We regularly get calls from graduates and paralegals wanting us to find them work or work experience and we give the same answer pretty much every time. You cannot phone recruitment agencies and expect them to find you meaningful employment if you do not have any experience and nothing to offer a potential employer.
All of these people have one thing in common. They are either looking for pupillage or a training contract in the longer term and they are all wasting their valuable time phoning up recruitment agents.
These are our five top tips for improving your chances for getting a training contract (that do not include calling recruitment agencies!) .
1. Work experience.
This is the mother of all tips. Work experience is the be all and end all of progressing your legal career. Without work experience it is unlikely you will have a legal career unless you are very very lucky or particularly talented. There are so many places to get work experience that this article is not the place to look at this. Instead go to www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk and download our Free Guide to Getting Work Experience or a Training Contract.
2. Brush up on your CV and Application Form Answers
We see so many CVs with spelling mistakes, incorrect information, a lack of information, grammatical errors, poor layout and nothing to offer an employer. Get someone in your family or a friend to read through the CV for you or better still (here comes the plug) get a professional to either review or prepare a CV from scratch for you. Visit our shop www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk for details of our professional CV writing and review services for lawyers.
3. Write a good covering e-mail or covering letter.
So many people send us CVs that simply state that they are looking for work and want us to help instead of saying exactly what they have that means we may want to help them. The same applies if you are applying to law firms.
What have you got specifically that would be of an asset to a law firm? For example is your father a financial adviser with a huge bank of clients who may be prepared to send work your way should you join the law firm? Have you got two years’ worth of experience in a particular specialist field that a law firm may be interested in? Are you able to type 75 words per minute and speak fluent French? These things will stand you out from the crowd and it is the unique identifiers that need to be present in the covering email or covering letter. Consider using a professional service to check this for you.
4. Give yourself a more interesting life
If I had a pound for every CV I have seen that has the words “reading, going to the cinema and socialising with friends” as the leisure interests I would be a rich man. So many people think this is acceptable when it is not and so many people seem to think that this section of a CV makes no difference to their career prospects.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your personal interests section is of vital importance to your prospects as again it is very often a unique identifier. There is nothing to stop you from deciding to take up particular hobbies or interests and they are very easy to take up and add value and interests to your CV and application forms. After all it does not take much to get golf onto your CV. Simply turn up on your municipal golf course, hire a set of clubs, do a round and you have golf to add to your CV. The same can apply with team sports. Make enquiries locally in a sport you are particularly interested in, turn up to a training session and all of a sudden you have a team sport for your CV.
There is absolutely no excuse for having a lack of personal interests on your application form or CV. It is guaranteed to count against you if you do not do something about this very quickly.
5. Consider your Location
It used to be said that location for job applications was not important, but with the tightening of the market in recent years there is a need to think carefully about this. As there are a considerable number of people looking for work and prepared to travel long distances to get it, you need to be very cautious about stating your postal address on application forms and CVs.
A good example of this is if you are making applications to firms in London and live in Newcastle. It may be that someone in your family already lives in London and has a postal address there. If this is the case you may wish to consider changing your postal address to the local relatives as it gives you a local connection. This can be particularly relevant in applications to locations in the North or the South as there is a perceived difference in attitudes and types of candidates in both areas.
There are lots of other things you can do as well to boost your chances but in the first instance these are our key suggestions for improving your chances of getting a training contract. Remember, work experience is the key. It is the be all and end all regardless of what others may tell you.
Author: Jonathan Fagan MIRP MAC Cert RP LLM Solicitor (non-practising) – Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). Jonathan Fagan is a specialist legal recruitment consultant, author of the Complete Guide to Writing a Legal CV and the Guide to Interviews for Lawyers. He has recruited for law firms across the UK and overseas in all shapes and sizes. If you have any questions that we have not covered above, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org