The right words at the right time can highlight your wit, zeal and personality, so take the interview stage as an opportunity to make a great final impression with a firm. Be yourself, try not to panic, and take a look over our experts' advice on how to stand out for the best reasons during your interview.
What should I research before an interview?
Interviews are a two way process – they give both the firm and the candidate a chance to discover if they are a good match for each other. Therefore you really do need to do a lot of detailed research into the firm. You cannot rely on the graduate website: look into trainee profiles and 'days in the life of' to decipher culture and the reality of life at the firm; look at transactions and news stories to ensure you're up to date with the latest work and awards the firm is involved in and also pay attention to some facts and figures – don't name drop these but get them right, as it's embarrassing to get the basics wrong with any names or dates you might wish to mention!
And don't forget to research yourself! Have another read through of the application you sent off; this is all your interviewers know about you so far, so make sure you build on all that excellent work experience and the insightful answers you gave to any open ended questions.
Shearman & Sterling
Ahead of an interview it is important that you undertake thorough research not only into the firm that you have applied to, but also into yourself.
You should have already researched a firm ahead of submitting an application, and so the next step is to take this research further allowing you to deepen your knowledge and understanding. Really think about why you chose to apply to that firm – is there a particular practice area that you are interested in, did any deals really grab your attention or are you particularly drawn to any training initiatives that you have read about?
The second element is equally important – researching yourself. The interviewers will see your application form and appreciate that you put a lot of time and effort into it. They will, therefore, ask you plenty of questions surrounding it and have an expectation that you provide more detail than what they have already read. Any awards, roles of responsibility, information about the firm or deals that you have mentioned are likely topics of conversation and so be prepared to expand on these.
The interviewers will be looking for your commitment to the firm and so thorough research is crucial to allow you to perform at your very best in the interview.
How can I conduct myself during an interview to ensure that I’ll be remembered – for the right reasons – as a unique candidate?
Firms review application forms carefully, meaning that by the time you are called to interview, they are fairly certain you have the capability to be one our trainees and we want to find out more about your potential, personality and motivations for applying.
The best way to be remembered is to make sure you act like yourself in the interview. Don’t be afraid to give some colour on why you are interested in the role and bring to life the transferable skills you have picked up through work experience, your academic life and any extracurricular pursuits. This does not mean going into unnecessary specifics, instead be honest about the real reason you first became interested in law or why you have a passion for international deals or pro bono work, or even your university hockey team!
Speaking honestly and from the heart will ensure you are engaging, genuine and enthusiastic. When nerves take over it is very difficult to be friendly, smiley and confident. If you practice beforehand, are aware of your body language and bring enthusiasm to the interview, you will have put yourself in the best position to ensure you’re remembered for being a positive, enthusiastic candidate with a great attitude.
Is it ok to go off topic in an interview so that I can show my personality?
An interview is an opportunity for your interviewers to get to know you and your motivations for pursuing a career in law. As a result, we would always advise that a candidate should be prepared to speak about 80% of the time on topics such as their studies, interests and their reasons for applying to Norton Rose Fulbright.
We would always encourage candidates to be themselves and not who they think we want them to be. With that in mind, never be afraid to demonstrate your personality in an interview, where appropriate.
However, always ensure that your answers are pertinent and succinct. Our interviews are designed to test particular competencies, therefore if a candidate fails to be concise, it can sometimes be very difficult to test all of these competencies fully.
We always try to ensure that candidates feel relaxed during the interview, however never lose sight of the formal setting and do always maintain a professional and confident manner.
Norton Rose Fulbright
How can I overcome any nerves that I may feel on the day?
We've all been there; our brain tells us that we're nervous so the body gives us a nice boost of adrenalin – accompanied by that awful sick feeling. You can either allow the adrenalin to get the better of you, or harness it to deliver a great performance. One of the biggest tips I tell people is to convince yourself that this surge of adrenalin is excitement. Visualisation can be a great tool when overcoming nerves. Tell yourself all the reasons you have to be excited about this interview and visualise achieving the result you want.
Don't overlook the power of exercise. By exercising prior to interview you are releasing endorphins and keeping your dopamine levels up. You're also using up all that nervous energy. Tensing muscles during an interview and releasing them can also help get rid of excess adrenaline that causes those physical symptoms, including your mind going blank!
And remember, nerves are driven by fear of the unknown. The more you reduce the unknown the less nervous you will be. Plan how to answer the questions you won't know the answer to. Once you've mastered the art of addressing these questions your nerves will become much more manageable!
What kind of questions should I be prepared to answer during my interview?
By the time you attend an interview you should have had the chance to get under the skin of a firm and started to develop an understanding of the skills, knowledge and competencies they look for in their trainees. Understanding this will help you to prepare for the kind of questions a firm is likely to ask, as an interview process should always be reflective of the firm to which you're applying.
However, although there will always be some questions that are a little more firm-specific, the majority will want to know about your ability to work in a team, your ability to communicate effectively and your overall commercial awareness. Good preparation is essential before undertaking an interview, along with a healthy dose of self-reflection, but make sure you're still natural in your delivery and have the confidence to flex your experiences to answer the question we've actually asked you, not the question you wish we'd asked you!
Finally, you should obviously have strong reasons for applying to the firm interviewing you, and be able to articulate these. Don't wait until you're sitting in front of a partner like a rabbit in headlights before thinking about why you want to work there; that never goes down well!
Each firm will have its own personality when it comes to interview questions so it is important to prepare for a wide range. At Shearman we are quite conversational and tend to go through your motivations for a legal career, what you like about the firm, the relevant skills you have and so on. We also ask the more standard competency questions as well as some less conventional strength-based questions; these allow candidates to talk about themselves and allow us to see your natural inclination to certain tasks and skills.
Lawyers need to compete not just by knowing the law, but by giving clients business savvy advice. Therefore you will not get through an interview without being asked some commercial questions. We don't expect candidates to know many legal intricacies, but we do want you to be confident with business language and to be able to talk through a deal rather than just name dropping on your application form!"
What are the most common interview slip-ups/errors you’ve noticed applicants make?
During interviews, both for vacation schemes and training contracts, the main error that candidates can make is failing to answer the actual question that the interviewer has asked. Candidates will often have prepared and rehearsed answers that they wish to recite to the interviewer.
We fully appreciate that candidates want to tell us what they know, however, this approach makes it sound as though they are giving generic answers rather than building a rapport with the interviewer. The interviewer wants to get to know the real you and so remember to take a moment to digest the question that has been asked, and to link your knowledge and experience to fully answer this – do not go off on a tangent."
One of the most common ‘mistakes’ applicants make is that they do not allow their personality to show at interview. At Norton Rose Fulbright, our people come from a variety of backgrounds and, because of this, bring different qualities and perspectives to our work and the success of the practice.
We don’t want to hear rehearsed answers. Listen to what your interviewer is asking you to tell him or her, and respond accordingly. Don’t be afraid to use examples which you haven’t included on your application form – we’ll probably spend most of the interview asking you to share your opinions about topics which you haven’t mentioned. After all, the application form is your way of securing an interview and we will assume that you have plenty of other examples to choose from which will add colour to your answers, and help us to get to know you.
We value individuality – our clients are all different, so we need different personalities to represent them – so be yourself, try to relax and build rapport with your interviewers."
What are your top tips for making a good impression during an interview?
Congratulations! You've been selected for an interview. Now what? Here are some top tips to leaving your interviewers with a great impression:
At the end, thank your interviewers for their time and ask when you can expect to hear back. Good luck!"