Graduate recruiters should provide ‘tick box’ feedback

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Prioritise clarity over uncertainty when rejecting training contract applicants

“We regret to inform you that we are unable to invite you to the next stage of the selection process. Due to the high volume of applications we receive, we are unable to provide individual feedback at this stage.”

For those who have engaged in the process of applying for vacation schemes and training contracts at reputable law firms, the words above likely appear all too familiar.

Competition for training contracts is fierce, with the average success rate standing at approximately 2% per firm. Yet whilst rejections are almost an inevitable part of the process, it is naturally disheartening to receive an automated rejection email without any further clarity. Candidates often feel as though they have been left in the dark, not knowing where they went ‘wrong’ or how to improve for the future.

Admittedly, the lack of tailored feedback seems somewhat understandable. It is infeasible time-wise to expect law firms to review thousands of individual applications and provide detailed explanations behind every decision they make. In all fairness, candidates who have progressed to the final stage often do benefit from personalised feedback if they narrowly miss out on a vacation scheme or training contract offer. However, when considering the sheer number of applicants who will not progress beyond the first stage for any given firm, I do not believe that this approach alone is sufficient. The time and effort spent filling out the initial application form for just one law firm, let alone multiple, should not be understated. Many applicants are either studying or in part-time or full-time jobs. Accordingly, they will have external commitments to balance alongside networking, attending open days and researching various law firms. In my opinion, all applicants deserve to be adequately compensated for their time. I therefore thought of a middle ground that could facilitate a smoother application process for the many thousands of individuals involved.

My idea is that there should be a tick-box feature when a member of graduate recruitment or human resources reads an application form and decides not to progress with it. The recruiter would be presented with a list of possible reasons for turning down an applicant, and would be required to tick a box next to the most relevant one(s). If the applicant ‘opts in’ prior to submitting their form (also by ticking a box), these reason(s) would be included in the email informing them of their decision. Some examples of these could be as follows:

• There was insufficient demonstration of commercial awareness
• The applicant did not answer the questions asked on the form
• Answers are too brief
• Answers are too generic/not tailored to the firm
• The applicant did not sufficiently demonstrate motivation to pursue a career in law or commercial law
• There was at least one grammar or spelling mistake
• The applicant did not meet the initial requirements (e.g. they are not in the correct year of university/they have achieved or are predicted lower than a 2:1 with no extenuating circumstances or relevant contextual information)
• The applicant did not demonstrate particular skills (e.g. if they used “we” instead of “I” when answering competency questions and therefore did not show what they themselves had done in the situation)
• The application was submitted too late because recruitment is on a rolling basis and places have already been filled

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An email using this system may therefore, for example, state:

“We regret to inform you that we are unable to invite you to the next stage of the selection process. The main reason was identified as follows:

• Your application did not demonstrate sufficient motivation to pursue a career in commercial law.”

I do not anticipate that this would add much time to the application process at all. However, I acknowledge that it may seem equally harsh to receive an email similar to the one above, but as previously mentioned, the feature would be on an ‘opt-in’ basis.

By prioritising clarity over uncertainty, it may save applicants hours or even days of wondering what the exact reason was for their rejection. It would not dictate definitive changes they should make, but it would steer them in the right direction for future applications as they would know broadly which area(s) they should work on. This would particularly benefit individuals who do not have readily accessible contacts to read over and offer guidance on their application forms.

I also believe that this policy would improve transparency in the application process and reduce the possibility of any bias, albeit unconscious. It would perhaps shift emphasis away from the universities attended by applicants or the work experience that they have been fortunate enough to partake in, as these factors would not be included in the list of reasons to turn applicants down. Instead, greater weight would be given to invaluable characteristics such as motivation, teamwork and resilience.

I understand that some law firms may not wish to implement a system such as this, and therefore it should be a personal choice. However, law firms rightly attach importance to values such as support, inclusion and open communication. I therefore believe that such values could be extended to, and reflected in, the entire application process.

The author of this article is a future trainee solicitor at an international law firm.

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Unnecessary red tape.



I thought we didn’t want recruiting to become a box-ticking exercise?


