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How to finesse your BPTC scholarship interview

How to finesse your BPTC scholarship interview

Blessing Mukosha Park

12/11/2019

Now that scholarship applications are in (the deadline this year was 1 November), it is time to turn your attention to the interviews. In this blog post, I will draw on my experience as an interviewee and volunteer for the Inner Temple scholarship to provide specific tips on how you can put your best foot forward in an interview.

Understand what the interview is for

Scholarship interviews are not interviews for pupillage or to get accepted to the BPTC. The Inns of Court holds these interviews to determine who they will fund for the BPTC. Save for an undertaking that you will (to the best of your ability) complete the course and go on to have a career at the Bar, where and how you do your BPTC is not the inn’s chief concern.

The purpose of these interviews is to determine whether you have the aptitude and determination to succeed at the Bar. If you keep this at the forefront of your mind, the various exercises that you need to complete and the questions that you need to answer can be placed within their particular context.

It is important to contextualise the interview to understand what it is and what it is notIn a recent #AskBATB livestream, I discussed why scholarship interviews tend to be so challenging. Put simply, they tend to be the first time that an aspiring barrister has had to justify why they want to pursue a career at the Bar in front of someone other than their family or friends. The panel, although generally comprised of lovely people who want to see you do well, is nonetheless a panel of strangers who are part of the career that you want to access and are there to judge whether you have got what it takes to go all the way. 

Yikes. 

Understood that way, it is easy to see why this interview can be terrifying. My advice is to absorb the reality of the situation well before you sit down in front of the panel. I have known of candidates with great potential struggling before, during and after an interview because the reality is too much for them to get to grips with in the moment. Start now. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “I want to become a barrister and I am ready to tell anyone why”. Say it over and over until you believe it.

Have your examples ready and know why you have chosen them 

It’s important to ensure that you are ready for any questions posed by the panel. In doing so, it is helpful to remember what they will have in front of them when questioning you. Your application will be all that they know and remember about you. The answers you give should illuminate the information that they already have from the application. Don’t be afraid to introduce new information (especially if you have had new experiences since sending your application), but don’t leave the panel scratching their heads as to why you have had a complete personality shift. That will do you no favours and make it harder for them to remember you when reviewing applications after the interviews or worse – remembering you for the wrong reason.

Read through your application. Then, read it again. Annotate it if you need to, but make sure that you understand the questions someone on the panel might ask based on what you have written. It is important to stop cringing long enough to engage with the person you’ve put forward on the paper. Don’t skip over that piece of advice. You need to own who you are and the person you put forward on the application. Don’t be embarrassed by yourself and unnecessarily reserved. 

Looking from the position of the person reading the application and planning the questions, think about which questions they may ask themselves and their fellow panellists: Who is this person? What are their aspirations? What have they done to justify their desire to become a barrister? Once you have thought of these, it won’t be that terrifying to sit in front of a panel and answer them. By anticipating what they will be looking for, you can respond easily. 

Be ready, but stay flexible 

Above, I have discussed ways in which you can prepare ahead to reduce the anxiety around scholarship interviews. I’ve shown you how to focus on what you can control and prepare by contextualising the situation you are going to be in. 

However, it is also important to make peace with the fact that there will be elements of the situation that you cannot control. Random questions that have nothing to do with what you have prepped may well appear.

The skill here is keeping firmly in your mind what is being asked of you (this prevents irrelevant nervous babbles) as well as allowing your personality to shine through. Try your best to remind yourself that at the end of the day, you are a unique person with a unique perspective on life. It doesn’t matter if hundreds of people are going for the same thing that you are. You are not required to be a perfect robot who spits out barrister friendly quips on cue. You are a person and people want to get to know other people. 

The Bar is a sociable profession and most people are easy going. However, traditional standards of etiquette and hierarchy are still upheld by some, and some barristers may not respond well to people who aren’t aware of them. It’s up to you whether you want to focus your energy on adhering to expectations in this regard, but in my experience the profession is becoming more flexible. 

Case study exercises

Finally, most BPTC interviews will involve some kind of practical exercise involving a case, which you will be required to read and take questions on. You will most likely be given a choice over which area of law you want to read. 

As a law graduate or GDL/LLB student, you will know your way around a case. By now, you should be able to read through a case in 20 to 30 minutes and draw out the ratio and key facts. It’s likely that you will be given guidance on the types of question that will be asked of you, making your job easier. If you’re worried about being a bit rusty, practice by reading some cases in timed conditions and summarising them.

Good luck!

Remember that if you do not succeed the first time, you can always try again. Neither the BPTC nor the Bar are going anywhere. Enter the interview with a positive mindset, back yourself and give it your best. I wish you every success.