How to prepare for interviews

The interview process can be  daunting which is why it’s so important to make the necessary preparations before you take a step into the interview room. As a trainee solicitor you may have chosen a select few law firms you’re keen to become a part of, so here are a few interview techniques to master to ensure you shine above all else in front of your interviewer.

Research the firm

The amount of time you spend getting to know the firm will undoubtedly come through during an interview and it’s really important to think creatively about how you can really get to know the firm. Shy away from simply citing facts you can find easily on their website and start to delve. The firm’s annual report is a good place to start and also use sources like the Financial Times Innovative Lawyer Report. It’s fine to use information passed to you when meeting employees at the firm in question but make sure not to name drop; as a rule you can mention one or two acquaintances. Be sure to check if the firm are presenting at any events and go along; demonstrating this level of commitment will help you stand out.

Law firms are increasingly arranging themselves as sector focused as opposed to practice focused. It is therefore important that applicants demonstrate a solid understanding of the sector in which your chosen firm operates and the services they offer to their clients. As a very basic example, if you are applying to a firm with a heavy focus on the energy sector you would need to understand the implications of falling oil prices.

Look the part

An employer wants to have confidence that they can put you in front of their clients. It may go without saying but make sure you don’t let yourself down by appearing anything less than slick at your interview. Suits should be muted (you can demonstrate your creative flair another time) and prepped the night before to make sure a dropped hem or creased lapel does not ruin your big day.

To avoid stress, always plan to arrive at your interview destination ONE hour before the interview starts. Find the door and then walk away, find a nice coffee shop and hole yourself up until 15 minutes before your arrival time. Never arrive any earlier than that because it’s a bug bear for recruiters and receptionists who may still be preparing for your interview.

Don’t panic

The interview itself is a chance for you to show you can confidently communicate and demonstrate professionalism. If you do lose your track when answering a question don’t panic, take a sip of water and if necessary, ask for a moment to think (you can even say you’ve lost your train of thought). A recruiter would always prefer you to think about what you are going to say rather than deliver a speedy but poor answer that they can’t mark you on.

Find out beforehand what kind of interview it will be

When you are invited to interview the organiser (who will often be someone from HR) should tell you who are being interviewed by. If they don’t you can ask politely but if the information is not forthcoming treat it that this lack of information is part of the process in itself.

HR-led interviews (including those with the Graduate Recruitment team) will generally be competency based so make sure to spend some time planning answers to this type of question. It is recommended to use either the STAR (stands for situation, task, action and result) or CAR (context, action and result) technique when answering these questions and will mean you give the interviewer all of the information they need.

Interviews with law firm Partners tend to be commercially driven. Remember that these people are fee-earners so will probably only give up their time once you’ve reached the final hurdle. Expect questions that test your commercial awareness so make sure to understand the firm’s strategy, sectors and clients.

A new trend for law firms is strength based interviews. This type of interview has been long used by other professions such as the larger accountancy firms but is now becoming more standard in law because this type of questioning; Reed Smith for example has rolled it out for their 2017 intake. Based on positive psychology, strengths based interviewing focuses on finding out what candidates enjoy doing, rather than competency based questions that aim to find out what candidates can do. By identifying strengths and matching their strengths to the role, the employee enjoys their job more and should perform well.

Ask them questions at the end

A candidate that says they have no questions for their interviewer will often be screened out so don’t let this happen to you! These questions should reflect your level of interest in joining the firm so don’t just ask something you could find the answer to on their website. Again, know your audience. In an interview with HR personnel don’t ask them about the commercial strategy of the firm, save this for the Partners. Better questions would relate to the specifics of the role or training programme, culture of the firm, opportunities for secondment and travel. For partner interviews think commercially around the firm’s strategy. Never ask questions about work-life balance or salary. If you do have a genuine need for clarity in these areas (for example you have to balance child care) the time to this is when you are offered the job.

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