Magic Circle Associate

I would have appreciated this as an applicant (I made about 40+ applications before I received my TC and it was a head-banging and mind-numbing process). However, I can sympathise with why grad rec would not want to do this. For a large firm, you may receive thousands of applicants, most of whom don’t get through the first round. That could mean hundreds or even thousands of such emails being sent out.

Can you imagine if Grad Rec accidentally ticked “Answers are too brief” when the applicant had used all of the word count? Or, imagine someone who has worked incredibly hard to try to become a lawyer, with mountains of work experience, trials and tribulations being told “Your application did not demonstrate sufficient motivation to pursue a career in commercial law”. I could well imagine someone being told this from not only incredibly frustrated but upset and hopeless after receiving that kind of feedback. I could imagine this would be even more pronounced if someone is from an underrepresented background who rightly feels like if they went to a certain school / university they would have been in a better position! Such an applicant may complain (potentially in public) and this could create a massive headache for Grad Rec. If only 10% of people complained about their feedback that would create a whole new stream of work.

Unfortunately the system is far from perfect and part of the system is just designed to eliminate people on a fairly arbitrary basis as it is unworkable to interview thousands of candidates.

However, I’m not sure this suggestion is feasible or would fix the issues.

Would recommend those who want to apply use their networks, e.g. GROW Mentoring, to have someone read their applications and give honest feedback. Or simply to read your application after you get rejected and think about what you could have done better.


Mistakes happen. Don’t let the fear of mistakes stop development

What you’re saying is “we should not provide this helpful tool to struggling applicants because there will sometimes be errors”

Sure there will be mistakes, but by and large the ticked boxes would highlight the areas for improvement for most applicants.

The issue you’ve described could be mitigated with a generic disclosure statement on each feedback email warning of potential errors due to the large number of applicants.



You’ve missed the point there.

If reasons for rejection are disclosed, then said reasons turn out to be false – this could open up graduate recruitment to claims about their hiring practice.

Things like this and policies on giving references are deliberately opaque so as to cover their own backs.



Not going to happen, grad recruiters (and HR for that matter) do the bare minimum while perpetually complaining about how low their salaries, despite them being grossly overpaid for doing very little.



100% agree. What a great idea.


Grad Wreck

Applying for a job is not like submitting a piece of university coursework unfortunately.

It’s not an employer’s job to essentially ‘mark’ your application and provide you with feedback – even if that is via a tick box.

Most firms will give you feedback following interviews and assessments; I think that’s fair.


MC trainee

Flaws analogy.

Irrelevant that it’s not the employer’s ‘job’ to mark someone’s application.

The point is that should be part of the employers job.

Of course, the extent to which they have to give feedback is the main question. You can deal in extremes – none or full written feedback. Obviously both are undesirable. Tick box is really easy middle ground that would provide wider benefits to the job market.

Transparency is a necessary for equality of opportunity and ensuring the workforce aren’t wasting energy on the wrong tasks.

I really struggle to see why this isn’t an objectively beneficial policy. Not even just law firm all other markets.


Grad Wreck

Ok, here’s some feedback:

“Flaws analogy”.

Recruiter notes: Should be flawed analogy. Application rejected.



fear you may have proved her point about how easy effective feedback is…


Grad Wreck

That was the joke…

Magic Circle HR

Might be a bit different if you have to provide to 8,000 people though? How long would it take you to email 8,000 people just with one line, out of interest?


An interesting idea, would be very helpful. We can all appreciate how much time and energy is invested into each application – to get rejected off the bat with no explanation whatsoever can be really disheartening.


MC Trainee

Fully endorsed.

Not particularly labour intensive and adds much welcomed transparency.

Anecdotal, but there is a large amount of people in my cohort who knew zilch about the commercial world (before the LPC). Aside from the fact they’re ‘polished’ or Oxbridge, I can’t quite work out how they’re here.

I played it safe and worked hard for good grades. Generally the best way to get in. That aside I have no idea how to get a TC.

Easy to see why a law firm wouldn’t want this. Nobody actually likes transparency.

