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Selection criteria ramped up to cope with expected graduate backlog. Firms are toughening already tight graduate recruitment criteria in a bid to stem the expected flood of candidates returning from gap years following the legal market’s biggest-ever trainee deferral programme.
Despite predictions earlier this year that training contract applications would soar as a result of the investment banking industry scaling back graduate recruitment programmes, many leading law firms said they received a similar number of applications in summer 2009 as in previous years, but that they expected a rise next year.
A graduate recruitment partner at a top 15 firm said: “We didn’t get the massive rise in applications we were expecting last year because I think people were put off due to the deferrals and increased competition.
“What we also noticed was many of the weaker candidates just didn’t bother applying this year.
“It’s a bit like a pressure cooker at the moment, and next year we’re going to see application numbers shoot up with the big backlog of students who’ve decided to delay their applications.” A graduate recruitment manager at another firm said there could be a massive bottleneck of candidates.
She warned: “Conditions could potentially be a lot worse as gap-year students go head-to-head with penultimate- and final-year students against the backdrop of a contracting training contracts market.”
As a result firms are making students jump through more hoops, with extra testing and tougher selection procedures.
Herbert Smith is the latest firm to add an extra layer to its online application process after piloting a verbal reasoning test on its spring and summer vacation scheme candidates earlier this year.
Herbert Smith graduate recruitment manager Peter Chater said: “We get so many applications through nowadays that adding this online test will make sure that we’re picking from the best talent pool possible. We want quality not quantity.”
Berwin Leighton Paisner has added two new exercises to its selection procedure to test for ‘intellectual ability’, while LG is in the process of overhauling its entire recruitment process.
DLA Piper has introduced what it calls a “visual accuracy test”, whereby students who have successfully completed an assessment day are given a contract to correct for spelling and grammatical errors.
DLA Piper graduate recruitment officer Claire Evans said: “If a candidate’s prepared to jump through hoops like this then you know they’re much more dedicated to a career in the profession.”