up to 80% of emails are spam and so email providers have tightened junk filters. Emails in Hotmail and Gmail junk folders need to be reviewed within five and 30 days respectively – after this they are automatically deleted. Don't miss an important email.

The obvious solution is to alter your junk filter settings to allow emails from the firms which you are applying to and regularly check your emails. But this may not be enough to ensure the arrival of important correspondence. Hotmail's increased security means that, instead of falling into the junk folder, legitimate emails suspected as junk may simply disappear.

Gmail also automatically classifies incoming email into categorised tabs in your inbox. Emails relating to applications may not go directly to the 'primary' tab, so can easily be missed. It is worth checking all tabs (eg, promotions and updates) in case an email from a firm ends up in the wrong place. As with junk filter settings, you can alter the classifications.

The best advice I can offer is to use an alternative email address if possible and check the correspondence log on your application home page regularly, or contact the firm if you think you are missing emails.

Check, check and check again

I am absolutely useless at proofing my own work. This is not an excuse for not doing it, especially if a major job requirement is good attention to detail or concise writing style. It is vital that you check your applications for typos because the graduate recruiter certainly will. If you can, find a willing volunteer in a parent, friend or flat mate ask them to read over it with a fresh pair of eyes.

Sleep on it

Take your time! Start your applications early and then give yourself some breathing space. It is funny how something sounds amazing the first time around and makes absolutely no sense in the cold light of day. Always ask yourself, "Is my answer interesting?" and remember on this second read-through that you want to stand out from the crowd. If you are bored, the chances are that the recruiter will be too.

CTRL C, CTRL V

Beware: if you plan to cut and paste answers from Word, adding the wrong firm name or failing to tailor the answer to the question is brutally obvious to recruiters and will mean that your application is binned.

What not to do

It may be fun to giggle at applicants' hideous mistakes, but thousands of applications are wasted every year by a lack of attention to detail, so it pays not to be too smug. Here are a handful of common mistakes.

Txt spk ok 4 txtin

The Bible may have been translated into text speak, but law firms generally communicate in full sentences. It sticks out like a sore thumb and is best avoided.

I CAN'T HEAR YOU

Don't litter the application with unnecessary capital letters or exclamation marks. It makes it look like you are SHOUTING! And the inappropriate use of lower-case letters makes it look as if your approach is casual. For more on the writing style to use when making applications, read this handy guide.

Fun email addresses are fine for contacting your friends but they are inappropriate when it comes to applying to law firms. It is not hard to generate sensible email accounts and it is worth it in the long run!

Deadlines

Online application forms are automatically withdrawn at the deadline. If you are applying at the last minute, remember to check the time as well as the date of the deadline. Firms take a dim view of candidates who are not organised enough to submit on time.

How to impress

Online applications are deceptively easy to complete, but you need to plan your approach to them every bit as carefully as you would do with a paper application. In particular you should:

  • read all the instructions carefully and review the application form as a whole before you start;
  • work out what your main strengths are and where you will include them on the application form;
  • give full answers to every section - all the questions will have been asked for a reason;
  • avoid making statements without backing them up - simply claiming to be "an excellent team player" is weak in comparison to saying: "I demonstrated my skills within a team when I worked for the university radio station";
  • check your application as many times as you can bear and then ask your friends to check it;
  • be aware of the deadline - and submit your application in plenty of time and before it passes;
  • make the firm aware of any significant developments up until the deadline by adding information through the online application home page or by contacting the firm directly; and
  • print off a copy of your application - you'll want to review it if invited to interview.

MyLocker

MyLocker was introduced as a central hub where you can store key information about yourself in order to transfer it into the application forms of participating firms. The idea is to allow you to focus on firms' specific application requirements, such as long-answer questions, rather than spending time repeatedly entering core biographical information. It is a real time saver – learn more and sign up if you like. Some firms do not allow for the transfer of all sections, so please do not rely on the tool to speed your way through applications at the last minute.

Good luck!

The application form is a golden opportunity to market yourself to your prospective employer. Firms and chambers invest a lot of time and money in trainees and therefore it often helps to view your application as a business request for funding. Remember, it ain't over till the fat lady sings (or the deadline passes). Good luck with your applications!

Amy Elderfield leads the team at AllHires. She can be found on Twitter at @AllHires.

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