How many training contract applications should I make?

Dear Oracle

Last year I sent off over 40 training contract applications, but wasn't invited for a single interview. What am I doing wrong? How can I improve things this year?

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 lavishing the requisite amount of care and time on each of those applications. We tend to advise that 20 or fewer carefully targeted, properly researched, checked and rechecked applications may prove more successful than dozens of identikit applications that have been sent off in a scattergun approach!

It sounds obvious, but it really is a very competitive process. You need to be marketing yourself in the best possible light, which means making sure that your applications are the best reflection of your skills and experience. When choosing which firms to apply to, you have to make sure that you have targeted them well – do they do the sort of work you are interested in? Are they located in a place you want to work/have a connection to? Are you being realistic about matching up to the sorts of criteria they apply? Make sure also that you get as much help from any careers advisory 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 - all in an effort to make sure that it is perfect in every way!

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. Don’t be afraid to review and check the same application at least three times. Do not under-estimate how important the research part of the application process is. You need to come up with a plan consisting of a list of firms where you match the criteria and skill set they are looking for. If you do this right, the firms will have a number of key similarities such as practice areas or sectors and you will have a strategy to your research! To compile your list, ask yourself the following:

  • If a firm states that it requires excellent academics, do you have AAB at A level (340 UCAS points) and a 2.1 degree or above? If not, we suggest you look at another firm.
  • Do you have experience in the practice areas/sectors that the firm specialises in? This is where you need to use your ingenuity! Think of your legal and non-legal work experience (including pro bono, part-time and Saturday jobs). Mention what you enjoyed and what you learnt which demonstrates your understanding and interest in the firm and its clients' industry sectors.
  • Transferable skills - does your skill set match up? Highly desirable/essential transferable skills are: client service excellence; the ability to build professional relationships (ie, networking); innovation and creativity; commercial acumen; 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.

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