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As law students, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to secure training contracts or pupillages. We spend a significant amount of time making applications while at university. On the internet there are countless articles and blog posts advising us how to do this, outlining useful strategies and offering tips and tricks to obtain the job of our dreams. The reality is, however, that no matter how many hours we put into our coursework, pro bono work, mooting, sports and societies, not everyone achieves their goal on the first try. So, what happens when things don’t go quite as planned.
I wanted to dive deeply into the reality of pursuing a career in law and find out what happens when law students find themselves faced with multiple rejections. From speaking with my peers, I realised that dealing with rejection is something which is a common occurrence and incredibly stressful for students, but it is not something we talk about. In order to further understand students’ views on the recruitment process and their experience with rejections, I asked law students across the UK to take a survey and the responses came flooding in.
An overwhelming 45% of students surveyed described feeling sad when thinking about applications or their future job prospects. Furthermore, only 8% of students said they felt any hope. The remaining students described feeling anger and frustration towards the process. It is not difficult to see why: from the survey it emerged that before getting one acceptance, students go through an average of 15 rejections. Being told 15 times that you are not “a good fit” for the firms you have applied to can be extremely disheartening, with one student saying, “We are told to be resilient, to get experience, to be well-rounded, an academic – we do all this and yet perhaps another area is not good enough.”
The lack of feedback was something which was commented on by several respondents, with one student saying, “Many of the firms that I applied to did not provide feedback after I had an interview and it feels like the hard work that I have put in is not valued at all.” This sentiment is echoed by another student, who states, “Considering the number of hours we put into making the application it would be nice if we got some automated feedback as to why the application did not progress. There is clearly a problem with some applications, but how do we know how to improve without any feedback?"
Other students expressed complaints about the recruitment process. Some hold that the current system is not fair to those who come from a disadvantaged socio-economic background, others that the standardized tests many firms employ are not a good tool to gauge a candidate’s potential.
So, after the 15th rejection in a system that you believe to be inherently flawed, how do you find the motivation to submit more applications? Is it possible to deal with rejections in a healthy manner? Below you’ll find some advice on what to do if you are feeling dejected.
Many of the comments I received were about the lack of feedback by the potential employer, and that is not a surprise. It is hard to have hope about the future if you know your applications are not good enough; and without feedback, it is much harder to figure out what you need to improve. There are many different ways to get feedback, however, which do not include contacting the firm or chambers you have applied to. Firstly, consider a visit to your university’s career centre. Alternatively, try asking one of your lecturers, a course mate, or – if you are lucky enough – a friend who has obtained a training contract or pupillage.
Getting feedback from someone who is more experienced than you can help you to understand which mistakes you have made on your application form. This will put things in perspective: the problem is not that you are not good enough, rather that your application form did not reflect your true potential.
From the survey it emerged that about 36% of students who have received multiple rejections have changed career aspirations. Of these people, 28% have completely abandoned the idea of a career in law. It is normal to feel disheartened after rejections. It is normal to feel like maybe, just maybe, this is not your path. But perseverance is a virtue and using this experience to build resilience is the best thing you can do. Understand that if you do not even try, then your possibilities of obtaining a training contract or pupillage stand at a solid 0%. If, however, you keep persevering and sending out more applications, those probabilities rise up significantly. And that brings me to my final point...
No application has to be your last. Unless serious circumstances arise, from which it becomes clear you will no longer be able to pursue a career in law, the reality is that you have your whole life ahead of you. We are led to believe that if you fail to obtain a training contract or a pupillage in your second year at university, then you get “behind”, and are somehow perceived as a “second-class applicant”. That could not be more false. Whether this is your second, third, tenth or fiftieth cycle of applications, you will not be judged negatively by your prospective employer. Instead, what that will tell them is that you never stop working for what you want. So, continue your studies or seek alternative employment, but keep applying until you get it.
The most important thing to remember, though, is never think that you are "not cut out for this". The application process is meant to be challenging and if you keep persevering, it means you’re up to the challenge.
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