How to Write a Successful Job Application

How to Write a Successful Job Application

Applications Blog

It seems to be around that time of year again when everyone around you is panicking about their “next big career move”. It’s hard to have a conversation without someone mentioning ‘vacation schemes’, ‘assessment centres’, ‘the gateway’, ‘training contracts’, ‘pupillage’, or ‘deadlines’. Applications of some form or another seem to be all that anybody is talking about, so much so that you’re surprised it’s not trending on Twitter. Daunting, right?!

In the NLS Legal Advice Centre, we’ve also been throwing around those dreaded words: CV, cover letter, application form, interview. Having just recruited lots of brilliant NLS students to a variety of our Pro Bono projects, we’ve done our fair share of reviewing applications and interviewing candidates recently. We’re always impressed with the quality of the applications that we receive from our students, but we also see the same mistakes cropping up time after time which are often a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.

Here are our top tips for how to write a CV, cover letter or an application that will set you well on your way to being on the RIGHT pile:

  • Read the application and know what it involves. Before you do anything else, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself in to! Ask yourself do you really want this role? Are you interested in what we do? Are you the sort of person that we are looking for? If the answer to any of these questions is no then why are you wasting your time, which could be so well spent binge-watching Netflix with your housemates, on applying for this position?
  • Use the proper layout for your documents. If you’re sending a cover letter, make sure it’s a letter. A proper, old-school, “snail mail” letter. You know the drill. Make sure your CV is set out in a way that makes sense and doesn’t put people off reading it. Don’t use size 6 font so that you can get everything in. And the one thing that we tell all of our students: justify everything! It just looks neater.
  • Stick to word and page limits. If we ask for a one-sided cover letter, we want a one-sided cover letter. We don’t want a “mostly one-sided but it won’t matter too much if my final paragraph and my name goes on to the other side” cover letter. If we ask for 300 words on why you want to volunteer for this role, we don’t expect to receive reams and reams on how your amazing volunteering experience in Asia helped you discover your true passion for Pro Bono. As interesting as you undoubtedly are, don’t waffle on! Keep your application brief and to the point.
  • Address your application to the right organisation and apply for the right role. Ok, so you’re probably scoffing at this one. Nobody actually does this, right? Wrong.  If you’re writing to the Legal Advice Centre (not Clinic!) to apply for a role ‘as a FRU representative’ at ‘the Johnson Partnership’, we aren’t reading any more of your application. Which is a shame, because you’ve unquestionably put a lot of time and effort into it and it was no doubt brilliant otherwise. Don’t make yourself an easy no!
  • Use professional language. It might sound silly to you when you write it, but it is much better to address your application ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ than to send it to ‘that nice guy I met at that lecture last week’. By all means this is no time to eat a giant slice of humble pie, but pitch your explanation of how great you are in the right tone; don’t tell us that you ‘study smart for your exams and get brilliant marks’. Remember that this is an application, not a conversation, so just think twice before writing that you want to pursue a career within the legal profession ‘I guess family, criminal, etc…’. 
  • Check your spelling and grammar. Go back to basics: use apostrophes (but only where you need them), don’t have a 7-line sentence with an absolute abundance of commas, and only use semi-colons if you know how to use semi-colons. Use English spellings instead of their American counterparts – it’s organised, not organized! If you’re talking about your Acceler8 Award, spell Acceler8 correctly (it’s not Aceller8, Accerler8 or Aceler8!). It sounds so basic, but you’d be amazed how often we hear from people wanting to volunteer at the ‘Legal Advise Center’.
  • Answer the question. Don’t go off on a tangent about something that is definitely interesting but entirely irrelevant. If the question on your application asks why you would be good at the role, is it really a good idea to start ranting about the extremely limited access that people have to legal aid? Limit yourself in what you’re saying and stay on topic.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. If you’ve already written that you’re ‘a motivated, driven and passionate team player with strong commercial awareness’ (spot the buzzword!), don’t tell us that again. Use the limited space you have to get in everything that you can.
  • Put in everything you can. On that note… include all your work experience, relevant or otherwise. Talk about your achievements and your skills, your positions of responsibility. Get in anything that will make you attractive to that employer – what have they asked for in the job specification and have you shown this in your application? Even though it can feel uncomfortable, this is not the time to be modest! And don’t forget to include evidence to back up what you’re saying. It’s great to hear that you ‘communicate effectively’, but how have you shown this?
  • Put your degree grade on CV. If you don’t, it will only lead to a sneaking suspicion that you perhaps don’t think you did as well as you’d wanted to, or that maybe you don’t meet the entry requirements for the role. Undoubtedly, if there’s an interview you will get asked about this, so own it from the start!
  • Don’t lie. If you don’t avidly read The Financial Times for updates on the latest FTSE movements, don’t say that you do! It’s a dangerous web that will quickly become untangled.
  • Take your time and proofread your application. So many of these errors you would have noticed if you’d sat down and given your application a second, third and even fourth glance. Don’t rush to send it off because you can’t wait to get out to Ocean, we will notice!

If you want further help with your applications contact Ed Mosley in Employability (edward.mosley@ntu.ac.uk), and be sure to look out for our upcoming blog on how to ace your interview! You can also meet us at the NLS Law Fair on Wednesday 25 January 2017, 5.30pm – 8pm in Newton, to find out what projects we have to offer and how you can get involved!


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