'Show, don't tell': making your Freshfields application stand out

You should have done this essential preparation before filling out your Freshfields application:

  • Checked the application timetable
  • Researched Freshfields training contracts
  • Reviewed skills sought by the Freshfields graduate recruiters

One thing to remember when filling out your application: 'show don't tell' – Freshfields is swamped with applications so you need to cut the hyperbole and provide solid evidence of your suitability for a training contract at Freshfields.

Basics of completing the Freshfields application form

There are 8 sections to the Freshfields online application but the part you really need to get right is the personal statement. You have 850 words to persuade the graduate recruiters you're ideal training contract material. At first this will seem like a lot of space to fill, but you'll quickly find yourself doing re-drafts to select what is most relevant from your experience – positions of responsibility, regular employment, work experience, extra-curricular achievements and personal qualities can all be used to support your application.

You should also allocate time to thoroughly proofreading your application. Lawyers build their career on attention to detail and yours won't get off the ground if you overlook a grammatical or spelling error. The firm's head of graduate recruitment concurs: 'Recruiters have been barking on about it for years, but spelling mistakes are a deal breaker.' Reading your application aloud is an effective technique for rooting out those mistakes, and it’s always worth asking a friend or family member to check things over. Tip: formatting is lost if you copy and paste your draft from a Word document into the box provided.

Freshfields personal statement

According to the graduare recruitment team, 'a personal statement from the brightest applicant falls flat if they fail to demonstrate an understanding of what is expected of a commercial lawyer.' Invoke the commandment 'Thou shalt evidence your suitability to be a commercial lawyer' every time you start a paragraph and you won't go far wrong.

Positions of responsibility

List positions of responsibility that emphasise the skills and attributes the Freshfields' graduate recruiter look for in its trainees. A committee role in the university law society, for example, is a good start, but many other candidates will also be able to say this. Can you go further by explaining your specific achievements in the role? For example: ‘As communications officer, I maintained the website, digitalised the core processes of the law society and raised our profile on social networking sites – our Facebook following increased by 50% during my time in office’.

Regular employment

If you managed to get paid summer work at a high street law firm then that will no doubt impress recruiters, but don’t worry if you haven’t – skills you need to be a solicitor can be developed in any role, for example: 'As an assistant at a Little Waitrose convenience store, I was contributing to a growth area and dealing direct with customers in a fast-paced environment.'

Work experience

Vacation schemes, open days, workshops – there is no shortage of options for making a first foray into City law. The Freshfields graduate team is adamant that doing a vacation scheme does not give you an edge over other applicants, but with other City firms streamlining the recruitment process and offering exemplary vacation schemers a training contract place, its importance should not be downplayed. This is reinforced by the fact the application process for a Freshfields vacation scheme is identical to that for a place on a training contract. So, what should you do if you're not successful?

If you attended another firm's vacation scheme, then include it here. Commercial firms are not concerned about where you got your experience, as long as you can hit the ground running at the start of your contract. Even if you haven't managed to secure a vacation scheme at a City firm, there are other types of work experience you can mention in support of your application.

In 2013-2014, 42% of Freshfields' lawyers undertook pro bono work. If you volunteered at your university advice clinic or, even better, at a local legal walk-in centre, you're demonstrating values and experience that will impress the trainee recruitment manager just as much as if you’ve done a vacation scheme.

Extra-curricular achievements

There will be cross-over between positions of responsibility and extra-curricular, but try to list achievements here that demonstrate additional skills. So, if your positions of responsibility demonstrate teamwork and organisation skills, list outside interests that indicate determination and commercial instinct. For example: 'As the student union's VP of activities and development I wanted to get more funding to run bigger events. I steered fundraising away from traditional cake sales towards more innovative ways of attracting investment, especially through tapping into union and society alumni.'

Personal qualities

What is your motivation, beyond money, for becoming a City lawyer? The hours are punishing and the work of a trainee can be monotonous, so there needs to be something innate that will keep you motivated. Perhaps you're interested in making connections that help other people achieve their objectives or devising pragmatic solutions to people's problems.'

If your desire to work for Freshfields stems from a similar passion for problem solving, express it. Equally, if you know you're the kind of person who would derive satisfaction from wheeling the oils of industry or playing a small but important role in a huge transaction, the trainee recruitment manager will be reading intently: 'Motivation is everything,' explains the head of the graduate recruitment team. 'If they can’t persuade me they want the job for the right reasons, then it is unlikely that they will be invited through to interview. Candidates should focus on providing an honest reflection of who they are.'

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