This Step looks at completing application forms as part of the legal recruitment process, and how to draw on your personal experience to support your application.
Completing application forms
Many legal recruiters ask you to complete an application form, rather than apply by CV and covering letter. Application forms enable the recruiter to specify the information you provide and make a direct and fair comparison between candidates.
Before you start completing the form
Identify the skills and qualities you have which recruiters are looking for and carry out research into the organisation you’re targeting. This is the work you carried out in Step 2 and 4.
Typical application form layout
- Factual information - your name, contact details, education and qualifications
- Competencies and qualities
- Motivation questions which explore your choices and the reasoning behind them
- Hypothetical legal and commercial questions.
Follow instructions and complete all sections - If a section is truly irrelevant to you, mark it as not applicable – don’t leave a section blank. Don’t submit a CV or additional pages unless the instructions permit you to do so.
Target your application - answer every question on the form with the individual recruiter in mind.
Plan and draft your answers - copy the form and make initial rough drafts so that you see where your information fits in best.
Be succinct - aim for a form that is easy to read, whilst still getting across all the important information.
Spelling and grammar – check for mistakes and stick to professional wording.
Make your sentences interesting - focus on what you gained from a particular experience and use active verbs to emphasise your point.
Choose good examples – make sure they are recent, interesting, relevant to the job and that they demonstrate the skills or qualities that are asked for.
Structure your answers - try using the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) approach.
Describe the situation or context, the task or problem you faced, the action you took to solve the problem and the result.
Plan your time - writing an effective application can take days, so give yourself time and do not leave submission until the deadline. Some firms have been known to close vacancies early if they receive a large number of applications. Technical glitches can also happen so make sure you submit your application early.
Save a copy of the completed form so that you can refresh your memory before your interview.
Watch out for automatic time-out and word limits – Save what you have entered into the form regularly so that you don’t lose any changes made if it automatically times out. Be concise and relevant in your answers.
Activity – Draft Application Form
If you have not completed an application before, you can practise by downloading our draft application form here.
Frequently Asked Questions
I've applied for training contracts. I haven't heard back, what should I do?
Don’t get disheartened, it can take time to get this right. Employers tell us that the main reason applications fail is because they are not targeted enough. To overcome this, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I research the legal market carefully and make a considered choice about the kind of firms I wanted to apply to?
- Have I targeted the right firms that are most likely to be interested in my qualifications and experiences?
- Did I research each individual firm I applied to carefully? Do I understand what makes each firm different from its competitors? Do I understand the sort of work the firm does, the kind of individuals who work there and what they’re looking for in a prospective employee?
- Did I consider each question on the application form and target each answer in the light of my research?
- Were my application forms submitted well within the deadlines? Did I comply with all instructions for completing the forms? Was my spelling and grammar one hundred percent correct?
If you’re studying with us, make an appointment with one of our Careers Advisers to get feedback.
Many firms only give feedback on interviews rather than applications, but it may be worth calling them and asking politely if you can get an idea of why your application was not successful.
How many applications should I do?
Make as many applications as you can to the required standard with the time you have available - the quality of your applications is more important than the quantity.
For someone studying and perhaps undertaking part-time work at the same time, writing 10-15 high quality applications during a recruitment period can be tough – so make sure to plan ahead and leave yourself plenty of time.
I was unsuccessful with my applications last year. Can I reapply this year to the same firms?
Check with each firm first, before you go to the time and effort of applying again. It is usually only worth reapplying if you have something new and substantial to add to your previous application. For example, you have secured more relevant work experience or your grades have significantly improved. When calling the firm, mention these significant improvements and seek their advice.