The write stuff

Not only can Citizen's Advice Bureaux work notch up experience, it can also count towards qualification, finds Moira Haynes

You're sitting at the table wondering how to fill in an application form for the trainee contract. Question one. How did you first hear about the firm? “An angel came to me in my sleep and told me I would work for Theodore Goddard and would perform great deeds for them. I also saw them listed in The Lawyer as being one of the Top 100 for number of fee earners.”

Wrong. If you are a sufficiently good writer, amusing phrasing might help your case. But trite or jokey responses will not. You need to differentiate yourself but this is not the way.

Neither is scraping the barrel and a reply of “blood donor”, “monitor at junior school” or “library assistant” is barely worthwhile when questioned about positions of responsibility you have held.

Recruiters are frequently asked how they sort through the thousands of applications they receive. Sadly, it is not as hard as it may sound. A bit of research and care will sail you through the first round of tests:

spelling and grammatical errors, such as thankyou, batchelor, maintainance, LLB in Law, badmington, principle interests, “Yours faithfully” after “Dear Miss Penny Alison”;

applying to the wrong firms – “I am keen on shipping” to a firm which does not specialise in shipping;

applying at the wrong time.

Other candidates damage their chances at the outset. Being rude, silly, incomprehensible or inaudible to secretaries when you ring for an application form could well count against you. And if you need a second form, just ask for one rather than pretend the dog ate it. Also, the perfumed application will not get past the opening of the envelope.

The profession needs people who can think for themselves and relate to clients. So put yourself in the receiver's shoes. What conclusions would you draw from candidates who write “My school and university results are not a true reflection of my academic ability” and “I have leadership skills. My interests are reading, listening to music and chess”?

Think about what you write. Six thought-out applications are far more likely to meet with success than 30 which are quickly rushed off.

Is it any surprise this candidate was rejected by 60 firms: Describe how you use your extra-curricular time. “In any pursuit which generally attracts my interest.”

You've got through the application stage. What next? Prepare. Regularly read one of the broadsheet newspapers. And try to anticipate the questions:

Why do you want to work in the City? “It seems quite fun.”

You say you like reading. What are you currently reading? “Wilbur Smith's latest.”

What are your views on a federal Europe? “I haven't thought about it.”

How have you found us (after a tour of the office)? “I turned right out of Barbican tube station.”

Tell me about your dissertation. “I did it last year.”

These replies did not impress.

The day of the interview has arrived. Make sure you do – on time. Look the part. Don't fiddle expenses. Don't pretend, don't make excuses for poor performance or inactivity, don't flirt with the interviewer, don't relax so much you drop your guard, don't ask questions for the sake of it (especially ones where the answers are in the firm's brochure) and don't kiss the interviewer goodbye. And always be yourself; if you are right for the profession, you will find a place in it. Use your head when applying and your heart when accepting and you will not go far wrong.

the “see me” CV

Your CV is your shop window and you must be aware of what employers are looking for when compiling it.

It should be well-presented and condensed on to two sides. And there is no standard CV – many employers use it as a means of assessing candidates by the way they present information.

You can include and exclude whatever you wish but employers will have questions in mind when reading a CV so design yours to give all necessary information, highlighting your good points.

Do not leave gaps on your CV – always account for your time. If something such as illness prevented you from reaching your potential, point this out in your covering letter. Make sure grammar and spelling are perfect.

Extra curricular activities distinguish you from contemporaries and those whose career up to date has been similar to yours. Use this section as the opportunity to convey information about you which the employer may not otherwise realise. Everyone has the same basic academic skills, but employers are looking for what sets you apart. Make sure all abilities and skills are noted. Employers like to hear of people who have set themselves goals, used their initiative and planned ahead. Do not use cliches or abstract statements and do not make statements unless you can back them up.

It is worth spending time tailoring your CV to each application, adding to it as you gain more experience and ensuring you read it from the point of view of an employer who knows nothing about you. Spell out the skills and experience you have gained in concise terms.

Use your CV as a basis for filling in application forms. Always fill in each box, and answer every question. Many employers spend a lot of time and money on the design of of application forms; don't assume they have made a mistake by not giving you enough room for 'work experience' or A level subjects. Tim Toghill is regional secretary of the Law Society, Eastern Region.