How to talk about a firm without regurgitating its website

Hannah Salton

One of the questions I often get asked by students at campus events is, “How can I demonstrate my commitment to your firm without just repeating what’s on your website?

It’s a good question, and one I am happy to be asked given the volume of applications the team and I read each year that sound suspiciously similar to the very copy we wrote for the website nine months earlier.

Here are my top seven tips to help your application stand out:

Research a broad number of sources to feed into your application

There are a lot of great sources out there to help you learn more about an organisation. Don’t just focus on a firm’s corporate website; take a look at their social media. Blogs, Twitter and Facebook are a really good way to get to know a firm at a deeper level than just reading their corporate headlines, and help demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the firm.

Differentiate between firms

Spend time researching and comparing different firms and try to show you understand what sets the firm you’re applying to apart from its competitors. It may help you articulate the differences if you’ve had direct experience of interacting with the firm, even if it’s just a conversation at a careers fair or talking to an employee through social media or an online Q&A.

Try not to use corporate buzzwords for the sake of it

You might hear employers talk on their website about certain competencies or skills that are required for the job you’re applying for, and it’s a good idea to spend some time researching this, and then reflecting on how you can effectively demonstrate you have these skills. Randomly throwing in words like “commercial awareness” and “resilience” without examples or explanations won’t help your application stand out, so think how best to highlight the skills being assessed.

Talk about the parts of the industry or firm that interest you

Firms have a lot of information out there online, and often they aren’t looking for a specific type of answer to questions such as “why do you want to work here?” If you’ve done your research, you should be able to pinpoint the areas of the business that stand out to you, such as infrastructure or pharmaceutical biotech, as well as the specific reasons why they interest you.

Application screeners won’t expect you to know everything about everything, but it helps if you can demonstrate strong knowledge of at least one of their business areas and how it fits into the market.

Be succinct – quality over quantity

Firms can sometimes be quite stringent with word counts. Padding out your answers with lengthy quotes and descriptions of deals from the website may hinder your ability to include your own personal take on them. If you’re talking about a recent news article you read about in the press, try and summarise effectively so you leave space for your own commercial opinion. Firms will often be interested in your own analysis and views.

Always explain why, not just what

Stating that you want to work in the banking department because it’s been in the legal press recently doesn’t mean much, unless you back this up with specific examples as to why this is of interest to you.

Likewise, simply listing all the open days you’ve attended without explaining specifically what you enjoyed or what you learnt from them, doesn’t demonstrate your commitment to a career in law, just that you’ve probably got a lot of free pens in your cupboard at home.

Be authentic

It might sound cliché, but recruiters want to get to know you when they read an application. It’s important that you remain consistent to your values and experience, particularly as you will probably be questioned further on your answers when it comes to interview stage. Try and stand out by being honest about your views and motivation, and don’t simply write what you think recruiters want to hear.

Hannah Salton is graduate recruitment manager at Allen & Overy