Gap Year – Application Advice
After our two months (!) of working life, including highlights of trips to London and receiving our name plates, we decided to take some time to think back to last year, when we were filling out the application form and realising that we actually knew a lot less about law than we originally thought! So we tried to reflect on what we wish we had known then, and the knowledge we have now, to help all of you who may be struggling to put your ideas into words.
When you first see the application form, it may be tempting to panic, especially if you’ve never filled one out before. But never fear! We Gap Year students have faced down the beast, and we want to give you a few helpful tips to get your application started. One point to consider is that the application form is a precursor to the interview, where you’ll be able to show your personality and your interpersonal skills. So use the application form to show you’ve understood what Pinsent Masons is looking for, and why you have all those traits!
- Know the firm & its values – this is a crucial place to start. From your application form to the interview and beyond, you’re being assessed as to how you embody the values of Pinsent Masons. Why not start off the application process by simply noting down instances of when you have exemplified the values? That way, you’ll know the most important things you should mention in your answers and can construct your answers around them. (This will also help for your interview, where you’ll be asked to give examples of competencies.)
- Be yourself – everyone’s been tempted at some point or another to copy a great sentence directly from a website/article and then brush up on exactly what they meant later. But the recruitment team are looking for why you want to do this scheme, and why you want to work in law. Be honest about what appeals to you about law – what are the elements of the job that make you genuinely excited about the placement? If you’re reading books about law or browsing legal websites, what interests you about the duties of a solicitor you’re reading about? This point can also help with nerves: just before we started our placement we were pretty nervous that we wouldn’t be able to handle the work, but it was reassuring to know that we were chosen because of an application form (and interviews) that reflected us and our abilities. It gives you confidence to know that they think you are good enough; you wouldn’t have been chosen otherwise!
- Go deeper – and don’t be afraid to show off! Don’t panic if you don’t have any formal legal work experience. In fact, even this experience is useless if you can’t get beyond a simple description of your duties. So you worked in a shop/restaurant/cafe. What did you learn whilst working there that increased your commercial awareness? What did you discover about the business whilst working there? Any qualification or skill is worth putting on if you can justify why it would make you suited for this role. But make sure it really is justified – watching TV and being on Facebook at the same time doesn’t mean you can multitask!
- Attention to detail – this is a key skill to have, particularly for a solicitor, so it’s important to demonstrate this in your application. This means being accurate: punctuation, spelling and grammar all need to be tight. A really easy way to help with this is to type it into Word first and then transfer it to the online application. It also saves you trawling through for hours having to change all the i’s to I’s, much like Emily did!
- Legal Knowledge – conversely, this is not something you’re expected to have much of! Questions which ask specifically about the work of a law firm or pose potential problem situations require you to use the knowledge you already have and your initiative. Doing a Google search and copying legal jargon into your answer won’t help if you don’t understand what you are saying. Use these questions to show your natural ability and your commercial awareness like how to deal with clients; remember it’s more important that your answer is sensible and thought-out than containing lots of legal terms.
- Don’t waste words – don’t use lots of flowery language to fill up space – it’s obvious to the people reading your application when you’ve run out of things to write about. If you’re having trouble writing enough, why not take a break to consider the question for a day or two? On the other hand, don’t feel you have to use every single character you’re allowed. As long as your answer isn’t too short and you’ve directly answered the question, you can move on; being concise is a good skill to have!
- Show commercial awareness – this is one of those terms that is constantly used, but often people can only give hazy definitions of what it actually means. For us at Pinsent Masons, it’s being aware of the market the client operates in. Who are the main competitors of that company? How does the company make money? How does it cope with changing market conditions? To increase your commercial awareness, we recommend you start by reading the business section of newspapers and websites.
We hope that our advice has helped you to understand what Pinsent Masons is looking for from your application and what you need to demonstrate to show yourself in the best light. It may come across that it’s really complicated to make a good application, but all it takes is some thought – don’t rush in! Remember to get someone to read your application through – family, friends or teachers will all do!
We think one of the key things to remember is that anything in your application form is fair game to be questioned on in the interview. Therefore, try to keep exaggeration to a minimum as chances are you’ll be caught out. If you have any other queries – however obvious they sound – please post them in the comments below and we’ll be happy to provide an answer!
Emily and Rachel