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LCN Says

Interview advice for training contract candidates

updated on 23 July 2019

Would-be barristers should head this way for pupillage interview guidance.

The main deadline for training contract applications is just over one week away, after which you will hopefully be invited to an interview.  There are two stages to a successful interview – preparation and then putting it all into action in the interview itself.


Failing to prepare will cost you your offer of a training contract. An interview is a two-way process – both an opportunity for the firm to find out more about you and for you to find out whether this is a firm you want to work for. The firm obviously thought your application form was excellent, so refresh your memory about what you wrote. Analyse it in the three main areas: academic life, work experience and extracurricular activity. Ask yourself why you made the choices you did, what you have gained from your experiences in terms of skills and personal development, and whether you would have done anything differently with the benefit of hindsight. An interviewer will almost certainly want to discuss what interested them about your application.

If you have an academic result that seems out of step with other results, or your studies were impacted by an issue such as illness or bereavement, think about how you want to present that to the interviewer, without feeling pressured to bare your soul about matters that can be very private and personal. The interviewer may ask you to explain gaps or discrepancies, so think about what you would say in advance. Honesty is certainly the best policy here - if less than impressive grades were a result of things going temporarily astray, you should state this, but explain that things are now back on track.

Spend some time looking for clues to questions in your application. If you have played for a sports team, been a member of a society, or have travelled during a gap year, then you might reasonably expect the interviewer to pick up on those points.

One question you can confidently expect them to ask is why you have decided on a career in law and why you want to join the firm. This should definitely involve you expressing an interest in the firm’s key work and clients.

There should also be questions that you want to ask of the firm. You might want to know more about the choice of training seats (although it is good to keep an open mind about where you sit), or you might want to know what percentage of trainees are retained by the firm after qualification. Having at least one good question to ask during the interview will create a good impression, as it shows that you are engaged.

At the interview

If you have prepared thoroughly for an interview, it shouldn't be quite as daunting on the day itself, although nerves are perfectly natural. Your interviewer will be assessing whether they would feel comfortable putting you in front of clients. Make eye contact and listen carefully to what is being said. Make sure that you sit comfortably so that you are not perched on the edge of your chair or slouched down. Your body language will say a lot about your confidence. One word of warning though: there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance - don't cross it!

Remember that this is a two-way process so it is important to have a conversation with your interviewer. The interviewer will set the course of that conversation but don't make it hard work for them. Monosyllabic answers are not going to work. It is also important not to get so carried away that the interviewer finds it hard to get a word in. Be prepared to express an opinion in a discussion but don't defend it to the death - show instead that you can listen to the views of others. And don't end up interviewing them!

Many people worry about how to deal with difficult or unexpected questions. It is fine to pause to consider your answer to a question, but don't allow long silences to develop. If you really don't know how to answer a question it is better to say so. Don't try to bluff your way through or make something up - you can end up getting caught out.

Every interviewer has their own style of interviewing and you may find that all your careful preparation has been for nothing. It has been known for a keen rugby fan to spend the entire interview discussing rugby with a candidate who has listed rugby as their main interest, or for an interviewer to pick on one topic for discussion and to base the whole interview on it. The key is not to panic and feel cut adrift simply because the interview is not what you expected. Be prepared to think on your feet and give it your best shot.

Allow plenty of time to get to your interview and aim to get there at least 15 minutes before so that you have time to gather your thoughts. There is nothing more likely to cause panic and anxiety than the fear that you are going to be late.

Remember that you are being assessed constantly from the time you arrive at reception to the time you leave so it is important to be polite and kind to everyone you meet. If you are being shown around by a current trainee, it is not wise to confide in them things you would not say to the interviewer. If you are offered lunch with other candidates and trainees, stay professional and if you are offered alcohol, don’t go overboard.

Good luck from all the LCN team for the rest of the summer.

For more on good interview technique, read our specific advice on partner interviews and this Oracle on interview attire.