For many law students, the beginning of autumn signals the start of the training contract interview period. For those students who have secured interviews, congratulations! The law firms that have invited you to interview are clearly impressed with your application and want to see more of you. Here are 5 tips to help you during the process.
Tip 1: Preparation – You and Your Application
Preparation is such an important part of the interview process that I’ve split it into two tips. Tips 1 and 2 are completely within your control – start early and be thorough!
You can be sure that your interviewers will want to scrutinise your application at interview and assess whether you have the rights skills for the job.
Ensure that you know your application inside out and can answer beyond what you have already written on the form. Prepare answers to some of the most common types of questions and make sure that you can answer all the questions on the application form verbally: why do you want to become a lawyer? What areas of law do you find particularly interesting?
A good tip here is to refrain from rote learning a stock response – practice how it might sound, but focus mainly on remembering your general point. Interviewers have a tendency to ask the same questions in different or unexpected ways. Doing this will help you to come across naturally during the interview.
At some point you will likely face competency based question such as ‘tell me about a time when you worked successfully as part of a team’ or ‘give an example of when you have overcome a problem’. I found that the best approach is to identify the skills that law firms are looking for and compile a list of examples that demonstrate how you have used those skills in practice. In preparing answers, briefly describe the context, state the task that you were faced with, and explain what you did to overcome it. Conclude by simply stating what happened as a result.
Tip 2: Preparation – The Firm
All law firms will expect you to be able to articulate why you have chosen to apply to that firm in particular. You should already have a good idea of what the firm is about from the application process. At the very least, refresh your memory by revisiting the firm’s website. You should go further by looking in more detail at, for example, the people who work at the firm and their practice areas, or how the company has fared financially over the previous year (firm’s accounts are readily available on Companies House for companies and LLP’s, although you might struggle accessing accounts for traditional partnerships).
I found in a number of cases that much of the information I had researched about firms turned out to be superfluous and didn’t come up at interview. However, some of it did, and had I not prepared thoroughly there is a strong chance that I would not have known enough about the firm to answer convincingly.
Tip 3: Interview Technique
From personal experience, the best interviews tend to be those that operate more like a conversation than an interrogation. Generally the interview will feel more relaxed, you will be able to forge a relationship with the interviewers and you will give a better account of yourself as a result. Remember, though, that many interviewers will prefer to keep the interview formal, so remain professional and don’t be over casual.
A good tip that I think helps foster a more conversational dynamic is to ask questions throughout the interview based upon what has been said by the interviewer or as a follow on from your response. Ensure, however, that you keep a few questions back as you will be asked if you have any at the end.
Tip 4: Legal and Commercial Knowledge
Some firms will ask you subject specific questions, but often they can see how well you have understood a topic by the grades that you have obtained. More probably, they will want to test your knowledge of the legal and business world more generally. The good news is that you probably have a certain amount of ‘commercial awareness’ already. The bad news is that it is difficult to know how to prepare for questions which aim to test your commercial knowledge and to demonstrate that you actually have it.
It is, of course, important that you read legal and business news publications fairly regularly – these will keep you up to date with relevant topics and discussion points. However, I found that doing this without prior knowledge often meant that what you were reading lacked broader context. A great tip here is to pick up a book that gives a general overview of the legal industry – a good place to start is anything by Richard Susskind, but particularly the (short) book ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’.
Tip 5: Get the basics right!
Finally, don’t forget that the basics matter as much as anything else. Turn up to the interview early and with a smile. Dress appropriately and be polite to everyone you meet. During the interview, make sure you speak to everyone on the panel and make eye contact when giving responses.
Best of luck over the coming months!