How to be resilient when applying for training contracts

Nicola Wilding, associate at DLA Piper, discusses resilience and dealing with rejection.

I often get asked at open evenings and law fairs: how do you maintain a level of self-belief when applying for training contracts?

Often guidance is freely available on how to improve your application and prepare for interviews, but how to cope with being rejected by your preferred firm is something that is often not spoken about.

You may ask what I know about being resilient and dealing with rejection on the journey to achieving a training contract?

Well, before I was offered a training contract by DLA Piper, I undertook two vacation schemes with significant national firms and was unsuccessful in securing a training contract with either firm.

I realised that I had to accept the setbacks as part of the journey rather than a reflection of me as a person.

One of the hardest things to appreciate when you start applying for training contracts is the number of people who will also be applying to the same firm as you.

You are not just competing against your own academic year of potential applicants from your own university: you will also be facing competition from a diverse group of applicants across the experience spectrum.

This realisation can be quite overwhelming and it is hard not to feel inadequate in comparison to the other potential applicants.

I want you to be able to put the process into perspective and use the tips below to help build your resilience and maintain your confidence whilst on your journey to becoming a solicitor.

Know your value

When applying for training contracts it is important to remember and appreciate your own value. Each individual has something different to offer a law firm. I want to challenge you to look at your skills and what sets you apart from your peers.

Remember, even though one particular firm does not want to offer you a training contract, that does not mean that your value will not be appreciated by a different firm which may actually be a better fit.

No may actually be more of a ‘not right now’

You should treat a ‘no’ as a ‘not right now’ rather than a hard no.

A firm may be telling you that you are not quite ready to be offered a training contract at that firm at that time or, as tip 1 says, it may be that firm is not the right fit for you and you should look at other firms or options such as training in-house.

So re-configure the language of the rejection in your mind from being ‘this means I am not good enough to get a training contract’ to ‘I need to look at my experience of interviews and the training contract process to understand what skills and experience I need to gain to change the “not right now” to a yes”’.

It is always worthwhile asking for feedback, even negative feedback, as this will help you develop and improve. It may also help you understand if it’s a hard no or a ‘not right now’.

What do you want?

A firm’s decision not to offer you a training contract may allow you to reflect on whether that firm would be the right fit for you.

Do you really understand what being a commercial solicitor or a family solicitor involves?

It is easy to say what you think the interviewers want to hear, tying yourself in knots to ensure that you are saying the right thing. This stops you communicating what you have to offer a firm if they offered you a training contract.

The interviewers will see through it and could even sense you are not being sincere or honest. You could even end up being offered a training contract by a firm whose values differ to your own because you have said what you thought they wanted to hear.

You need to ensure that the firm you apply for have the same values that you are looking for and can live by in your future legal career.

You just need to believe in yourself

‘If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will’. A hairdresser who appears nervous leaves you sat there with no idea how your hair is going to look like at the end.

It may seem a silly analogy, but it gives you a clear idea of how confidence in someone’s skills changes your experience of your interaction with them.

That is the same for someone interviewing you for a training contract; if you appear confident, then the interviewer is much more likely to let you loose with the proverbial scissors.

Being resilient and dealing with disappointment is a hard skill to master, but with effort you will find the whole journey to obtaining a training contract a much more enjoyable process.

You may find it helpful to connect with like-minded junior lawyers who are seeking a training position by joining your local JLD and attending JLD forums.

The legal sector is competitive and friends and family who are not au fait with the process to qualification are unlikely to be able to understand how soul destroying (not to sound too dramatic…) rejection can be.


Nicola Wilding is an associate at DLA Piper and a member of the JLD executive committee.

This article was first published on 4 February 2019 by the Lawyer and is reproduced by kind permission.

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