How competitive are vacation schemes?

Regardless of whether you’re a law enthusiast or just a student exploring your career options, there’s no use submitting a half-hearted vacation-scheme application. Here’s some stats on the competition, and some advice on how to make your application a winner.

  • Last updated Jul 16, 2019 5:00:05 PM
  • By Billy Sexton

How many people apply for vacation schemes?

There’s no point in denying it, or trying to make the competition sound less fierce than it is. The fact of the matter is that competition is high, and law firms expect a very high standard. Top City firm Allen & Overy receives around 3,000 applications for 60 vacation-scheme placements. That means one student in every 50 will secure a vacation scheme. Mathematically speaking, that’s a 2% chance.

What do the firms say about this? The Guardian had a quick chat with Allen & Overy, and its graduate recruiter explained that the numbers can be off-putting because numbers obviously don’t take into account quality. “Many are littered with spelling errors and mistakes that are easy to avoid, for example, and therefore students are encouraged to ignore the numbers and concentrate on making their own application as good as it possibly can be."

OK, that sounds fair enough—but how do you make a good application excellent?

Quality, not quantity—tailor your applications

As vacation schemes are half the battle to securing a training contract, you could be tempted into attaching a whole host of applications to the tiny feet of thousands of carrier pigeons. One word on this idea: don’t. Firms prefer to receive a well-focused application that reveals thorough research into the firm and its practice areas and opportunities. We recommend sending off an absolute maximum of ten vacation-scheme applications, ensuring that each application is tailored to each specific firm. Don’t even dream of including answers such as, “It’s always been my career dream to work for firm X and my passion for law is evident because I study it at university.”

A “passion for law” is a prerequisite, regardless of what firm you apply to, and instead of claiming that it’s your “career dream” to work for a firm, maybe explain that you’re attracted to the firm because of their areas of practice or because you attended a very insightful talk by a partner on a first-year open day.

Experience & skills

You might be vice-president of the law society, or maybe you’re an absolute champ when it comes to mooting. Either way, you should highlight this experience in your vacation-scheme applications and tell firms how it furthered your interest in a particular area of law.

Alternatively, you can mention how your time management, research, analytical and communication skills (from all those law essays and seminar presentations) are top notch and can be transferred into the world of work.

The bottom line

Vacation schemes are competitive, but with good reason. There are also a large number of applications that don't even make it through the initial screening process: particularly those with spelling and grammar errors, or those that mention the wrong law-firm name (believe us, it happens!) or talk about a department that doesn't exist at that firm. If your application is free from these easily avoided errors, your chances of being considered will go up dramatically. 

Competition for vacation schemes is fierce, but don’t let the numbers put you off submitting an application. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket!

Next article: Vacation-scheme application process

 If you're currently on the hunt for a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme, head over to our Law Jobs section.

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