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The skills you need to write good job applications

A recruitment manager and senior associate of a BigLaw firm spoke of the difficult yet necessary task of developing the skill of writing better job applications.  

user iconJess Feyder 06 March 2023 Big Law
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Recently on The Protégé podcast, host Jerome Doraisamy spoke with James Keane, a graduate recruitment manager, and Jason Feng, a senior associate, both from Herbert Smith Freehills.

“In my own experience, it was pretty hard to sell myself, especially just coming from a cultural background that kind of emphasises putting your head down, doing the work instead of actually promoting yourself through your words,” explained Mr Feng. “But this is one of those skills that you get better at as you develop in your career.”

“For clerkships and graduate applications, it was super tough, because you don’t really know what you should be writing, what hiring managers are actually looking at.”


“It’s a really competitive process,” highlighted Mr Feng. “There [are] so many people applying for a limited number of jobs — you kind of just start sticking to those templates you find online in making your resumé and cover letter. 

“Those work well for some people, but it really makes some others undersell themselves and their achievements.”

“[They’re] great for if you are top of your class, have great grades, have good work experience in the legal field, but as a graduate or as a clerk, many people are maybe not fitting those cookie-cutter categories, but they have so much to offer in terms of who they are, what their interests are, what they’ve done outside of those discrete categories,” he explained. 

Mr Keane, who has personally reviewed “thousands upon thousands of applications”, discussed how graduates can build job applications that cater to their strengths. 

“When it comes to writing better job applications, I think lots of students find the idea of selling themselves a bit uncomfortable. 

“They’ve probably seen bad examples of that on LinkedIn and think that they don’t want to do that themselves,” he noted. 

“There [are] a few things that would make students more anxious about putting their achievements on paper. 

“A lot of their university time might have been remote. They might have not had the same opportunities to meet with firms and other professionals in the industry face to face — that might knock people’s confidence.”

“Regardless of Coronavirus, it’s a skill they need,” he stated. 

“[There are] skills that you develop while writing better job applications. Essentially, articulating your strengths, articulating your achievements, and talking about your potential value to someone or an organisation.

“It’s a type of skill that you’re going to need throughout your career, whether it’s going for a promotion, or a secondment opportunity,” Mr Keane continued. 

“The more time that you invest in these skills at this stage, the more you’ll use that later on and the easier it will be for those future times when you need it. 

“It’s really an investment.”

“Don’t just think about it as in, ‘I need to get good at this for this one particular job,’ but think about it as in, ‘This is an investment in a skill I’m going to use again for the next 40 odd years’,” he advised. 

To aid graduates in the task, Mr Keane and Mr Feng have put together a guide, titled How to Write Better Job Applications, which provides junior lawyers with actionable tips.

“The best thing you can do as an applicant is to focus on what you do have in terms of strengths, achievements, things that you’ve done that are difficult, things that you’ve done that have put you outside of your comfort zone,” Mr Keane advised. 

“Talk about those, talk about how you achieved them, then talk about why it would be relevant for a law firm, and also clients of a law firm.”

“What is your real unique selling point as an applicant?” Mr Feng asked. “What is uniquely you that you can put out there and make James interested when he reviews these resumés, and don’t sound so cookie cutter and actually sell yourself better?”

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