We asked three trainees for their perspective on common mistakes made in applications. If you want to make yours stand out for the right reasons, listen now to avoid the common pitfalls that could make the difference.
Chessie: Hello, and welcome to the TLT Unpacked podcast series. I’m Chessie, a current trainee here,and I’m joined by two of my fellow trainees for today’s podcast, Application Inspiration.
Look, writing job applications, especially for a training contract is such a time-consuming process, especially when you’ve got so much else on your plate. You’re busy working and study, and then you’ve also got to complete all these, quite frankly, long and annoying applications that you know are going to have a huge impact on where your future lies. So, we thought today we’d just discuss a bit of a career hack, and talk to you about how you can avoid common mistakes, and how you can put your best self forward to make you stand out as a candidate and unlock your full potential. So, I suppose, without further delay, we should introduce ourselves.
As I said, my name’s Chessie, I’m a fourth seat trainee, I’ve been at TLT for about three years now, having done a stint as a paralegal before my training contract began.
Mary: Hey, I’m Mary, I’m a third seat trainee, currently sat with the banking team. I joined TLT a little over a year ago as a trainee, and before that, I was a paralegal at a large national firm based in the North West.
Matt: Hello, I’m Matt, I’m a third seat trainee, currently sat in the tax and incentives team. Prior to joining TLT, I was a paralegal at a firm in the North West, and I also had some experience on secondment in-house.
Chessie: Okay. So, we’ve been given some instructions here. HR have given us each an envelope which contain a common mistake or limitation that they’ve seen in a number of training contract applications. So, the idea is they want us to open it, read it, and give our first impressions, and tell you all how we’d tackle this, and share some information about our own experience about the whole application process. Okay, who wants to go first?
Matt: I’m happy to.
Chessie: Way to jump in there, Matt. Alright, go on. Alright, read it out.
Matt: Okay. So, the faux pas is ‘giving answers that don’t speak to the individual role and company, but appear pre-written, as if this is just one of many applications that the candidate has made’.
This is a really good one. I think it’s one that people are guilty of when they have a scatter gun approach to applications. The top tips to avoid falling into this faux pas, from my perspective, would be to really narrow down the firms who you apply to.
What I would say is get out to as many events as possible, be that law fairs, be that TLT Unpacked, which is a great event that TLT run, and focus upon making sure that you’re applying to a select group of firms with a culture, who do the type of work that you’re interested in doing.
I’d treat the application form as what it is, which is trying to get your foot through the door, and to an interview, so be really concise and considered in what you say in your application form, and then when you’re invited to an assessment centre and interview, you can really sell yourself and sell those experiences.
I’d also just quickly say, I know for a fact that TLT asks candidates to consider businesses that TLT could learn something from. I’d choose businesses that maybe TLT has had a past relationship with, or have been a client of TLT. Just because, I feel like that shows that you’ve done some research to the types of firms, and the type of work that TLT do.
Chessie: I think this faux pas is an interesting one, and it’s something that I was definitely guilty of when I was doing my applications. The one thing I would say is, because I knew from early on that TLT was really where I wanted to be, I made sure my answers were really good for TLT, and then maybe repeated some of those on other firms where my applications, surprisingly, were not as successful. It’s so easy to do. It’s so, so easy to do, especially when all the questions are quite similar.
You’d be, like, ‘I did write something pretty clearly,’ but when you’re in an HR team, and you’re reading through all of these, it’s just so obvious when it’s been copied and pasted.
Matt: Yes, it is.
Chessie: I think no one is as good at hiding it as they think they are, so really pick what firm you want and put the effort in.
Mary: I agree. I think it can be really difficult. I know that I’ve been asked questions before where it’s, like, ‘Well, it’s all good and well to say why are you applying for TLT, what is it you like about the firm.’ When you’re at uni, you’re a student, or you’ve just graduated, and all you have is maybe a couple of events that you’ve been to, or the website, it can be quite difficult to cipher. I don’t really know that much about the firm, I’ve only read what’s on your website, or in the grad recruitment materials. One thing that I found quite useful when I was trying to do really tailored applications would be to have a look at the values that the firm is looking for, and they all say, you’ll be able to find them on the website, it’ll be something like driven, or ambitious, or friendly.
Chessie: Yes, what are we? We’re driven and flexible.
Matt: Ambitious, determined.
Chessie: Yes, supportive.
Mary: Yes. So, one way to, kind of, approach a question like that would maybe be to have a look at what the firm has been involved in recently, and then have a look at your own experience, so what have you been doing at uni, what extra-curriculars have you been involved in, what have you been doing at work. You could use an example as to why you have the skills that’d help you meet those values. It just focuses your answer in a little bit more, and basically shows you as being a right fit for TLT, and perhaps why you’d like to work there, because you already possess all the good qualities that they’re looking for.
Chessie: Yes. Okay, do you want to do the next one, Mary? Do you want to open yours?
Mary: Yes, sure.
Chessie: Drum roll.
Mary: Okay. The next statement is ‘apparent lack of attention to detail, with the same errors appearing repeatedly’. Oh gosh, I think this could probably be, at a really basic level, getting the firm’s name wrong, which I’m sure definitely happens, or little things like putting in a couple of rogue sentences from copying and pasting answers.
Mary: I think with attention to detail, especially when you’re doing applications that have, like, four or five competency-based questions, 200, 300 words each, it really helps to give yourself a couple of days to put an application to one side, and come back and read it again.
