A Graduate Recruiter’s Guide Miniseries: Training Contract & Vacation Scheme Applications

The Legally Speaking Podcast are delighted to bring you all the ‘A Graduate Recruiters Guide’ Miniseries, featuring Paul Gascoyne from Shearman & Sterling.

Paul is a Senior Recruitment Manager at Shearman & Sterling with over 10 years of experience in recruiting graduates and school leavers. Prior to this Paul worked at BPP Law School as a Senior Outreach Marketing Manager.  Paul is renowned for creating excellent resources for aspiring lawyers.

The Miniseries will delve into how aspiring lawyers can master the training contract & vacation scheme application process, from researching law firms, getting the right things in your application and also dispelling some of the classic myths that many believe to be true.

In our second  episode, our host Rob Hanna and Paul discuss Training Contract & Vacation Scheme Applications, including:

  • What should students include in a good training contract or vacation scheme application
  • What kind of experience is useful for people to have to be able to put in applications
  • How you can directly link your own experience to the law firms you are applying to


00:01 Robert Hanna:

So today Paul and I are going to be talking about what training contracts and vacation scheme application should really look like and what experience you can be getting to help improve your application. So welcome back, Paul.


00:16 Paul Gascoigne:

Welcome back. It’s got to be.


00:17 Robert Hanna:

Absolute pleasure really enjoyed last week with all things research. But today we’re getting to the next part of the process, which is obviously training contracts and vacation scheme applications. So we both know it can be hard navigating the training contract and vacation scheme applications, and people have no idea what they should be including, tell us more about what students should really be putting in an application to stand out?


00:45 Paul Gascoingne:

Well, I think this is the point they need to stand out. But ultimately, part of the process is that candidates think about how they stand out and put that in the application form. So for example, one of the questions that I must answer maybe 10 times a week, is I’ll get an email or the student will ask me a question. And they’ll ask me, how do I make my application stand out? But it’s not for me to say, I can’t tell you how you are going to stand out to me. That’s the point of the exercise. So I think this is the issue at the moment, I think one of the great things that we find now is that there is so much information online, on the internet through blogs and websites and forums. But I also think it stops candidates thinking independently, sometimes it’s almost as if they haven’t read something online, or someone online hasn’t said this is how you answer a particular question. Candidates are reluctant to do it. But ultimately, what happens is that so many candidates followed that same advice. And all of the applications look the same. So one thing I would say is candidates should not be afraid to write something that is distinctive, that is unique, that hasn’t been read on a blog, because I can guarantee that the vast majority of applicants that hit applications that are read sound exactly the same. And in many cases, information has been copied and pasted. There are a few places online, where people might give mock examples, or maybe they were successful in an application. And then they’ve put that on a blog for people to copy the amount of times that people copy and paste that and then put it into the application form. And as a reader, you just begin to spot that. So the first thing is really try and think about what your strengths are, really try and think about how you are going to stand out and how you differentiate yourself against other people. And there is nothing wrong with that at all. Don’t follow all the advice online. Because often, it can only apply to one individual person. Don’t follow somebody else’s path.


02:38 Robert Hanna:

I love that because we talk a lot particularly on the Legally Speaking Podcast about being human embracing, being yourself, being authentic and actually opening up and you know, not less looking to try and go down the path others have done. And that’s brilliant to hear that from someone who’s in a top US law firm in London that is what you really want to see the individual in the individual come out with that, you know, there’s a lot of talk about, you know, obviously people put their strengths in applications, but also, you know, development areas for not using the word weaknesses. But, you know, how do people best convey that in a way that would make their application because, you know, at the end of the day, they start the careers, they don’t know everything. And it’s about being authentic and saying, look, I don’t have experience in this. But this is what I would do any tips around kind of showcasing that in the right way in an application?


