You want a training contract… but can you be trusted with my baby?

Throughout my 30-or-so years as a solicitor, I have interviewed many ‘wannabe’ trainee solicitors and have read and rejected hundreds of applications.

The important thing to realise regarding your CV is when you write that you have a law degree or qualifying degree, and have passed or are studying the LPC, that most lawyers responsible for recruiting will think… “So what?”

All of the candidates have that. The crucial thing is, what sets you apart from the other CVs in that ‘skyscraper’ pile?

What is the reader looking for? The answer is: something different! What can you add to my business? My business is my “baby”; I have spent 20 years nurturing my baby. How can I be sure if I trust you with some part of it you, that you won’t damage it?

So let’s get back to basics…

If the application process says ‘Send a handwritten letter addressed to a specific person’, then send a handwritten letter addressed to a specific person. I recently culled 24 applications from our trainee recruitment application process as the individuals could not, or chose not to, follow the instructions. No letter; so they didn’t progress to stage two.

Want to be a lawyer and missed the small print? Fail. You won’t get put onto the stage two (less of a ‘skyscraper’) pile.

If you are asked to send a letter addressed to a named person, do not start the letter Dear Sir/Madam. I take particular offence to those people who think that Shaun is a female name. If in doubt, look up the person’s profile on LinkedIn or the firm’s website. It sounds obvious but it never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t.

Typos kill applications. If your CV or letter does not make sense it will be binned. Recently, I came across a CV in which the applicant could not spell defence. It had been spelt defense (the candidate also clearly could not change the language option of Spell Check in MS Word).

On another occasion, I received a CV in which the candidate could not spell ‘solicitor’. I telephoned the individual in question and they were delighted to hear from me, until I told them that their CV was probably one of the worst I had ever received, and if they didn’t spend time working on their CV that they would never get an interview anywhere.

Things I look for in CVs…

  1. Have you got any project management skills such as Agile or Prince 2? Every big legal transaction – be it a divorce, company commercial deal or litigation case – is a project. If you understand how to construct and manage a project, you are different. If you don’t have those skills get them. Look at undertaking a foundation course in Prince 2, you can buy them on Groupon for £50! It sets you apart from the other candidates.
  2. Do you know anything about process management? Have you ever used Visio or any other process management software? Law firms want to look at their processes and make them slicker. They map them with tools like Visio.
  3. Have you read about Alternative Fee Arrangements or Value Pricing? Do you follow blogs written by thought leaders in this area (Top Tip: Follow John Chisholm… he is Australian, but don’t hold that against him.)
  4. Do you read and know about the things that keep law firm owners awake at night? I’ll give you a clue: it’s pricing, legal process improvement and project management!If I came across a CV in which the candidate had project management skills, process improvement skills, and was working on a project looking at law firm pricing, I would interview them. Simples!

Other things to consider…

  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and then work on your number of connections. I recently sent a message to a candidate on LinkedIn, whose profile clearly identified that she was looking for a training contract and she has passed her law degree with first class honours. I wonder how many of her colleagues have yet to complete a LinkedIn profile..
  • If you do create a LinkedIn profile don’t be too specific about the area of law that you want to ultimately be practising. I read one profile of the candidate recently who expressed the desire to qualify as a solicitor dealing with renewable energy. I don’t do that. So I stopped reading.
    Don’t put a photograph of you in your graduation gown. I know you are a graduate. It’s a double ‘so what’. Also don’t put a photograph of you standing in front of a helicopter holding a glass of champagne. Unless you own the helicopter and a vineyard… that was an embarrassing question for that particular candidate I interviewed!
  • Follow firms you want to work for on LinkedIn. Send speculative applications. Start discussions in groups. Comment on discussions in groups in an intelligent way.
  • Don’t Tweet rubbish. One candidate, and I kid you not, had a Twitter profile describing himself as a “bit of a dick”. There’s no way I’d let him near my “baby”!
  • If you do get an interview, make sure you know everything about the business. And I mean everything. Read the website a number of times. Follow the firm on Twitter. Read the LinkedIn profiles. Read blogs that have been posted. I love it when people at an interview raise the subject of me having appeared in a Snickers TV commercial and dressing up as a penguin! It shows they have done their homework.
  • Read all of the entries in the Chambers and Legal 500 legal directories. Read the reviews on Glass Door. This is all about understanding and nurturing “the baby”.
  • Practice your interview technique. There are loads of websites which identify competency questions. Prepare answers to them. Guess what you going to be asked for some of them. If you find yourself saying that one of your weaknesses is that that you are a perfectionist, prepare for the interviewer to roll their eyes or bang their head on the table. Come up with a better answer.
  • Prepare a list of questions to ask at the end of the interview. Again, I am always disappointed if people haven’t prepared a long list of questions. I love it when people open notebook and I see that they have got 15 to 20 questions to ask about “my baby”. It shows you’re interested in my business.

Good luck.

PS. Our trainee recruitment programme opens in three months or so. Why not LinkIn with me? If your profile has a typo in it or has an embarrassing photo I won’t accept. If I do accept your invitation, I will post on LinkedIn when the process opens.

Shaun Jardine is CEO and director of legal services (corporate sector) at Warwickshire-headquartered firm Brethertons.