The Bizzle

"Saving your ass since 1999"

DonT wriTe LIK3 thiss: the Bizzle guide to CV basics

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…

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11 responses to “DonT wriTe LIK3 thiss: the Bizzle guide to CV basics

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention DonT wriTe LIK3 thiss: the Bizzle guide to CV basics « The Bizzle -- Topsy.com

  2. Proofreading January 13, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Bizzle

    An informative post… I’ve been the initial reviewer of applications a my old firm and spelling and grammar errors are a surefire way for an application to hit the bin (or delete button).

    With my proofreading hat on, I urge all my student clients to let me proofread CVs and letters as it’s as important as the content. Only the astute ones do!

    I’d like to steal your posts for my new proofreading blog, will that be ok? I’ll fully credit you link back etc…

    Yours truly faithfully sincerely

    Steven Mather
    @smather21

  3. Matt Broadbent January 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Hi Bizzle
    At LawCareers.Net we’ve been developing a number of tools to help with the process of getting it right by providing all readers with a free personal account on the site – MyLC.N. The idea is for it to act a repository for your accumulated research about employers, the job of being a lawyer (and its many facets) and, importantly about oneself – the part of the mix people are not necessarily great at. You can save firms you your account, keep records of anything and everything you discover about them (practice areas, deals, their values, news, personalities, the skills they desire etc.) so when you apply it is all there to work from. There is also space to store more general information relevant to the position you aspire to (eg what do corporate lawyers actually do). Finally there is a self analysis tool, ‘MySelf’, that invites you to dissect previous activities and experiences for the existence and evidence that you have the skills and competencies required to impress recruiters. It’s all at http://www.lawcareers.net – just click on the ‘MyLC.N’ button to get started.

    • legalbizzle January 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

      Needless to say, I don’t endorse any specific tool or service, but this sounds interesting – it would be good to hear about people’s experiences with this and other similar things.

  4. Pingback: Friends, Mavens, Gurus…lend me your ears…they come to bury law…not to praise it. « Charon QC

  5. Stephen January 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Yes, it should go without saying that language, vocabulary, grammar, et al, are essential tools for a prospective solicitor or barrister to have mastered. I recall reading of a historic case where it was said that a murderer was hanged by a comma. Had the comma appeared elsewhere in the sentence then the sense of the law would have been different and the convict’s life spared. The position of the comma in the sentence condemned him to death. This is indicative of the importance that language, grammar, etc, has in the practice of law.

    • legalbizzle January 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm

      Absolutely. I have some favourite punctuation fails, including one that changed the whole meaning of a clause. Also one that’s completely NWS, but that’s a different story…

  6. Pingback: Flattery gets you nowhere: the Bizzle guide to making a credible job application « The Bizzle

  7. Tom Hiskey January 13, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Great stuff as always Mr B. I bet you were nervous about typos/grammar in this post, I know I would be!

    I’d add structure to this list too. It might sound obvious, but it’s tempting to highlight stunning GCSE results and bury the drink-infused 3rd at degree level, whereas I suspect for employers the recent past is more relevant. I sometimes mention this to my fiancée if she’s writing a job application letter… she’s often tempted to start at the beginning (with degree, for example) and mention masters, work experience etc later, but if I were reading applications I’d like to go straight in to the good stuff.

    • legalbizzle January 13, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      Ha, yes – somebody pointed out a typo to me in the previous post, and I was gutted.

      I agree with you about structure – I didn’t cover it because it wasn’t so much of a problem in the applications I had, except for the CVs that just went on and on and on (see the follow up that I posted just now). But it’s definitely important, and you shouldn’t make people search for the bits that they want to read.

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