Emma Shewan, paralegal at Baillie Gifford and future trainee at Pinsent Masons, discusses how resilience in the face of rejection is essential when you're in a tough traineeship market.

There are countless articles and blog posts with advice on how to tackle vacation scheme applications and assessment centres, but very few address the subject of rejection. For those who are yet to secure a coveted training contract, I hope to offer some motivation and highlight that failure and perseverance play a key role in success.

Dealing with rejection

Nobody enjoys rejection. I was rejected many times by more firms than I care to admit. It is easy to lose motivation and confidence during your search for a training contract when faced with the dreaded ‘I regret to inform you…’ emails. However, it is worthwhile noting that everyone and every business will experience rejection or failure at some point in their career.

Founder and chairman of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma, agrees that you have to ‘get used to failure’. He was once rejected from a job at KFC. He is now one of the richest people in the world. What matters is how you bounce back from rejection – remember, it’s nothing personal. Use any knockback as an opportunity to improve and develop a thicker skin. After all, tenacity and the ability to learn from failures are often cited as essential traits of any successful lawyer.

Perseverance pays

For those who feel like they are close to quitting their search – don’t give up. The process can be tough, but do not let rejection diminish your resolve if you are not lucky in the first few rounds of applications. Rejection at both application and interview stage gave me a renewed sense of motivation and provided an opportunity to not only learn from mistakes but improve future applications, which were more tailored and highly targeted.

Be bold. Don’t be afraid to reapply to firms that have previously rejected you. I was rejected two times by the firm that eventually offered me a training contract!

When things don’t go to plan…

If you haven’t secured a vacation scheme – don’t panic. Securing vacation schemes and training contracts are by no means the only way to a career in law. Vacation schemes can be hard to secure, but people often underestimate the skills learned through general work experience outwith the legal sphere. Working in the retail sector for a number of years helped me understand what it means to give a great level of customer service - vital for every law firm. Don’t be afraid to research alternatives such as paralegal routes, in-house roles or experience gained through temporary recruitment agencies.

As I secured a training contract only after completion of the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice, I signed up to recruitment agencies for temporary positions to build on my work experience and make the most of the two years that I had to ‘wait’ to commence the traineeship. This led me my current role out-with the private law firm sector, working with an in-house legal team. The experience I have gained during this time has been invaluable which I hope will stand me in good stead as a trainee. I have also gained exposure to an area of law I may never have considered previously. Often, it’s the things you don’t plan for that you end up enjoying the most!

Stay positive

And finally, stay positive. Paul DeJoria is quoted as saying, “Be just as enthusiastic on door 101 if 100 have been closed in your face. Eventually, you’re going to do it.” After all, you only need one successful application! 

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