03:22 Paul Gascoigne:

Well, I think this is part one of understanding the process. And sometimes I feel that candidates are trying to put too much in the application form, the way that most law firms will recruit is they’ll start off with an online application, then there’ll be an interview, and then they might be invited to a vacation scheme. Your application form does not get you a training contract. Your application form invites you to interview. Now, in terms of this idea of being different and being distinctive. I don’t think we’re any different with our numbers at Shearman. But every year, we receive around 1500 applications. And then we interview somewhere between 100 and 150. So I mean, actually, it’s usually around 5%. So only 5% of the people who apply, make it through to interview. Now in the application form. There’s no question that asked you about your weaknesses. Some law firms might do, but I think that’s quite unusual. It’s much more likely to be around what do you know about the law firm? Why do you want to be a commercial lawyer at this firm? Those are really the two big questions. So that information about weaknesses and strengths, ultimately, that those are probably more suited to interview stage. So the application form, just focus on answering the questions which are on there. Don’t try and answer questions which aren’t being asked. So if you’ve been asked, you know, why do you want to be a commercial lawyer really scrutinize yourself really think deep? And think, how do I convey that in a way that makes sense to the reader? That doesn’t make me sound like everybody else? And I think part of this part of applying for training contracts is to understand that journey, what am I, what’s being assessed, at which stage and I think sometimes candidates get they read so much information they get a bit paranoid about do I need to include this, do I not need to include that more firms are trying to trick people with their questions. So for example, we’ve got an open day. And it’s my application. It’s a very simple application. There’s one question on it that says, please use this space to tell us why you want to attend this open day. And that’s it. The amount of times that people panic and think it’s some kind of trick question. What do I need to include in that in that answer? And it’s just an honest, open question. And sometimes, I think candidates think too much about some of these questions and some of the answers that they might provide.


05:30 Robert Hanna:

I think that’s really sage advice, because a lot of people get nervous, they think I need to put absolutely everything in there. But you’re saying, you know, keep it simple, really revert back to the question, double down on really emphasizing the points that are being asked, rather than trying to go here, there and everywhere losing direction, and perhaps not coming across as focused. And that’s something that people need to keep in mind. So with that, then, you know, we talk a lot about, you know, get any experience before becoming a lawyer, just any sort of, you know, get into a law firm anything. So what kind of experience is useful for people to have to be able to put into their applications? You know, obviously, if they’ve been a paralegal or they’ve had some legal assistant roles, but what other stuff do you think?


06:11 Paul Gascoigne:

Well, I think anything that is related to working in a professional environments, because one of the things that we don’t want to do is to progress someone through an application process who and they’ve never done a day’s work in a law firm, because it could be an environment they don’t enjoy, they could have done very well academically there, the answers could be very good in the application form. But without any tangible work experience, it’s a bit of a risk from the side of both parties; from the law firm, and the candidates. But it doesn’t have to be legal work experience, we’re not assessing anyone’s legal knowledge. But ultimately, if you are stepping foot into a commercial organization, professional services, they all operate in a very similar way. So I think anything that is, you know, similar to the law, firm environments is irrelevant. But I always say to candidates, all work experience is relevant. Some of it is just more relevant than others, a Saturday job at Tesco is not completely irrelevant. It shouldn’t be left off the application form. But just understand that, it’s probably not going to be the piece of experience that makes you stand out. But that combined with a few open days, maybe a week in an industry placements, maybe a vacation scheme, it all adds up. And candidates ultimately present a portfolio of work experience that we can then evaluate when we need an application for yeah, really.


07:25 Robert Hanna:

Really good advice once again, Paul and other supermarkets are available. As we look to wrap up, and as a fellow recruiter, and we talk a lot about synergies in our industry. But I know that people often talk about what they like about a firm, but not how that links with their experience directly. So how can people directly link their own experience to law firms?


07:53 Paul Gascoigne:

I think part of this is being able to answer that question, why do you want to work for this law firm, there’ll be some kind of motivation. Now for some people, it will just be the fact that they’re hitting the top 50 law firms, and in which case, they probably are going to struggle answering that question. And I think if people are genuinely applying for law firms based on a genuine reason that they have, whether it’s the culture, whether it’s the type of practice areas, whether it’s like the International elements of the law firm, then as long as you’ve got a genuine reason, then that can come across in a very genuine way when you read it. So I think that’s ultimately the test. You have to you have to a genuine interest in law and you have to have a genuine interest in the law firm that you’re applying to. And then then it’s easy. Yeah.


08:35 Robert Hanna:

No, absolutely. And that’s why I always say to people quality over quantity, be genuinely interested, curious, go above and beyond and put all your extra efforts into that application, you stand a far better chance. So thank you so much. Once again, Paul, really appreciate your time this week. I think you’ve given some really solid advice around training contracts and vacation scheme applications. Can’t wait for our final talk next week where we cover the myths surrounding law firm applications. So thanks so much and looking forward to chatting more next week.

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