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Interviewing for vac schemes and training contracts

Interviewing for vac schemes and training contracts

John MacKenzie


Reading time: four minutes

This follows on from two previous blogs, about applying for vacation schemes and completing psychometric tests

On the surface, interviews can be the most frightening part of the whole process, as you’ll often be across (physically or virtually) from a partner or other senior lawyer(s) at the firm. However, it’s important to remember that the firm has offered you an interview because it thinks you’re a good candidate – the firm wouldn’t give up their time otherwise!

Interviews can take place in a number of formats and it’s not uncommon for there to be multiple stages. Some firms may have a short telephone interview before continuing to a second round, while others may go straight to an in-person interview or assessment centre (although these sometimes take place online). Here’s my advice on showing your full potential to the interviewers.

  • Be professional, confident, and courteous, and do your best to build a rapport with the interviewer(s) – firms want you to have a personality and broader interests beyond academia and work. It should go without saying that you should be polite to everyone you interact with during the process, not just the interview panel. Be conscious of your body language and don’t forget to smile! With this in mind – and at the risk of sounding cliche – be yourself. Your interviewers want to know what you’ll be like to work with, so pretending to be someone else doesn’t help anyone. More importantly, you should want to work somewhere you can be yourself, so try to relax and be authentic.
  • Make sure you know your application! Whether you submitted a CV and a cover letter or filled in a form, re-read your application and familiarise yourself with what you wrote. Be prepared to talk about absolutely anything you submitted, and to answer questions about your experiences and achievements. You should be able to sell yourself and your successes, and defend potential critiques. For example, if you have some lower grades on your application, expect to be asked about them but keep in mind that you’ve been offered the interview despite this! Interviewers will never try to catch you out – they simply want to learn more about you and your potential as a candidate. 
  • The interview is where your firm research and commercial awareness can shine. Take what you knew when you completed your application and expand on it. You should also be aware of current hot topics in the news and law. When answering competency or behaviour-based questions, consider the STAR method: situation, task, action, result. This will help to provide structure to your answers and prevent you from waffling!
  • What I believe made a big impression in my interviews was preparing my own questions to ask at the end. Interviews are not unilateral – both you and the interviewer are trying to figure out whether the firm is a good fit for you. This is a great opportunity to show your interest in the firm and the industry generally, and to develop your knowledge of legal practice by asking questions directly to a lawyer. Your questions may be on a specific point about the firm (perhaps it recently opened a new office), or the work it does in an area you’re interested in (like a recent deal by the firm or simply a news story you want their insights on). 
  • Practice! Perform mock interviews with friends, family, careers advisers or anyone you can wrangle into listening for a few minutes, and get feedback on your answers and delivery. Revise your notes as necessary.

Assessment centres

This section will be brief because much of the advice between assessment centres and ‘standard’ interviews is similar. Assessment centres typically involve multiple different ‘stations’ alongside an interview but the structure can differ quite dramatically between firms. Some firms might conduct assessment centres over just a few hours, while some can last all day! Among other things, assessments might include group projects, solo presentations, written tasks or case studies, often mixed with casual networking opportunities.

In my experience, there often isn’t a lot you can do to substantively prepare – assessment centres are typically self-contained, with all necessary information and guidance provided on the day. My most basic advice would be to prepare your travel and anything you wish to take with you (if the assessment centre is in person) well in advance. The last thing you want on test day is to be arriving late or forgetting something – and minimising unnecessary stress is always helpful! Beyond this, you should, of course, polish up on your commercial awareness, familiarise yourself with the STAR method above, and prepare for some of the more predictable interview questions. However, I’d note that over preparing might be counterproductive if you just end up feeling anxious. 

To sum up, many of the classic interview adages ring true – be polite, be prepared and be yourself. Good luck!