Finding a training contract: research, application and interview

Finding a training contract is a tough process. Read on for some top application and interview tips.

Finding a training contract can be a frustrating process. The profession is highly competitive and your rivals for training contracts are among the best graduates in the country, while the number of training contracts has still not recovered to pre-2008 levels. However, with good grades and thoroughly researched and well-prepared applications, you can give yourself a much better chance of impressing recruiters than the majority of candidates who apply.

During your search, remember the following tips:

  • Be persistent, realistic and ready to put a lot of thought and effort in.
  • Do your research and target the firms that you wish to work for. Decide what type of work you want to do (eg, criminal, family or commercial). Carefully consider the size of firm at which you want to work, as well as geography - you need to be able to convincingly justify why you have applied and why you are right for the firm. Read the firm's brochures to get an initial feel for its practice areas and culture, but be sure to do further research into the firm online and in the legal press.
  • Concentrate on a few applications at a time and address them personally. Always prepare an individual covering letter - this is your chance to impress and market yourself. Show the firms that you know about them in some detail.
  • Get your CV and covering letter checked. Career services and recruitment agencies are usually more than willing to oblige, while you can also run it past friends and family members (who have a good eye for spelling and grammar).
  • Apply in good time. You can check firms' deadlines for training contract applications on LawCareers.Net (LCN), but firms will not wait until after the deadline to begin reviewing applications and offering interviews. It is therefore best to start early, spend plenty of time on making a top-notch application and submit well before the deadline.
  • Consider in-house legal departments, local government departments, the magistrates' court service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Government Legal Service, which are also training contract providers. Learn more about these employers in LCN's Alternative Careers section.
  • Get involved with your local Junior Lawyers Division Group  - contact details are available on the Junior Lawyers Division website. Work experience is always viewed favourably. It's important to try to secure a place on a vacation scheme, as this is a key part of the assessment process for most firms; many hire a large proportion of their trainees from the candidates who complete their vacation schemes. However, all employment experience can be viewed favourably if you present it in the right way, so if you worked as a waiter/waitress, for example, be sure to emphasise how certain skills that you used in the role had a lasting positive effect that could be transferred into working at a law firm.  
  • Working as a paralegal may provide the way in. Increasingly, firms are taking on LPC graduates as paralegals before offering training contracts, by way of a probationary period (however, beware that this can be open to abuse). It is also possible to skip a formal ‘period of recognised training’ altogether and apply to the Solicitors Regulation Authority to be granted qualification as a solicitor on the basis of your paralegal experience. However, this is no easy shortcut and not all paralegal roles will afford the breadth of experience you need to qualify. Read our feature to find out more about working as a paralegal and its potential benefits.
  • Be as flexible as possible in terms of where you can work.
  • Use university careers services for interview practise and links to local firms. Talk to people who have already had interviews. Anticipate the questions and prepare yourself for answers.
  • Use the free Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook to aid your research. Ask your university law department or careers service for a copy, or see LCN).
  • Note that a 2.2 isn't a complete bar on entry to the profession, although candidates with a 2.1 or higher stand a much better chance of getting a training contract. If you have a 2.2, play on other strengths of your CV. If you have any specific reasons for not attaining a higher grade, then most firms will take them into account. Firms are not merely looking for academic excellence but also for communication skills and enthusiasm for the law.
  • Don't forget to read our advice on researching firms when preparing to apply.
  • You should also read through LCN's guidance on the formal writing techniques you'll need to use when writing your applications.

Notes for interviewees:

  • Remember your aims at the interview stage are to sell yourself and to evaluate the job, to see if you want it.
  • Get to know the job description and person specification.
  • Anticipate questions along the lines of, "If you were faced with this situation, how would you tackle it?"
  • Be prepared to quote examples of your achievements to back up claims you make about your attributes - make sure that you know everything you wrote on your CV well, because you're bound to be asked about it.
  • If it's a panel interview, find out the names of the panel members so that you can refer to them by name when answering their questions.
  • Prepare questions on matters you need to know about the job title, overall purpose, tasks, responsibilities, your immediate line manager, and methods used for judging your progress.

At the interview:

  • Relax and act naturally - maintain good eye contact with the interviewer(s). Answer calmly; do not rise to the question.
  • Don't just answer questions, ask them too - make it a discussion if you can.
  • Address your answers to all your interviewers by establishing eye contact with each of them at the start of the interview and including each of them when you're speaking. Be positive, sell your attributes and quote your achievements.
  • Don't be negative and cause doubts - don't criticise your current workplace, your boss or yourself.
  • Acknowledge any weaknesses mentioned and explain specifically how you intend to improve on them.
  • At the end, ask if the interviewer has any reservations about you handling the job. Sum up how you see the position. Confirm your real interest and enthusiasm. Express thanks. Send the employer a letter straightaway.

Dummy questions:

  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • What did you learn from your last job?
  • What appeals to you most about this job?
  • What do you know about us?
  • What is your main form of relaxation?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • If asked to carry out instructions you disagreed with, what would you do?
  • What is more important to you - salary or job satisfaction?
  • If you joined us, how long could we rely on you to stay?
  • Tell me about your hobbies/ the achievements of which you are most proud.

Finally, be sure to digest our tips for a successful interview. Good luck!

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