It would at least force some firms to confront that they prefer a 2:1 Christ Church classics grad rather than some poor kid that’s been busting his gut to get a TC attending every virtual internship there is. It’s hard to miss the private school bias once you get inside.


it’s a shame

It’s very sad that someone who goes to Oxbridge / top Russell group can land a TC simply by getting good grades.

Someone from a lower university not only has to get outstanding grades (bias that it’s easier at lower unis) but also needs to do a hell of a lot of volunteering, work experience and extra curriculars

I went to a non-RG and had to do all of the above to land my TC as well as multiple academic prizes. I am also the only one in my year who got one

Someone I know who went to a Russell Group in my city literally just spent their 3 year degree going to lessons and exams and landed a TC.



It is easier to get higher grades at ‘lower unis’ (I think you were making a point to the contrary but not 100% sure).

How could this not be the case when the entry requirements are lower but the split of degree classifications is similar. (If anything, ‘lower unis’ have greater proportions of higher classifications – because they need to entice prospective students in the absence of other pull factors i.e. a strong reputation. Hence grade inflation.)

The fact that bright state school pupils are impeded from entering the higher unis and then shine at ‘lower unis’ (which is true) reinforces the point.



Agree w MC trainee re posh kids having done classics etc.

However, it’s understandable that there is a preference for Oxbridge/London Unis/Durham etc. grads as opposed to those from lower rankings universities. To get into those universities for most respected courses requires at least A*AA. Then, once in, you must perform to a reasonable standard to obtain a decent 2.1. This is an assurance that the candidate will be able to handle general trainee tasks. They may come across the CV of someone who came in the top 5 at a less well respected university, and this is an achievement in itself. However, they’ll be up against 50 candidates who got strong 2.1s and firsts at the top universities, and they present less of a risk.
But yes, you do come across some absolute goons who have done Classics, History, Theology at Oxbridge etc (sure everyone is familiar with the type).


MC trainee

Completely agree.

With a trainee, from what I gather, competency is prioritised over knowledge or experience. Makes sense. There’s millions at stake and you need someone who’s able to process complex info quickly. You don’t need to have won the AS commercial awareness competition to search for change of control clauses.

Tick box feedback should at least help reinforce this point and help students better allocate their efforts.


Magic Circle HR

Not correct. My firm at least has been contextually recruiting for years. People’s grades are taken into account vs. the school they went to and how they performed. Their personal circumstances are looked at. With contextual recruitment, you’re far more likely to get a TC with AAA from a low performing state school than you are AAA at somewhere like Merchant Taylors… The competition is ridiculous these days and if you have lower grades and aren’t very well rounded (ESPECIALLY if you’re traditionally ‘privileged’), you’re simply not going to stand out against those who have succeeded against all odds, founded their own charities etc. Sorry, but it’s true.


U.K. trainee

No, that’s not true.
I went to a fairly low performing comprehensive (average grade around C-, most years send 0 to Oxbridge). I know roughly 40 other trainees well enough to know their background. None of them come from a comprehensive like that. The majority are what I’d put in the class ‘private or top grammar’ and the rest (a minority) are from prestigious comprehensive schools (which you’ve probably read about and aren’t really proper comps e.g. Hills Road in Cambridge).

In my experience it’s incredibly, incredibly rare to meet someone at the top city firms from an average-poor comp school. I’ve probably met about 1 or 2 throughout university, the LPC and my firms TC. The lack of socioeconomic diversity in law is genuinely unbelievable, making the relentless focus on gender and race all the more ridiculous.



This is very true. In my cohort over half went to private/grammar schools and 90% Oxbridge/RG. I went to an (outstanding) non-selective state school and can maybe think of one other who went to a state school in a deprived area. Firms shouldn’t pretend that they’re ahead of the curve on this


State school rep

I went to a state school where 30% of students in my year received 5+ Cs at GCSE (i.e. the national benchmark) and where no student went to Oxbridge in any current teacher’s memory. Two stabbings occurred on school premises in my seven years at the school.

It is annoying to encounter people who talk loudly about having gone to state school only to see on their LinkedIn that they went to an excellent state school. There are state schools, and there are state schools. Very few people at top firms go to the type that I attended – in fact I’ve come across no-one who attended one like it.

