As a graduate recruiter, one of the most common questions I get asked is: ‘How do I make my applications stand out?’ If I had to sum up my advice, I’d say: It’s about quality over quantity, tailoring each application to the specific employer you’re applying to and considering points from their perspective. In other words, what can you bring to the table that matches their requirements?
Below are five more top tips on how to prepare quality eye-catching applications:
TIP ONE: Read the instructions and/or questions carefully.
I’ve seen far too many applicants cut and paste their answers because they spot ‘teamwork’ or ‘organisational skills’ in the question and just use the same stock examples they’ve used countless times before, without considering the EXACT question being asked. Be concise and to the point. Use the STAR technique if appropriate and consider why the employer is asking the question. What are the key points they’re looking for?
Example: If an employer asks why you want to be a commercial lawyer at X firm you need to demonstrate you understand that a law firm is a business, it’s about assisting clients to realise their business goals. It’s about articulating why commercial law interests you and referencing X firm’s practice areas, clients and core values in your answer, if appropriate. Employers want to know why you’re interested in commercial law, NOT why you love law as a subject.
TIP TWO: Provide memorable examples to back up your statements and demonstrate relevant skills – show, don’t tell, the employer you have the desired qualities.
Consider all your experiences and transferable skills. I see far too many students reeling off skills and attributes like a shopping list. Remember; it’s quality over quantity. Back up your statements with engaging, specific and relevant examples.
Take a blank sheet of paper and brainstorm your life before beginning your application. Where did you demonstrate teamwork, resilience, self-motivation, flexibility etc. You can then refer to this and pick the most relevant example for the question. Consider, for instance, your positions of responsibility, interests, team roles, work experience, volunteering, non-legal part-time jobs, times when you’ve faced challenges/difficult situations, times when you went over and above to achieve a goal.
TIP THREE: Double-check your application for typos and errors and ensure it reads well, before submitting. This sounds so obvious but I wouldn’t continue to say it if all the applications I read were error free! Wherever possible, ask someone else to read over your application for you; it’s not as simple as completing a spell check. Failing that, step away from it and come back to revisit with a fresh pair of eyes.
You might’ve used the same adjective, verb or phrase numerous times. A word may have been repeated. If you’ve drafted and re-drafted a sentence it may not read well or be grammatically correct.
Consider using Grammarly.com, a free online assistant that will check your grammar for you. Don’t cut and paste answers, and ensure you mention the correct firm in your answers. I’ve seen applicants refer to the firm name throughout their application answers and work experience section and come unstuck because they haven’t changed all the references to the correct firm.
TIP FOUR: Personalise your application wherever you can.
Research beyond an employer’s recruitment literature and the usual student websites. Seize any opportunity to meet the employer (albeit virtually at the moment) before making your application. Try and dig deeper to understand the firm, its culture and values. Over the forthcoming months they’ll be plenty of virtual careers fairs, talks etc coming up to aid your research.
Also, could you reach out to a current or future trainee at your target firm through LinkedIn and ask if they’d mind giving up 10 minutes of their time to chat to you and answer a few questions (if you do this make sure you prepare some well researched questions).
Not only will doing this help you to enhance and tailor your answers, mentioning that you’ve met the firm will help you stand out and demonstrate your proactivity and genuine interest in them.
TIP FIVE: Whilst you’ll no doubt face a wide variety of questions when completing law firm applications, there is one question that will almost always come up in one form or another: Why do you want to work for us?
Think about why a firm is asking this. If you were the employer what would you be looking for? Those applicants who really stand out show they’ve done their homework and are able to articulate why they have a genuine interest in the firm.
Conduct thorough research but don’t just repeat this back to them. The person screening your form knows their firm’s recent client successes, award wins, culture and key clients and sectors. They want to know why this is attractive to you.
For example, if the firm is well-known for their strong real estate work, and you have completed work experience in the sector (doesn’t have to be in a legal capacity) and are able to articulate what appeals to you about this area of law, that will be far more effective than simply mentioning its strong real estate practice and reeling off a list of clients. If a firm offers a range of pro bono opportunities and you’ve really enjoyed taking part in some form of legal volunteering, then explain this is why this is so attractive to you.