How To: Write Better Applications [Matthew Berrick]

“It’s very important that we don’t make the same mistakes twice. That’s a big part of improvement.”

Kirby Smart.

Writing a great Training Contract or Vacation Scheme application isn’t easy. It usually involves a lot of trial and error, rejection, mistakes and reflection to improve your application technique. Whilst there’s no ‘magic formula’ to make yourself the ‘perfect candidate’, there are a number of tips it can help to keep in mind when drafting your application in order to save yourself time and avoid common mistakes.

This guest post from Matthew Berrick aims to do just that by reflecting on the application process. Having come from a non-law background, Matthew has experienced first-hand the anxiety and uncertainty of the application process and wanted to provide some key tips on what he believes affects the outcome of an application. You are certainly not alone if you are looking for more advice and hopefully this will help you on your journey into law. Over to Matthew for his tips!

Dealing with rejection

A large part of what leads to a successful application is willing to accept what went wrong with other applications. Once you identify and review what went wrong, you can refocus your approach to be more successful next time. The hardest part of the application process is dealing with failure, especially when in the back of your mind other students or colleagues around you are seemingly succeeding at the same process.

Correcting, Proof, Paper, Correction, Correct, Mistake

So, how do you find out what went wrong?

The other challenge is that a lot of firms have such a high volume of applications, meaning they are unable to provide detailed feedback to individuals at the early stages of the application procedure.

Some key tips to overcome rejections and review your work include:

  • No spelling errors. One attribute the graduate recruitment team is looking for is an attention to detail.
  • Where appropriate in the application, demonstrate an ability to work with others not only as a leader but also as a listener. 
  • The most important tip that I could suggest is to use simple and digestible language in your applications. If you load your application with more complicated words than necessary, what you might find is that this affects the clarity of what you are trying to say.
  • One useful method I used to structure paragraphs to ensure my points were short, snappy and concise was S.T.A.R. analysis. Which stands for Situation, Task, Analysis and Result. 

As cliché as it sounds, the best way to find out what went wrong is to reach out to legal professionals and individuals on platforms such as LinkedIn or Twitter. In my experience, the majority of people will not respond or not be able to help. However, all you need is a few responses and individuals who are willing to help and who take the time to read over your application to tell you their thoughts.

Remember, the majority of professionals you are reaching out to have been at the same point you are, and they will have had help along the way. So, the worst that could happen is individuals ignore you or choose to not reply; you have nothing to lose by asking for help!

How many applications should I be doing each cycle?

As I am from a non-legal background, this was a question that I often asked myself. One common oversight is to take the approach of submitting applications by volume rather than quality. The common misconception is that the more applications you submit, the better your chances are. However, your chances are actually improved when you focus on the quality of applications rather than the number you are submitting. Focus on pinning down the core attributes of a firm that made it stand out to you. The problem with trying to focus on so many firms is that you inevitably will have less time to spend learning about any specific firm.

In addition, the other firms you chose to apply to might be a question asked at the interview stage. I believe this is because firms want to know that you are looking for a certain type of firm. If you have applied to several boutique firms, as well as global or international firms, it demonstrates what you are looking for to those who are considering you for a role.

How do you distinguish yourself from another candidate?

Each firm has a distinct set of values. However, this does not mean that everyone at the firm is identical and that you should completely align yourself with them to secure the job. Firm X is also looking to see how you are different and what skills you bring to the table. This is something that an individual must demonstrate, whether it’s through a particular experience, or simply reaching out for a cup of coffee and staying connected with those that work (or will work in the future) at the firm.

Good luck and stay motivated – one rejected application will be one less application away from success.

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Matthew for contributing to the blog as a guest writer. If you’d like to read more of what he has to say, you can visit his LinkedIn profile below.

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2 thoughts

  1. Totally agree with this from Matthew. It’s definitely not about the quantity of applications but the quality. And if you get your CV and cover letter right for each role you apply for then your chances will be higher. Great post!

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