It is also annoying to encounter people who talk about racial obstacles to their legal career, and then digging deeper reveals immense privilege. I know one such person (who shouts the mostly loudly) whose direct ancestors were judges in his country of origin.

I agree that socio-economic factors should be the primary focus (these do often intersect with race and a focus on race is also absolutely appropriate in that circumstance).

I have huge respect for people who came through in genuinely adverse circumstances.



That’s why the 93% club is hilarious. Going to a great academy like I did or a grammar school does not disadvantage you, even if there are lots of private school people in law. A good state school in an affluent part of the UK not the same as going to a sink school in a deprived area.

Are u confused

This clearly isn’t working then. Have you seen the average MC trainee?


Aspiring Partner

I think this discussion misses the purpose of the article. She isn’t specifically talking about the schools that applicants attended but is saying that the system could particularly benefit people from underprivileged backgrounds. I don’t see how someone from a private school wouldn’t also benefit from hearing why they were rejected!



I think this is a great idea – it would be very easy for grad rec to implement and very beneficial for people during the application process!



Tickbox for “Your application is shit”. That would be the easiest.

Honestly, I have reviewed hundreds of applications for various online organisations and I can assure you, the reason why these people are struggling to get a TC is that they cannot write well, they cannot effectively convey their experiences, and that they are unable to fully grasp what commercial law and lawyers actually do.



Yes, but if that’s the case let the candidate know, that’s the whole point. And honestly having a good application is literally only the first of many hurdles before getting a TC.

On the flip side, there are many good applications where due to the subjectivity of the process, they do not get through, perhaps due to a mass of applications or a graduate recruiter was having a bad day and didn’t take the time to properly review it.

There are many variables to do this TC game.



I do agree. However, I’m fairly certain the average candidate who receives constant rejections just isn’t going to be able to grasp the feedback. Countless times I’ve asked people to really come up with “something unique” about commercial law that interests them, to show they absolutely want this career.

Every time, they come back saying they want a job that “involves problem solving”, along with a host of buzzwords shoehorned in which make the sentence almost incomprehensible.

I agree, subjectivity is an issue. And yea, there probably is a bit of luck. However, in my first cycle I ended up with 4 TC offers. The difference I expect is that I actually put the work in, where many will claim they have but in truth, they are just kidding themselves.



Nice thought but they won’t do it, simply because they don’t have to and it will be “too much work for them”.



It would be great to see something like this adopted by law firms. Rejection emails often include a line encouraging applicants to just ‘apply again in the next cycle’ without any hint as to how to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

I’ve also had instances when my CV / cover letter / application was given the all-clear by my university careers support team, only for it to be quickly rejected by the law firm. You need to hear from the firm itself whether its worth investing all the hours reapplying, or if you’re just not a good fit.



Lol, the careers team. Usually filled with third years who still haven’t got a job sorted upon graduation so they are trying to add to their CV, and “professionals” who for whatever reason have now left the sector and have absolutely no clue about the modern nuances of the application of process.

My uni was your archetypical “career driven” uni. The careers team were absolutely woeful.


Aspiring Partner

Agree with this. I cannot find fault with a system that would not harm any applicants and seems to benefit both privately and state-educated candidates alike?


Ex Grad rec

I worked in recruitment for a US firm for 2 years. We were a team of 2 doing all lateral and graduate recruitment, among a lot of other responsibilities. There were 700+ applications last year for 4 training contract spots. The fairest way for us to select the top candidates is to award points to certain sections of the form and then select the top 25 or so scoring applications as well as awarding extra points sometimes for contextual/diversity. To select a reason is impossible for the other 675 applicants. There isn’t usually one reason an application is rejected. It is based on a lot of little things that add up. Good applications get rejected because they didn’t stand out enough among the numbers. I wouldn’t know what feedback to give to them even if I had all the time in the world.



Surely one could mitigate this issue by adding an option along the lines of “There were other stronger applications received by the firm”; at least that way the applicant would know that there isn’t a specific problem with one of their answers?



