How to do well at interviews

Congratulations on securing an interview! You’ve done a great job “selling” yourself to the firm on paper, now you have to convince them you are the right person at interview.

Before your interview

Just like when you wrote your successful application form or CV and covering letter, you need to do your research. Of course, you will start by reading about the firm, but remember to research yourself, too. While you need to know about the practice areas of the firm, its recent cases and clients, even about the people interviewing you (if possible), don’t forget that the firm is looking to find out more about you, your previous work history – both legal and non-legal – your extra-curricular activities and current interests. It’s your application that got you the interview, so be prepared to talk more about it.

So, re-read your application form or CV and covering letter, and, most important of all, work out the connections between you and the firm you are applying to: what exactly links you to the firm? Have you any legal work experience relevant to their practice areas? Yes? Then highlight it. Is it an international firm? Do you know relevant languages? Yes? Then talk about them. (Some interviewers will switch to this language to test you out!) Have you any evidence to back up answers using previous non-legal work experience? How about commercial work experience? All law firms require excellent business acumen. What about your interests, even? These can provide such important transferable skills, such as team work, initiative, a winning mentality, etc. The more evidence you have, the better are your chances of impressing. Also, the more unique the evidence, the better the chance of being asked about it in your interview. Think creatively and use your initiative. After all, creativity and initiative are skills which law firms will be impressed by.

To help with making these connections, consider the type of questions you will be asked during your interview. There is no guarantee these will come up, but they could well form the basis of a similarly worded question: for example, the question, “Why do you want to be a solicitor?” could also be asked as, “Why a solicitor not a barrister?”. The important thing here is to consider two to three key reasons for why you want to be a solicitor, to make them personal and unique to you, and to have some evidence to back your reasons up which will impress and connect with the firm. This type of process can be applied to questions like, “Why us?” or, “How would you sell our firm to a new client?”

When considering possible questions and how to evidence answers, do not rehearse answers word for word. As mentioned above, there might well be questions you prepare for which will be asked in a slightly different way. In this situation, with nerves jangling and your mind racing, you may find it hard to re-word a rehearsed answer to fit the question asked, and so you will come across as someone who is too nervous or unprepared. What you should consider is matching key evidence from different areas of your life with possible questions or topics that could arise during the interview – not long sentences, just key words and evidence. It is easier to visualise these key words and evidence in interviews and, because it relates to your life, you should have no problem expanding on these key themes when answering questions. It is always worth visiting your careers service for a mock interview to prepare for your actual interview. It is best to practise – and iron out any issues – a few days before the real thing. Likewise, the evening before the interview, get someone at home to ask you a few questions, just to get into the correct mindset…but don’t rehearse answers word for word!

Finally, a bit more reading for you! Firstly, make sure you have read recent legal journals – The Law Society Gazette or The Lawyer, for example – as well as a quality newspaper. You will often be asked a question about something going on in the news. Finally, read any relevant travel websites and timetables to make sure you know the times of trains, buses or tubes, and to make sure there are no strikes or road works which will affect your journey to the interview.

On the day

There has been a lot written about how an employer will make a decision about an applicant within the first seven seconds, 20 seconds, first minute – the times differ depending on which article you read. The simple fact is that you should treat your interview as starting as soon as you walk into the building where the interview is being held. It is not unknown for law firms to ask reception staff, any trainees you might meet over the day, or other staff involved in the interviewing process, what their impressions of you were. So, as the saying goes, treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Do not feel you have to initiate small talk with reception staff when entering the building, but do be courteous and answer any questions politely. Make sure you come early for your interview, so that you can take time beforehand to relax, calm your nerves and prepare mentally.

On entering the room for your interview:

  • Exhibit good body language: stand straight, with your head up, try to smile when introduced to the interviewer or panel (they will appreciate that you are nervous, but do try to act confidently) and take a seat only when offered. You should maintain your excellent body language throughout the interview: good eye contact with everyone in the room, try to keep your hands and legs still and to appear enthusiastic and that you are enjoying the experience!
  • When asked a question, listen to what is being asked, and take a moment and articulate your answer clearly. If you need a question repeating, then ask.
  • There is no standard length of time per answer. Different questions will require different length answers. However, keep to the topic and don’t waffle.
  • Be positive when you are speaking. Be positive about the experiences and evidence you use to answer questions. If you are asked a question with negative connotations – the obvious one is, “What is your greatest weakness?” – think about how you have overcome this weakness and stress the positive nature of this outcome.
  • Dress to impress – it’s an obvious point, but still law firms inform me of the occasional sartorial faux pas at interview. Dress smartly and professionally. Gents, the interview is not an audition for a remake of Carry on Screaming (have a look on YouTube), so watch the hair and face furniture and ladies, it is not London Fashion Week either, so err on the conservative side in the way that you dress! And always keep mobile phones switched off!

The bottom line is that law firms are looking to see if they can put you in front of a client, so: do you look professional, can you speak articulately, and are you confident that you have what it takes to be a solicitor at that firm?

After the interview

Straight after the interview, find somewhere to sit down and write down the questions you were asked and the answers you gave. This must be straight away because the nerves and adrenaline will still be coursing through you, so the interview will still be fresh in your mind. The reason for this is that by writing the questions and answers down and seeking feedback after the interview, you will gain a better understanding of which answers are strong and which need improving. Never take it personally if you are not recruited, but congratulate yourself for getting the interview and learn from it.

However, the title of this article is How to do well at interviews, so if you follow the advice above, hopefully, you will not find yourself in this position!

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