Top tips for interviews

Published: 19 Mar 2012

Preparation

Interviews can be stressful but the best way to allay interview fears is to prepare. You should ask yourself the following questions before an interview:

  •  Why do you want a career in the law?
  •  What areas of law are you most interested in and why?
  •  Are your sights set on a commercial firm, a general firm or a high street firm?
  •  Why did you choose the firm/organisation to which you are applying?
  •  What can you offer that firm/organisation?

If you want to work in law because you enjoy a challenge and like getting a deal done, then you may say just that, but try to give examples of comparative achievements in your past. You should tell your interviewer briefly of the challenges you faced and your sense of satisfaction at having got the job done. This will reveal something unique in your personality to your interviewer.

Obviously, one of the reasons for wanting a job is to make money, but your interviewer already knows this and knows that every other candidate wants the same thing. So instead, concentrate on the things that make you stand out from the crowd.

You should find out as much as you can about the firm/organisation before arriving for an interview. Most have websites and are also happy to send brochures to interview candidates. You can also search the websites of the legal press for a more objective view. You should try to get a feeling of the ethos of the firm/organisation - what are their buzz words, do they put most value in ambitious, confident people, or instead prefer communicative team players?

If you know who will be interviewing you, then you may find out a little about them. If they have published articles then try and get hold of them. Remember firms/organisations have personalities which you should find out about and compare to its competitors - why did you choose to apply to firm/organisation A over firm/organisation B? You can then work out what you and your chosen firm/organisation have in common.

The purpose of your preparation is to ensure you are making the right choice, and can be confident at interview.

The final rule on preparation is knowing when to stop. No interviewer expects you to know everything about the firm/organisation. They simply want to know that your application is carefully considered.

Typical questions

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why did you decide on a career in law? • What do you consider your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Why do you want to be a solicitor/Why do you want this job?
  • What are your main achievements to date?
  • Have you ever had a position of responsibility?
  • How do you manage your time?
  • How well do you work under pressure? Give examples.
  • Where do you expect to be in five years' time?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • What do you know about this company? 
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Are you flexible to move/travel?
  • Are you applying for other jobs?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a personality conflict with a colleague.
  • Tell me about a time you handled a stressful situation well.
  • Tell me about a time you built a rapport with a difficult person.
  • Describe a time when you worked with a colleague to finish a project on time.
  • Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.
  • What's the biggest challenge you've ever had?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were particularly creative in solving a problem.
  • How would you go about generating business for the firm?
  • What's your view on? (current affairs question)
  • Have you any questions to ask me?


Finding the right answers

An employer will choose criteria that you must fulfil and the interview is the chance to prove that you possess them. Such criteria will be different for each firm/organisation, but examples include:

  • drive and initiative
  • influencing skills 
  • personal qualities 
  • analytical skills 
  • flexibility 
  • technical skills 
  • organisational skills

You should back up your answers with one or two examples from your life. There follows some guidelines for answering some of those difficult questions. 

How well do you work under pressure? You should emphasise that you work as well under pressure as you do at any other time but that you prioritise tasks so that your workload is manageable. Point out your ability to leave work at the office and find time and ways to relax.

Are you applying to other companies?You need to show that you have not just been applying indiscriminately, so only mention firms/organisations with similar attributes to the one you are at an interview for. You should also demonstrate a particular interest in and commitment to that firm/organisation.

Tell me about yourself. Be prepared for open-ended questions, the interviewer not only wants to hear your answer but how you answer. This is a test of your verbal communication skills. Do not waffle or tell them your life story. Concentrate on a brief summary, recent experiences and major relevant achievements. You can then ask if they would like you to expand on any area.
What salary are you looking for?

Part of your pre-interview research should be to find the firm/organisation's salary range. Say that you expect to be within that range. Think about the whole package including pensions and healthcare, not just salary.

What is your greatest weakness? A good approach is to admit a real weakness that does not impact on the job, then describe how you overcome it by using strengths which are relevant to the job. For example, overcoming nervousness at public speaking by extensive preparation and organisation. Be prepared for the possibility that they may ask for several weaknesses, so have several answers prepared.

How would you go about generating business for the firm? The key issue when answering this question is your ability to network and have a social life outside the firm. Another issue to consider is the quality of service you provide when you secure a client, to make sure they return in the future.

Why do you want to work for us? This is something you should have thought about in your preparation. It could be the excellence of the firm/organisation, their size, their training, their specialisation, etc.
Try to find a fit between your strengths, values and interests and those of the firm/organisation. Try to emphasise what you can do for them, not just what they can do for you.

At the interview

Remember that the profession you have chosen involves a good deal of client contact and the solicitor/client relationship requires the client to place their complete confidence in the solicitor.
You must put an interviewer at ease and convince him/her of your professionalism to give them the confidence you can manage their clients.

Areas the interviewer will note at interview:

  •  your appearance - be business-like 
  • whether you are a serious, committed candidate 
  • whether your interest in law is genuine 
  • the sort of temperament/personality you reveal 
  • whether you are articulate and able to think on your feet 
  • how you will get on with the rest of their staff 
  • whether you would fit in to their particular organisational structure and culture 
  • whether your responses correspond or conflict with those on your CV or application form 
  • whether you use your initiative 
  • whether you display intellectual, analytical and reasoning ability 
  • your attitude to working alone or under supervision 
  • how you seem able to cope with pressure and deadlines 
  • whether you are organised and able to manage your time 
  • how self-aware you are 
  • whether you have a sense of humour

General tips

  • Dress smart. 
  • Walk through the door smiling, make eye contact with your interviewer(s), and offer a firm handshake. 
  • Sit upright. Leaning slightly forward indicates interest and engagement. Also hold you hands together - this stops you fidgeting and also appears attentive and interested. 
  • If there is more than one interviewer present then try to address your answers equally to each of those present. 
  • Do not let your eyes wander around the room to avoid appearing uninterested and disrespectful. 
  • Be succinct and to the point whilst also ensuring you sell yourself. 
  • Do not attempt to fill silences while the interviewer is looking at your CV or a list of questions in front of them. 
  • Listen carefully to the questions you are asked in their entirety and answer them precisely. Remember that this is what your clients will expect of you as a solicitor. Remember to adapt your pre-prepared answers to the precise question asked. 
  • If you do not understand something you are asked or told, ask your interviewer(s) to explain. 
  • Feel free to ask a couple of questions yourself, and think about them in advance. 
  • Thank your interviewer(s) for seeing you, shake hands and smile. Remember to say goodbye.

Your questions 

At the end of the interview, the interviewer will commonly ask if you have any questions. This is a good opportunity for you to show off your interest in the job and the firm/organisation. Avoid asking questions that have been answered for you in the course of the interview. Do not ask anything you should already know from details they have sent you, or about salary, holidays, etc.

Good topics to ask about are:

  • the organisation - strategic goals, challenges they are facing, why do the interviewer(s) enjoy working there, most significant recent developments in the firm/organisation, etc
  • the working conditions - opportunities, career development, how is performance evaluated, etc
  •  the process - what happens next, how many people are being interviewed, do they fill open positions from within the firm/organisation first, etc

After the interview

  • Think about what you have learned and your impressions of the employer. The interview is your opportunity to decide if you want to work for them.
  • Reflect on the interview. Make a note of the questions they asked. Were you satisfied with your answers, or could you do better next time?
  • If they do not contact you when they said they would or if it has been a long time since the interview (more than two weeks), try ringing to check the situation.
  • If you are rejected, try ringing to ask if they could tell you the main reasons.

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