Then maybe the problem was that your team was just too small in comparison to amount of applications you receive. It’s quite bizarre why the firm didn’t think to hire more people.


Grad Wreck

A law firm is not going to hire a more people whose job it is to simply tell rejected candidates why they have been rejected.



“Quite bizarre”

What planet are you on? Do you have any idea how a law firm works?

I’ll give you one very good reason: Partner profits.




“Partner profits” = trust me, that will drop in the ocean for them if we are talking a “US firm”.. lol. You don’t think trainee and NQ has more of an effect than simply hiring a HR assistant that probably graduated 2 years ago 🤣…think “you”need to learn how law firms works. If they wanted to they could, and it hardly affect them.


Wakey wakey

That’s not really how internal budgeting works. The HR department of US law firm X is not going to be allocated more money because of “well we have lots of money so who cares lol”.

Hiring more people to tell candidates why they were rejected does not help the firm in any way – hiring a new associate does.


There were a lot of applications but not many roles


Ex Grad rec

There isn’t justification to hire an extra headcount when the number of vacancies you are filling is so small. An intake of 4 in theory doesn’t justify a sole grad rec person but in practice it’s still the same amount of work as those with larger intakes.


Magic circle associate

I agree with the article and is a great idea in my view. Despite the ’efforts’ this may bring to HR teams, surely if they actually aimed to increase transparencies, then this would absolutely help.

And as someone who has assessed CVS of very capable students, many fail to reach interview for very small things, indeed such as not showing why commercial law or explaining clearly why they like the firm (with an otherwise fantastic application) and I wish I could reach out to let them know why I have not put them to interview, especially when from a more disadvantaged background, but I cannot. If I am taking the 1,2,5,10,15,20 mins to review an application I have the 2 seconds additionally to add this tickboxing.

Besides, for automated rounds screened by an algorithm, this can simply be built in as far as I am aware.

Overall I think a great idea!



which MC firm gives CVs to associates to review? esp. for the TC process?

or are you ex-HR?


Magic circle associate

Won’t say for privacy but it is quite common! We only choose who gets interviewed so it’s not as if I am completo to t the whole process and it is after first round screening tests etc

And no not HR



Random/crazy thought, do firms as it stands hold info on why they reject candidates (at various stages)?

What if a disgruntled candidate demanded to know what info the firm held about them or why they were rejected via relevant data laws (definite grounds for rejection/black listing I know). But following this crazy line of thought through, I wonder what the firm would serve up. Say for example a candidate claimed there was discrimination in rejecting their application despite them meeting the required criteria. I assume the firm would have to show other reasons for rejecting the candidate’s application. Therefore, the firm would hold such information??

And if they did hold such information why not repurpose it to give helpful feedback.

Now being an associate and working with them on open days etc, in my opinion, HR/grad rec don’t always look for the best candidates/potential, just what looks good on paper or ticks boxes or makes their life easier



This sounds like a law suit waiting to happen, opening the floodgates to rejected candidates challenging graduate recruitment’s decision making and causing a lot of work for someone. It is no doubt a frustrating process but firm’s don’t really owe you anything.



You have to understand what the partners are expecting a HR team to do. The main objective is to hire great trainees who will become great associates and beyond.

As this is the focus of the role, HR teams will prioritise tasks that meet this objective. These tasks will include interviewing, running vacation schemes, assessment centres etc. Essentially focusing on progressing candidates through the recruitment process.

Unfortunately, spending huge amounts of time telling rejected candidates why they have been rejected, isn’t going to meet this objective – especially if it comes at the expense of actually hiring candidates.

I understand why it’s frustrating from a candidate’s perspective, but candidates also need to see it from both sides.



“Spending huge amounts of time”

it’s literally ticking a box…


Grad Rec

Why is it so hard for people to understand that ‘just ticking a box’ for c. 8,000 people (for say, 100 spots…) isn’t realistic? Majority of people I reject is because they’ve put no effort in to their application, written a mere few words, and clearly aren’t suitable (no experience, no clear reason why they’re even interested in law). We can’t add a box in for ‘completely unsuitable’ because the PR would be a nightmare. NO candidate thinks they’re unsuitable, they’re always going to argue this point and grad rec simply doesn’t have the time to provide feedback to all and deal with people calling in to tell them they’re wrong based on the tick box. Use your university careers team…

P.S. those who are on the cusp of receiving an offer are usually told and given feedback, as well as encouraged to apply next year. If you’ve only ever received rejections and never even had a convo with grad rec – why do you think that is?



