With over 1,440 applications for just 30 training contracts, you need all the insider information you can get. We spoke to Joanne Smallwood, Graduate Recruitment Specialist at Bond Dickinson, about what you can expect when applying for a training contract with the firm, to make sure you’re one step ahead of the rest.
In your experience, how does the recruitment process at a regional law firm differ from that of a City law firm?
I don’t think the recruitment process differs too much between regional, national and City-based firms. We are all looking for intellectually capable, motivated and enthusiastic candidates who understand the need to provide practical, commercial advice to our clients.
Due to the number of applications each firm receives, it’s vital that recruiters develop effective assessment methods, ensuring the best candidates are shortlisted. This year, for example, we have continued with pre-recorded video interviewing to our process, replacing the online verbal reasoning test.
How many training contract applications does Bond Dickinson receive per intake? How do you narrow down that number?
During the 2015/16 recruitment-process we received 1,440 applications for 30 training contracts.
Graduate recruitment will always be competitive. Successful applicants are those who are proactive and engaged in the process; those who have taken the time to meet with representatives from the firm, for example candidates who do their research – not only on the firm, but who we work with, our clients’ industries, who they will be working with – are in the best position to decide whether we’re the right firm for their training.
Trainees are the firm’s succession planning, so we look for candidates who want to be with the business for the long term.
What is the worst thing you’ve ever seen on a training contract application?
I have read some bad applications in my time. The worst ones are those lazy applications full of buzzwords but with no substance behind the comments, clichés like: “I am a good communicator” and “I’m a great team player”, for example.
On the other end of the scale, what makes a successful training contract application?
Well-researched applications are the best ones, touching on the applicant’s skill set and demonstrating how those skills are transferrable to the role of a junior lawyer.
A successful application will display a clear understanding of our business and clients, and show an interest in embarking on a long-term career with Bond Dickinson.
Do you really look at a candidates GCSE grades? How important are A-level grades in your decision-making process?
We do not assess candidates using their GCSEs, however, it is interesting to see how they have developed during their academic career. In some cases candidates can use their academic results to highlight their drive and ambition.
What personal qualities do you look for in future trainees?
We look for several different qualities within our trainee intake. We want different personalities coming through the process – we need to be diverse to be a successful business.
One of the main qualities we look for are drive and enthusiasm, which are things we can’t teach. If a trainee has these qualities, they will naturally be motivated to succeed.
How important is having relative work experience? What other useful things could aspiring lawyers be getting up to in their free time?
Work experience doesn’t have to be related to law or the sectors we work in – any experience is good experience. We are looking for well-rounded individuals who have interests outside of academia.
Use your extra-curricula activities to demonstrate how you are interested in the career path and understand the skills needed to be a successful commercial lawyer.
Join networking groups, such as the Junior Lawyers Division, or societies that give you access to people within the profession, or a profession we work alongside such as banking and finance.
What is your top tip for aspiring lawyers looking to make a real impression on graduate recruiters at law fairs?
Come prepared. Standout students have already done their research on the firms they would like to speak to, making the most of the opportunity to meet with representatives from the firms they are inserted in joining.
Commercial awareness is obviously the big buzzword in the legal sector these days! How can training contract applicants make their commercial awareness apparent on their applications and at interview?
The understanding of commercial awareness differs from firm to firm and from person to person. We are looking for people who show a general awareness of the world around them, they should be interested in the world at large as topical events play a big part in the way we advise our clients.
Understand that you are joining a business. Ask yourself: do you share our ambitions and values? Who are our clients, what are their goals and values?
Applicants can demonstrate their awareness through work experience, employment, and the groups and societies they are involved with.
How important is the graduate recruiter interview on an assessment/interview day? What would impress you most at such an interview?
Interviews for both the work placements and training contracts involve a member of the graduate team and a partner or managing associate. Recruitment is a two way process: the interview gives candidates the opportunity to expand on their applications and provide evidence of their skill set, as well as demonstrating enthusiasm to work for the firm
Throughout the recruitment process, candidates should always be themselves.
What are your top tips for aspiring lawyers looking to secure a training contract with Bond Dickinson?
Everything I’ve already spoken about. Make sure you put time and effort into your application; add examples that demonstrate your skill set, and do not rely on statements. Do not tell me who we are, but what aspects of the firm are important to you.
Most importantly, be yourself and keep researching the firm throughout the process: things can change quickly within the legal market.
Bond Dickinson’s training contract and vacation schemedeadlines are coming up soon: 28 February 2017.
For more information, visit the Bond Dickinson profile here.