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Seeing opportunity in rejection: Never ever give up and always learn from your mistakes

Trying to secure a training contract can often feel like something from The Hunger Games. Unless you are a very rare individual who manages to breeze through the application process of the first firm you apply to, it’s likely that you will face rejection somewhere along the way.

By Editorial Team. Published 25 August 2021. Last updated 20 November 2023.

To help you navigate your way through the inevitable feeling of disappointment that follows, Verdict caught up with Kathryn Williamson, a Trainee Solicitor at Shoosmiths and former LPC student at The University of Law, who shares her story and offers advice for dealing with rejection and building resilience.

Having studied law at the University of Surrey, Williamson had the opportunity to undertake a placement year as part of her degree, which she spent as a paralegal at Shoosmiths. This gave her a great insight into the firm, and so Williamson felt confident that this was where she wanted to pursue her legal career. Having put in an application to the firm, she made it through to the assessment centre but sadly didn’t manage to secure a training contract. Unsurprisingly, Williamson was disheartened: “I was really gutted as I had spent a year there and knew that I really loved the firm and the culture.”

After receiving feedback over the phone, she took note of the areas she needed to improve and spent the next year focusing on strengthening these skills. If you have been unsuccessful at an assessment centre due to a lack of confidence, for example, then you might work on this by practising public speaking through mooting, or even just going to networking events and speaking to new people.

Williamson found that she was able to use her experience at the first assessment centre to give her an advantage when she reapplied. By making improvements based on her previous feedback, the firm could see that she had worked hard to make changes and had become better suited for the role. Don’t let your past failures define you, instead, use them to demonstrate that you have taken your feedback seriously and worked on the relevant skills.

It is also a good idea to practise assessment centre tasks where possible. Williamson took advantage of ‘mock assessment days’ at The University of Law, which she would highly recommend to students currently studying there. Consequently, after taking these actions, Williamson was able to secure a training contract with Shoosmiths the following year.

“Rejection is an inherent part of the legal career path”, says Williamson, but it is something that will ultimately build you into a much stronger person. It’s also an important learning curve: “Apply to the law firms that you want to apply to and put yourself out there. You may get rejected but you need to learn how to overcome it.” Williamson continues: “In the legal industry, you are always going to face setbacks. In our day-to-day work there are always going to be problems that arise, whether that be during a transaction or during a court case… it is not always going to be smooth sailing.” The key to dealing well with setbacks, in Williamson’s opinion, is “learning how to deal with them as quickly as possible but also effectively, so not just brushing [the problem] to the side… but dealing with it head on and trying to figure out a solution”. Recently, Williamson tells me about a folder of documents that were missed from a report sent to a client in relation to the purchase of a target company. In dealing with this error, Williamson tells Verdict that she owned up to the mistake and didn’t waste time dwelling on it. Instead, she proceeded to review the documents as quickly as possible and got an updated report to the client.

There is not necessarily a “quick fix” to building resilience, says Williamson, rather it is something that builds up over time through your experiences and the lessons that you learn from those. Therefore, when dealing with setbacks, aim to remain level-headed and find a solution quickly. Ultimately, these experiences will enable you to develop into a stronger and more resilient individual, who will be better placed to find success.


  • Remember everyone faces rejection from time-to-time

Being rejected doesn’t necessarily mean that you aren’t capable, it may just be that there are lots of other candidates who are currently in a stronger position. With perseverance and hard work, your time will come too.

  • Always try and get feedback where possible

Due to the high volume of applications, it may not be possible to gain feedback at every stage. However, most firms will offer feedback after an assessment centre. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback if it isn’t initially offered. Equally, it is a good idea to seek advice from your careers centre on unsuccessful written applications before submitting any more.

  • Don’t dwell on your past mistakes

We are all human and sometimes things just don’t go to plan. Don’t waste time dwelling on the ‘what ifs’ – just do all you can to ensure that the same mistakes aren’t repeated.

  • Remind yourself that there are other options

If you have your heart set on a firm and you are unsuccessful, don’t forget that there are other firms out there – you may even find one you prefer. If you have applied to a firm a few times and faced multiple rejections, perhaps re-evaluate whether they are the right firm for you. Ensure that you really scope out a firm before you apply or reapply.


This article was first published in our Verdict magazine - Read the Employability Special, issue #6 of Verdict magazine.