Interviewing 101

Interviewing 101

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.

"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!"

"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."

"Congratulations! You've been selected for an interview. Now what? Here are my top tips to leaving your interviewers with a great impression:

  • The basics – Arrive 10 minutes before your interview is due to start, and ensure you're dressed the part. A shirt, suit and jacket is the safest choice. Men should wear a tie and make-up/jewellery on women should be understated. Ensure you maintain eye contact with your interviewers, as this shows confidence.
  • Preparation & enthusiasm – Do your research! You should know about the firm's unique selling points, recent news articles and awards won. We want to know why you want to work for us and want to see you are passionate and excited about a career with us.
  • Breathe! – Many candidates get nervous, and end up speaking too quickly. Take your time with your answers, and give yourself the chance to think of the best answer you can possible give.
  • Have questions to ask – This is a great opportunity to find out more. Your questions should demonstrate real interest in the firm and show you're taking the interview seriously.

At the end, thank your interviewers for their time and ask when you can expect to hear back. Good luck!"