Readers of this blog, and my followers on Twitter, will know that I like to poke fun at CV fails. And I have to confess that when I advertised for a new trainee recently there was a small (in every sense) part of me that was looking forward to having some more hopeless candidates to laugh at.
Well, I certainly got what I asked for, and a lot more besides. There were 10 really good, serious applications, and another 10 that were marginal one way or the other. And then 55 that didn’t get off the starting blocks.
That’s nearly three quarters of the applications that we received. I was expecting it to be (and wanted it to be) really difficult to select candidates for initial interview, but in the event it wasn’t at all because so many applicants made it far too easy for us to discount them.
Some of them weren’t especially bad, as such, but just didn’t make any sort of case for the candidate’s skills or suitability for the position. Some of them had clearly just dashed off a standard letter and CV, without thinking about how an in house role might be different from private practice. And then some of them (quite a lot of them) were outright terrible, littered with spelling mistakes and poor grammar.
To me this looks like the flipside of the much-discussed over-supply of law graduates versus training contracts. I’m really pleased that we can make a small difference by offering a route to qualification for somebody who’s been overlooked by private practice. But it’s become clear that some graduates don’t get training contracts because, on the evidence of their applications to me, they don’t deserve them.
Actually, scratch that. I don’t see that students can pass their undergraduate and postgraduate legal qualifications without some understanding of the law and some analytical capacity. But all of that effort, and all of those fees, are wasted if they don’t put their intellect to work when they apply for jobs.
My view is that the law schools bear some responsibility for this, in that (in my experience at least) they don’t talk to students about what skills they will need to demonstrate to be successful in different areas of law. For example, nobody is going to make it as a contract lawyer unless they have pretty good drafting skills, so if you’re applying for commercial positions then your application has to be really well-written.
Conversely, if drafting isn’t your strong point, then maybe you should be looking at other areas of law. I have some sympathy with candidates here, because the oversupply of law graduates means that they are often so desperate to get a training contract that they’re not bothered what areas of law are covered. But the reality is that all training contracts are not equal, and candidates need to be looking at opportunities that suit their skills and capabilities, and careers officers need to be offering appropriate guidance in this area.
But, of course, there’s only so much that the law schools can do. Every law student gets told to check their applications for spelling and grammar, so what can you do with a candidate who can’t even follow that basic advice?
Some of these candidates need to take a long, hard look at themselves and their career objectives. After all, isn’t one of the attributes of a lawyer a dedication to getting things right? So if you’re not sufficiently motivated to put together a credible training contract application, it could be that you’re not suited to a career in the law.
For the others, the candidates who are bubbling under, or who feel that they didn’t get the right guidance from their law school, I’ll be posting some (mostly) serious pointers on constructing a credible application. Think of it as an expiation of my previous sins.