Mary: The same way that you’d do with an essay. I think that’s one way I always approached applications was, like, ‘This is just a piece of coursework that I’m doing, and I need to give myself a couple of days, and look at it with fresh eyes.’ You’ll see the errors that you make.
Matt: Yes, I’d agree. I’d also say, get someone to look through it who’s independent and who’s not read your application form before. I don’t necessarily mean your parents, who’ll rave about you, and say, ‘It’s perfect,’ I mean someone who’s going to be really critical, and will pick up any errors that you make.
Chessie: It’s the easiest way to, kind of, sift things out. Taking a step back, when you think about it, you’re pouring your heart and soul into the applications, or in theory are anyway. The person on the other end works in an HR team, right, so the number of people who are actually reviewing these applications is small, and they’re looking at 1,000s. I mean, they’re looking at a huge number. It’s so easy to just be, like, ‘Well, look at all these grammatical errors,’ or, ‘They spelled our name wrong, they clearly don’t care, in the bin,’ and the rest of it doesn’t even get looked at, right?
Matt: Yes, it’s true.
Chessie: It’s just such a quick way to paper sift, and I know a lot of firms do that, particularly ones that have a uniquely spelled name, like, if it’s supposed to have an e at the end, and you don’t put the e at the end, you’re gone, straight out. There’s no point even reading the rest of it because you clearly don’t care. So, I know it’s the last thing you think about, and you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you don’t necessarily spot them, so as Mary was saying, taking a couple of days, then come back with a fresh pair of eyes, it makes a huge difference, because you just don’t see the errors anymore. So, you need to, kind of, come back and have a look. It’s the quickest way of making those hours of effort that you spent in there just get thrown in the bin. Shall we do the third one, last envelope?
Matt: Yes, let’s do it.
Chessie: Okay. Faux pas number three is ‘appearing over-confident, almost arrogant and showy’.
Okay, that’s a hard one. I’m not sure I entirely agree with them.
Mary: I, kind of, have to agree. I mean, I’m sure you guys would probably say the same, but I have a lot of people saying, ‘I don’t feel confident enough to speak about myself,’ or, ‘I don’t know how to make myself look the best I can.’
Chessie: Yes, I see what they mean. Like, you don’t want to come across as overly arrogant, or particularly showy, but at the same time, this is your opportunity to show yourself, so you, kind of, have to say, ‘I did this,’ and, ‘I did that.’ I know a lot of stuff is done as part of a team if you’re in a society at uni or whatever, but I think it’s a good thing to draw it back to your particular contributions.
Matt: No, I agree. The other thing that I’d say to this is there’s a balance, isn’t there, to be had. Don’t undersell yourself.
Chessie: Yes, it’s all about that balance.
Matt: Yes. You could have done jobs in the past where you don’t think they’re related to TLT, they may have been jobs that you had as a student, but you’ll have picked up things, and you’ll have learned things. You shouldn’t undersell what you learn in, say, jobs that you had when you were a student, because some of the things will still apply today.
Mary: Yes, definitely. Even little things like when I was at uni, I volunteered for a charity, just, like, one day a week, and it involved speaking to people on the phone, which seems like a really minor thing. I mean, we all speak to our friends on the phone (TC: 00:10:00) like it’s nothing, but a lot of the time, as a trainee, you’ll be speaking to people on the phone, and it can be quite daunting to speak to somebody that you don’t know. So, that’s just a really basic example, but it’s something that you can, kind of, pull out from a basic job that you had when you were at uni, or beforehand, and apply it to what you’ll be doing as a trainee.
Chessie: I, kind of, wonder if this faux pas isn’t really one for the written application itself, but it’s something to bear in mind when you’re at assessment days and interviews, you don’t want to be seen to be just too in your face. Particularly in, like, the group exercise, you’ve got to be assertive without being domineering.
Mary: Yes, that’s true. I think some people fall foul of both sides of it, don’t they? Some people are a bit too-, it’s really out of their comfort zone to be in a, kind of, group exercise and speaking at people.
It’s something, I guess, that as a trainee, you get used to doing, because speaking about yourself, and finding that balance is actually something you’ll have to do at networking events as you progress through your career. So, I can see why it’s actually really important to have that skill.
Chessie: Well, what would we say then to our listeners is a way to really have a stand-out application?
Matt: Mine is be as concise as possible. It’s a skill in itself to really curtail your application form, and be concise in the examples that you choose.
Chessie: I think they’re all word limited now, aren’t they?
Chessie: Yes, so you’re, kind of, forced to be. Don’t waste those words.
Matt: Yes, exactly.
Mary: I agree. I think sometimes it’s really easy to think, ‘I’m going to use some quite flowery language to make myself sound glorious,’ for example. In the same way that you’d maybe an approach an essay, just to use that example again, you can just use really clear and simple language as to what you like about the firm, why you see yourself there, how you think you’ll be able to develop as a trainee, and onwards, and just keep it simple and to the point.
Matt: Yes. Cool.
Chessie: I agree. Okay, well, thank you guys for listening to TLT Unpacked. By unpacking our experiences of the application process here at TLT, we hope that next time that you’re writing an application, you’ll avoid these common faux pas. So, just remember, don’t copy and paste your answers, be self-aware, and have a hawk eye for detail. If you want to test drive law, follow us, we’re on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Don’t forget, you can also go online for more from TLT Unpacked, and to apply now.