Summer is here, exams are over and you don’t have to be back on campus until October – time to put your feet up. Or is it? Well, not if you want to be the career early bird and bag yourself a job before you graduate. Some of the big graduate schemes are already open for business, so there’s no time to waste if you want to get ahead of the pack.
Make a start
From now onwards it’s possible to make applications for graduate schemes, so use this window of opportunity while you can. Feedback from some of our top graduate recruiters suggests that three-quarters of applications are usually made in the final third of the recruitment cycle. Many employers recruit on a rolling basis so that they start reviewing applications as soon as they arrive; you stand a better chance of scaling that first hurdle if you submit an early application. Leave it too late and the vacancies may be filled.
Before you rush off to start writing your applications, just pause for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of a graduate recruiter. In particularly competitive sectors employers may be reviewing hundreds or even thousands of applications. Some may outsource this function or use applicant tracking systems, but for many it’s still a manual process. And that means reading through application after application – a pretty monotonous task. They have the unenviable job of having to look for reasons to reject, not select, applicants and nearly all will carry out a rapid “first cut” to remove the worst offenders.
Mistakes will cost
The stark truth is that for some recruiters, and law firms are top of this list, even one typo or grammatical or spelling mistake can be enough to see you rejected. Don’t rely on spell check to do the work for you and watch out for the (un) helpful autocorrect feature, which can turn a grammatically sound sentence into a syntactical nightmare. You might type something correctly, and find its changed into something far less pleasing. Autocorrect is particularly prone to change ”your” to ”you’re” and “its” to “it’s”. Always get someone else to proof your document before you hit send. You will read for what you expect to see, a third-party will read what’s there – therein lies the difference!
If you don’t enjoy crafting fluent English sentences, or if English is not your first language, the application process is going to be even more fraught. Keep your sentences and your vocabulary simple and don’t be tempted by the thesaurus. If you try to impress with long words and you’re unsure what they mean, your application will fall flat. At best the application will provided some unintended humour and at worst you’ll frustrate the recruiter who’s trying to disentangle the meaning. Remember that application writing is not the same as academic writing: clarity is king. A simple sentence which conveys meaning suggests an ability to communicate clearly and is a reasonable indicator that you can write coherent reports, letters of advice and memos. Such writing might see you through the cut.
You may be feeling confident about your chances, particularly if you’re graduating with a (predicted) first, have an internship under your belt and have been a society president. This confidence may be misplaced! If you submit a rushed application littered with errors, your chance of proceeding to the interview stage is virtually nil.
How many words?
Use the information in the application form to guide the length of your answers. If a question has a 500 answer word limit then you won’t be able to produce a compelling answer in 300 or 400 words. It may sound obvious, but read and answer the question asked – not the one you’d prefer to answer. And don’t think you can just re-hash answers from an earlier application form; recruiters can see through these games and get irritated by attempts to throw them off course.
Never copy and paste, always start each new application from scratch as a new document and keep referring back to the question. When you are writing essays you need to answer the question to get good marks – application forms are no different! Remember that we’re here to help and guide you through the application process, but that doesn’t mean we’ll do the work for you. Will we check applications – yes? Every single one? Certainly not. You need to take ownership of the process and apply the right techniques. Do that and you’re on the road to success.