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
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.