Get your CV and application letters right! – Nicola Laver

It’s that time of year again when law students are knuckling down to their studies while enthusiastically sending off applications for those all-important training contracts and vacation schemes.

Whilst it’s vital to ride on the initial flush of fervour of a new academic year in the search for training contracts and vac schemes before the Christmas lull arrives, it’s crucial to pay attention to the detail in applications before sending them off. Aspiring solicitors don’t need to be reminded that we’re in a climate where there are fewer training contracts than ever before, making the competition colossal.

Here are a few hints to help you draft your CV and application letter for both training contracts and vacation schemes (also see the helpful article on vacation schemes recently posted). If you take them on board it could make all the difference between success – or a dreaded rejection letter.
I’ll start with a general point: it’s a waste of your precious time to send a ‘mail-shot’ to dozens of firms – and a waste of the recipients’ time too. These can be spotted a mile off, and will end up in the bin. And any response you might actually receive will be a rejection letter.

You must also take care with application letters. It’s incredibly easy, but very lazy, to address it to ‘Sir’, ‘Madam’, ‘Graduate Recruitment Partner’ etc, and keep the body of the letter identical in each. But this won’t do you any favours. Take the time to telephone the firm to find out the name of the person you should be writing to and address it accordingly.

Include at least two sentences in your application letter to show why you are interested in this particular firm. This does necessitate a bit of research but it will be worth it: has the firm acted in a major case or deal recently, been involved in pro bono work, made (or received!) any interesting awards?

And it is vital that you tweak your CV every time you prepare a new application. If you are applying, for example, to a commercial law firm, make sure your CV does not give the impression that you’re actually more interested in working in banking or litigation. Highlight any relevant commercial work experience you have had, and what particular attributes you can bring to practice in that sector area.

Also include in your CV anything particularly interesting or unusual about you. Now is not the time to be shy: if you’ve got an unusual hobby – say so. I never tire of telling students about my best friend at university back in the noughties (and yes, it was difficult even then to secure a training contract!) who is now a successful medical negligence solicitor at a big City firm. She was the first in my undergraduate years to secure a training contract. The senior partner told her he invited her for an interview because “he wanted to see what a female traction engine driver looked like”.

Would she have been successful without this interesting hobby? Yes, I think she would because she was one of the brightest students and a former nurse, bringing previous experience to her application. But there is moral behind this. Include anything in your application that will make you stand out from the next applicant. You are worth it.

Nicola Laver is a legal journalist, legal writer and solicitor. Find out more about her work on her website and read her blog at www.lawcareerblog.blogspot.com

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