True confessions of a training contract applicant - part 3
Part 3 of a recurring blog
A well-earned break
After my last blogpost the training contract/vacation scheme recruitment cycle entered something of a lull, at least for me. By the start of April I had received final decisions from all of the firms I applied to for vac schemes, but did not need to make a start on direct training contract applications just yet. As a result, I decided to take the opportunity (rarely afforded to a training contract applicant) of a stress-free break from all things law.
During my 'break' I took advantage of the fact that the majority of firms offer feedback to all those who reach an interview or assessment centre. I have had three feedback calls and each has been very useful in preparing me for the daunting prospect of actual training contract applications and interviews. They have all highlighted things that I can work on in the meantime, including my commercial awareness, attention to detail and ensuring that I hold my own during group exercises.
Improving my performance in group exercises is something I can really only work on by actually doing these exercises during assessment days – it's not easy to practise group tasks by yourself! The second point is one I can deal with and am working on in my current job, which requires a lot of attention to detail.
The first point – commercial awareness – is the easiest to address and the one most applicable to my current task, which is preparing to apply for the ten to 15 firms I have earmarked for direct training contract applications. I made the decision of which firms to apply to a fair few months ago, at the same time as I was choosing firms for vacation schemes. I originally had a 25-firm shortlist and targeted the top ten for vacation schemes. Why ten? Well, firstly it seemed a manageable number and secondly I found that there just happened to be a relatively neat divide between the firms I liked, and those I really liked!
To keep my commercial awareness up to date I regularly search for each firm I'm interested in on the various legal press websites, taking a note of any impressive cases or notable structural or strategy changes at each firm. I have continued to update my file on the commercial news story I am following continuously in order to demonstrate my interest in current affairs and the business world. I am also taking note of a number of other commercial stories and economic developments so that I have more than one choice of topic to talk about at interview.
I have now registered for email updates from all the firms I'm interested in which offer that opportunity – this is a really useful thing to do as firms will often send out emails about open days and other networking events. I'm also following as many firms as I can on Twitter and have ‘liked’ the appropriate Facebook pages, again ensuring that I stay up to date with everything on offer.
But the best way to really get under the skin of a law firm is to try to meet people who work there. I have kept an eye on LinkedIn and have been lucky enough to find that a handful of people I know from school and university now work at the firms I’m interested in. I’ve chatted with them, both online and over the odd drink as well as taking full advantage of the open days I mentioned above. This contact has ensured that I have been able to get an insight into the sort of people that each firm is really looking for and whether I'm likely to fit in and succeed there.
Training contract applications begin
We're now nearing the end of May and, despite the fact that the official training contract deadline for most firms is 31 July, my applications are in full swing. As with vacation scheme applications I know that the majority of firms will begin to look at training contract application forms on a rolling basis, and so it will (hopefully) pay to get in early.
I have dug out my original spreadsheet of firms I intend to apply to compiled at the beginning of the year, and used it to help my progress. First, I checked application deadlines as a handful of firms deviate from the standard 31 July cut-off. I made a note of the relevant dates and prioritised those firms with earlier deadlines. My next task was to reread the initial research I had done into each different firm back in September and then to begin looking through firms' websites and the legal press so as to update all the information. I particularly kept my eyes open for any structural changes at the firms and notable or interesting transactions that they had been involved in since I was last looking at them.
I have approached my training contract application forms with the belief that they will be even more heavily scrutinised and critiqued than the ones I submitted for vacation schemes. The rationale behind this belief is simply that this time round the application form will make up a greater proportion of the information that the firms assessing me will have at their disposal when reaching a decision. Unlike the firms with which I have secured vacation schemes they will not have the chance to observe me actually working for them before they consider offering me a training contract.
As a result, I have taken even more time and care over this second round of applications. I have double and triple checked the application forms myself, as well as drafting in a number of friends and relatives as (decidedly reluctant) proofreaders.
My aim is to submit between ten and 15 applications over the next two months which hopefully (if I manage a similar success rate as with the vacation scheme applications) will yield at least two to three interviews.
I don't want to get caught out with a lot to do just before the 31 July deadline – I intend to use the last weeks of that month to start preparing for my summer vacation schemes. More on those in a future blogpost.
This feature originally appeared in our May 2014 newsletter.