Having recently recruited a trainee solicitor, this is my personal, and no doubt idiosyncratic view of what wannabe trainees need to know:
1. Proof read, proof read, proof read
Every single “how to get a training contract” interview starts with this advice, so I was amazed to read applications talking about our fantastic corporate department (we don’t have one), made silly spelling mistakes or just talked about a different firm entirely. Bear in mind your recruiter is reading more applications than she knows what to do with – you want me to make it to the end of your application before you go in the ‘No’ pile.
2. Then proof read again …
Although the candidate who was accustomed to public speaking in front of “large members of his debating society” did raise a smile …
3. Wear heels you can walk in
It’s true, we do ask the receptionist for feedback. Don’t be the candidate who “walks like a new-born goat.”
4. Bin the clichés
We know we’re a small firm – but we started keeping count of the candidates who told us that they wanted to be big fishes in small ponds. (Don’t you all watch The Apprentice? My inner Claude was dying to channel the great man, who can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCOqDBbt1ak )
5. Use your careers service
When I was an undergraduate my gorgeous housemate Lucy (all names changed to protect the innocent), used to go to the Careers Service seminars at 2pm practically every day. I wasn’t so keen on the long walk there, but did make it occasionally – and those guys are fantastic. They really can do all sorts of useful things for you, like a mock interview. The first interview you have with a solicitors’ firm really should not be the first interview you ever do – the nerves will get the better of you. Practice with your careers service, with your friends, even with your parents – just bear in mind that if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail (another cliché which cropped up with alarming frequency).
6. What are we going to ask?
Actually, pretty much nothing which you couldn’t prepare for. We conducted short(ish) first round interviews as a filtering process, largely based on an inbox exercise and advocacy exercise. In the absence of any off-the-wall questions (I wanted to ask ‘if you were a Quality Street, which one would you be?’ largely because Lucy pointed out that being a Green Triangle would tell you Everything You Need to Know) it’s exactly what you should expect – if you haven’t prepared an answer to the stalwart “why should you get this training contract?” you really shouldn’t expect to get one.
7. Breathe …
We expect you to be nervous. We make allowances for you being nervous. We smile and try to put you at your ease (this, by the way, was not my own experience of graduate recruitment interviewers, most of whom seemed to want to make you cry). But applying here and saying that you really, really want to do advocacy is a whole lot more credible if we don’t have to remind you to breathe.
8. Ask for feedback
Here are some statistics. We received around 50 applications for one training contract. We invited 10 people to a first round interview and three of them made it through to the second round. Getting a training contract is hard, and getting harder.
When we wrote to those unsuccessful at first round interview, we offered feedback. Less than half of them took up that offer. Those who did had a 10-15 minute chat on the phone with us, in which we offered an honest appraisal of their interview and application and all the hints and tips we could for the next time. I bet those who got on the phone and took the feedback on board will do better next time – and the fact they got the interview means they were already really close.
9. Apply early
More statistics. We advertised our training contact for around 5 weeks. Over 90% of candidates applied during the last week, most during the last 3 or 4 days. If you read our information for applicants carefully, you would see that we had set aside two days for first round interviews. A quick, back of the envelope calculation would have told you that this meant that the maximum number of interviews was fixed – 7 working hours in a day, an hour per interview, probably not more than 14 interviews available. We started filling interview slots before the deadline – the later you applied, the harder it was to secure a slot.
10. Be honest with yourself
You’ve invested at least four years and thousands of pounds to get to this point. The firm where you train is going to shape your career for years to come. If you are applying to firms where you’ve no connection with the area and no real interest in the work – how happy are you really going to be? Training is tough enough without forcing yourself into an area which you don’t enjoy, or have a real aptitude for.