Where did it all go wrong?
On a more mundane level, recruiters are adept at spotting mass applications, even if the candidate has managed to match up firm, recruitment contact and the type of work the firm does (apparently quite an achievement for many; one hapless applicant included the names of three other firms in her application to a fourth). Published example letters should likewise be treated as a guide and shouldn’t be copied out verbatim. You really aren’t the only one who’s found that website, you know. Equally, sometimes a strikingly original example or an answer that is just a bit too candid can be just as unadvisable, as one recruiter recalls: “One hot Friday afternoon, I reviewed two applications which had been sent in from the same address, although in two different names with different details and experiences. The first applicant, answering the question about their greatest achievement, wrote something so blue, it is unrepeatable. The second applicant, answering the question about extracurricular activities, said that they spent their time ‘going down the pub and drinking lots of beer’. It gave me a laugh, but perhaps their time could have been better spent.” And make sure that you use decent examples when trying to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills. One recruiter recalls a candidate who really scraped the barrel: “The applicant described how his parents went on holiday and left him in charge of the house and his younger siblings. The story ended with him changing a lightbulb, which he said he had not expected to have to do. The applicant claimed that ‘the fact that I did this successfully shows that I react to challenges well’, but I’m afraid we’re looking for slightly bigger challenges than that!” Face to face There are three main ways that an interview can go awry on the interviewee’s part: nervousness, rudeness and inappropriateness.
Finding a training contract or pupillage involves careful planning and application. It’s a case of ensuring that what you have to offer is presented as efficiently and attractively as possible, while avoiding the kind of mistakes that will haunt you for years after the event. Inevitably, you will make errors, but rest assured: whatever has gone wrong for you has been trumped many times over. Here we look at some of the pitfalls encountered in the past, based on a survey of actual recruiters. We urge you not to reprise them! First impressions Your application must stand out from the pack, but it should grab the interviewer’s attention for the right reasons. One firm was dismayed to be confronted with an inspirational quote from The Lion King at the head of an application. Meanwhile, one recruiter at a commercial firm describes with horror two cringe-worthy instances of applicants trying a bit too hard to stand out: “A candidate once set out her application in the format of a play, with Act One, Scene One featuring a lost law student looking for a training contract and Act Three, Scene Three ‘still to be written’. Another applicant began her covering letter with a line about how she flailed her arms around when excited. She then elaborated to say that friends had commented that our firmwas the only one that was making her flail! There are better ways to demonstrate enthusiasm and commitment to a firm. My advice? Don’t go with quirky!” One well-known commercial and chancery London set was bemused by the applicant who, when asked about his motivation to apply for pupillage, wrote “I have always wanted to work for a leading tax chambers.” Nice sentiment, “except tax was not one of our core areas of law; obviously, this was a copy and paste job that had gone horribly wrong”, recalls the chambers’ marketing and business development manager.
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