So, at the end of my little rant about rubbish applications I promised to post some constructive guidance about how to put together a credible application. I’ve got quite a bit to say, so I’m going to do this in two parts.
A lot of applicants for my recent trainee vacancy made really fundamental errors in their CVs and cover letters. So, at the risk of repeating some of the standard advice that’s easily available elsewhere, I’m going to start with the basics. All of the errors covered are, unfortunately, genuine.
1. Don’t make assumptions Training contracts in the big commercial firms generally start in March or September, but my guess is that in house teams recruit to fill immediate vacancies. That’s certainly what I’m doing, so applications for “your training contract starting in September 2011” were no good to me. If the advert isn’t clear, ask.
2. Make sure you’re eligible If you haven’t completed the LPC, you can’t do a training contract. And don’t complain to me; it’s the SRA’s fault.
3. Follow the instructions If your application is to be made by way of CV and cover letter, then write a letter. A proper letter, addressed and signed off in the appropriate formal manner. And, yes, do this even if you’re sending it by email (although obviously a physical signature isn’t required in those circumstances).
Why is this important? Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I ask for a cover letter because I want to see how good you are at writing a cover letter. If you don’t actually write one, then there’s only one conclusion that I can draw.
4. Proof read I received 75 applications for a single vacancy, and my guess is that private practice rates are higher. This needs to be reduced to a manageable number for interview, and one of the easiest ways is to chuck out anything that has spelling errors, poor grammar, and other mistakes. Don’t make it so easy to get rid of your application – check it all several times, and get someone else (preferably a lawyer or similar) to check it as well.
Again, this is important because I’m assessing your application (and especially your cover letter) for the standard of your writing. And, as brutal as it may seem, if you make a lot of mistakes in your application, and if you can’t see them when you go back over it, you may not be suited for a career in commercial law.
5. Sense check Typos and grammar are (or should be, for law graduates) relatively easy to check. There are other mistakes that can be harder to see, however, because we know what we intended to write and our minds sometimes tell us that that’s what’s on the page even if it’s not.
This matters, because mistakes like this can make a candidate look a bit silly. One of my recent candidates managed, through the omission of a crucial word, to tell me that he had been taught the value of team work personally by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Now, it may seem a bit harsh to make a decision on a candidate solely on the basis of an easily made error like that. But the point is that some candidates don’t make those errors, and which would you rather be?
6. Format properly I’m not hiring a graphic designer, so CVs and letters don’t need beautiful design. But CVs that switch between fonts, and are heavy on the bold and italics, are hard to read and make me wonder if you think that formatting is a substitute for personality.
And then there are the formatting fails that are frankly inexplicable. How hard is it to make sure that all of the text in a letter is the same size?
7. Don’t use a standard letter Several candidates wrote at length about how respected my firm is (we aren’t a firm), how my employer delivers quality legal services to its clients (we don’t deliver any legal services at all to our clients), and how respected our training program is (this is only the second time we’ve recruited a trainee).
This is clearly a letter that’s been written for applications to private practice. The first two statements are obviously wrong, because it’s an in house position. For the third, well, you shouldn’t say anything in your application that you don’t know for sure is true.
Well, all of that is probably preaching to the converted, even if it clearly needs saying again and again to some candidates. In my next post I’ll cover some of the things that are a bit harder to get right.
To be continued…