Trainees often get in touch with recruiters as early as 8 months or so before qualification panicing and biting nails, worrying that they need to find an NQ role. The truth is it is way too early and they would do better focusing on the job at hand i.e. their latest training seat.
Taking into account the vast amount of trainee solicitors will qualify in September, their own firms probably do not make any decision as to who they will be keeping on until May/June.
You need to think positive, focus on getting your cv in shape, checking that you have it up to date, talk about interesting cases, a transaction where you were a part of a team, your input. Giving a couple of examples for each training seat is no bad thing, three or four lines will suffice. Set yourself apart from the rest, believe in yourself, take courage from what you have achieved so far in your career. Think about what you want out of your career, what are your aspirations. Even during a training contract, people can have a tendency to get stuck in a rut. They forget why they studied the law in the first place.
Don’t forget to talk about what you have done in terms of networking and business development. Perhaps some of the things you did were of your own initiative. Interests and hobbies are also important as they give the reader a picture of who you are, what you like, what makes you tick. You never know, the reader may have similar interests and hobbies. The cv should almost be a picture of what you have achieved and your goals. On many an occasion I have read a cv and wondered whether the person described in the cv is the same person that I spoke to, or met, as the case may be.
I am not saying it is easy to achieve the ideal first job but I do believe that every day you go to work during your training contract it should be with a spring in your step with the thought that today you are going to learn another legal skill, no matter how big or small it might be, no matter how challenging it might be. People skills are also so important and an interviewer will be quick to judge what type of personality you have, not just to figure out whether the face fits within a team but also, how you will interact with their clients. A smile costs nothing and goes a long way.
So, when do you start applying? In my opinion, you should be selecting your recruiter when there are 4-5 months to go, discussing your goals. Be realistic. If you have been handling residential conveyancing for example, do not expect to apply for corporate law when you have no experience. Work on your strengths.
Finally, one recruiter, possibly two, should be enough. Make an effort to meet them in person. Keep a list of where you have given your consent for them to send your cv. The minute a recruiter realises that you do not keep a list and he/she receives responses from clients (having had your consent to send the cv) that they have already had the cv from another, they will probably back off and not deal with you. Also, avoid putting your cv on a jobs board. Recruiters will take your phone number and be calling you continuously. They will become a nuisance.
So good luck and remember to always be honest and believe in yourself.