You have absolutely no clue how all of this works. This is probably why you are championing this tickbox argument in a hope yo improve your chances of making a successful app.

It’s not going to help. The problems are much deeper.


Wannabe lawyer turned MBB-er

One thing that I don’t think is widely appreciated is just how cumbersome law applications are compared to consulting/finance/tech. Whereas for some of those firms a resume, personal details, and some quick eligibility questions constitutes a complete application, and at most they generally ask for a cover letter and for you to fill in work experience, university education and a levels separately, law firms (a few aside such as Slaughters) frequently ask a few customised 250 word questions, each of your module grades going back to GCSE and all through university, etc. This makes the applications far more time consuming, even though they’re no more competitive than other top fields.

Moreover, consulting and tech (finance is a bit more mixed) at least will always provide detailed feedback (an actual call) even after a first round interview. If they can do it, it’s hard to believe law firms can’t.


Let's be realistic

The argument seems to be that those who have been (continually) rejected would somehow be able to improve subsequent applications based on one line of feedback. This is nonsense.

First, as someone commented above, the majority of applications are sub-standard in every way. Many of them are terrible. I have proofread countless application answers and am shocked at the standard of writing, the inability to convey experiences, and a misunderstanding of what a junior lawyer’s work entails.

Second, and more important, this completely misses the mechanics of recruiting. People are rarely rejected for a simple, one-line reason; because their ‘commercial awareness wasn’t strong enough’ or they had a 2.2 module grade in first year. Rather, applications are constantly assessed based on their HR’s intuition, and strong their overall application is relative to other candidates.

Simply, people are rejected because their applications, overall, we just not as good as those who got it. This isn’t going to be solved by a tick-box, one-line feedback summary.


Motivational speaker

Understand it’s a process, very rarely are candidates not rejected (even oxbridge, Durham types have been rejected). Once you understand it’s merely a process and arguably a “numbers” game it becomes easier.

I know someone that applied to 25 firms and got a TC at K&E. 25! If at his 10th go after continually being rejected at app/interview stage, he may have just given up but didn’t.

Keep going – f the haters!

May the force be with you.


US 4 Seat

I probably applied to more than 25 overall.
Honestly, I could not tell you why some interviewed and accepted me, and why some rejected me.
It is a complete numbers game. I would spend huge amounts of times on the firms I had classified as my favourites (for whatever reason), and get rejected straight away. I’d apply to another by copying and pasting answers from another application and get accepted. It’s all bizarre.


Reality check

In a recruitment utopia, this is a great idea. In reality, it’s not practical.

As a legal graduate recruiter, your job is driven by minimising risk while hiring people (you work for a law firm after all) whilst interacting with thousands of people during the process.

This idea presents too many risks to the firm, which is why it won’t happen.

Anyone who also thinks this is a “quick” process hasn’t been involved in the end-to-end process of graduate recruitment. The “tick-box” process might be quick, but the process of then adding this information to a recruitment system or then informing thousands of candidates won’t necessarily be. You’d also have many more interactions with rejected candidates, either disgruntled with the feedback or wanting to know specifically what could have been done to not get a tick in that box. The process only starts when you tick a box.



Hi all,

Thank you very much for commenting and engaging with this post; I really appreciate it. I didn’t think it would get so many responses and it has been really interesting reading through them (especially those from the recruiters’ perspectives).

I decided to write this just because I was reflecting on my own application process a couple of years back. This was a simple outline of an idea I thought of that could perhaps improve the current system. I appreciate how hard graduate recruitment work every day and I therefore would not have suggested something that I knew may add significant time to the application process (in the same way that tailored feedback would). However, I am always open to constructive criticism and acknowledge that even if this exact suggestion would not be feasible in practice, it has been great to get a discussion going on this topic nonetheless!

All the best


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