Getting a Training Contract with some Alternative Ideas
Thinking of giving up getting a training contract? Have you tried and tried but still failed?
Don’t quit until you try some of our advanced tips. In this article we’ve tried to go beyond the obvious common sense approach and give you some ideas and tips which you may not have thought of (this advice should help prospective barristers too).
No advice can guarantee a successful application, but hopefully using some of these methods you can improve after each failure. If you improve and learn from mistakes it’s not really a failure at all in the long term. In the words of Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Test, Test, Test
How do you pass the initial application? With good academics and a great cover letter / set of answers on the online application. Obviously we can’t help you with your academics but there are loads of things you can do to enhance the written side of your application. This is where rigorous testing comes into effect.
For this idea I’m influenced by something called split testing. Split testing is where you take two items you want to perform well. As an example let’s use adverts – you would take 2 adverts and run them on an advertising platform at the same time. After a set amount of time one should outperform the other. So you keep the better one and design another advert to run against it. You again keep the better performing one on. You do the same again, and again until you have a near perfect advert. It’s a winner stays on kind of test.
We can use a simple version of this idea to help us with our written applications. What you should do is write 3-4 very different cover letters and send them to your friends, family and even tutors. Start with the first two and ask them “which cover letter makes you want to employ me the most?”. If you have sent the letter to 5 people and 4 of them say “cover letter A was better than cover letter B” then you should give them cover letter C and ask them the same question (vs cover letter A). Then move on to letter D and E if you want.
You can make it as simple or complicated as you like. You could try this method just writing two cover letters and ask your friend “which is best?”. You can use this principle for essay questions too. At the end of the process you should have a near perfect cover letter to send off to law firms. This may sound like a lot of work but if you’re really serious about getting a training contract and becoming a solicitor then this should be no problem.
Also it will mean you have the bones of a great cover letter – it can easily be modified for use in your next application if you’re unsuccessful.
For tips on writing the cover letter click here.
To continuously improve you need to know where you went wrong. If it’s a case of another candidate having 5 years more experience than you then fair enough. There’s not much else you can do to rectify that without the aid of a time machine. But if you weren’t successful because of a weakness then we need to find out what that is. There are several things we can do to get feedback.
Firstly and most obviously you can ask for further clarification from the firm about why you weren’t successful. Sometimes you may need to send a few follow up emails and be a bit forward / pushy about it. It is a lot of effort for them to give you feedback but it’s the least they should do really! Try and at least get an answer to the question “why didn’t I get the job”.
You could also ask your fellow candidates. Before the day begins you will probably get the chance to meet the others who also want to become trainees. You will probably be working very closely with them throughout the assessment day. Due to this fact they may be able to pick up on where you went wrong – they will perhaps be able to look at your actions more objectively.
So before the day begins maybe you should suggest to the other candidates that you “partner up” and evaluate each others performance at the end of the day or via email. And if a key interviewer overhears this great idea then all the better! It could really make you stand out.
The last way to see where you went wrong is through personal evaluation. You may not know all the times you went wrong but the main problems with your application or interview are bound to stand out. Write down all the areas where you think you possibly went wrong and try to improve upon them.
That goes for all the methods mentioned. Write what the weakness is and what you’re going to do to improve it. I know it’s geeky but you could keep your own training contract diary (or blog, see below!) so you can track your improvement.
Utilise blogging and social media
The use of twitter and linkedin is a great way to network with law firms, and current employees of firms. It’s not just about following someone on twitter and out of the blue asking them for a training contract. You need to gradually build a relationship with them. Maybe this could start with posting an interesting legal news story that they then retweet. Or perhaps you could make a witty remark to one of their tweets.
As your relationship develops you could mention that you’re thinking of applying to their firm, and ask if they have any tips or advice. It’s also worth asking them if they would let you put their name down on the “Do you know anyone from [Firm]” section. This can really help with getting through the application phase and (if they are the ones interviewing you!) the interview phase.
A similar technique can be taken with linked in, but you need to be more direct – sending them a message. However I find the best way to use linkedin is to research either an individual at the firm (like someone who will be interviewing you) or the firm as a whole. It’s possible firms check out the online presence of trainee solicitors prior to interview. You should do the same for them!
Maybe they will have been to the same university as you, or have previously worked somewhere interesting. All these things help you bond with them and help with the small talk. Getting someone to like you can go a long way.
Another tip is to use a free blogging platform like wordpress to blog about legal matters or even on your attempts to get a training contract. Even though it’s very easy it’s bound to impress firms who see a good looking website created by you. The use of technology in legal practice is expanding rapidly and firms are always on the lookout for people who are tech savvy. Update: We now have our own blogging platform here!
This will be especially effective if you’re applying to smaller firms who may not have anyone who deals with the firms online presence or use of IT – quite simply it shows off a range of other skills which could be useful to a firm. If your blog is good there’s also the chance that it could become quite popular.
If hundreds of people read your blog a day sooner or later someone who likes your writing, and has influence within a firm may see it. So essentially it’s networking on autopilot!
I like to think with these tips (and respectable academics) you can’t fail. You just keep on learning, getting better and gathering more knowledge about how to deal with the application process. If at the end of the day you can say you’ve done those things then you’ve not failed at all have you?
This way of getting a training contract is a baptism of fire; you’ve gained more skills and developed more character than those who walked into a legal job because of family connections. You’re going to be the winner in the long term!