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updated on 14 April 2022
Reading time: 11 minutes
The main deadline for training contract applications falls at the end of July. If you’ve not already started making applications, now is a good time to get the ball rolling. If your application is successful, you will be invited to an interview with the firm (yay!). While interviews could be held virtually or in person, the general advice remains the same: preparation is key.
LawCareers.Net has put together this guide to training contract interviews, featuring 10 tips to help you ace your interview.
For advice on picking the right firm for you, read our article on finding your legal specialism.
1. Research the firm
It sounds obvious but researching a firm means more than just having a read of its website and regurgitating the information back to them.
You should conduct research into various aspects of the firm, including its practice areas, recent deals, clients and geographical reach. But where can you find this information? You can use the firm’s LawCareers.Net profile before heading to its website to discover these insights.
Understanding which practice areas the firm specialises in is essential but it’s also important to consider the trends impacting these practice areas – what are lawyers currently thinking about? You can use LawCareers.Net’s Commercial Question section to support you with this. Plus, another great way to see what the firm is up to, is to put the name into Google, select news and hit search. This is likely to bring up stories relating to the firm’s commercial movements that could spark further research.
You will not be expected to know everything about the firm and the profession. But being able to show that you have conducted some thorough research and therefore have a decent understanding of the firm and its operations will stand you in good stead.
2. Dress the part
Knowing what to wear to an interview can sometimes be a little daunting – what does the phrase ‘formal/business attire’ actually mean? Our advice is to dress as though you’re already doing the job or, in the words of bestselling author Austin Kleon, “dress for the job you want”.
For more advice on what to wear to a training contract interview, read this Oracle.
3. Reread your CV/application form
Your application was obviously great because it landed you an interview. The firm will likely review your application ahead of the interview with the intention of basing some of their questions on your listed experiences and achievements. So, review your application and remind yourself what you wrote. You might want to think about the following:
You should be honest with every answer you make – don’t provide a fluffy response because you think it’s what the interviewer wants to hear. This is their chance to get to know you and your chance to show them that you’re a good fit for the firm.
Read this guide to training contract applications for advice on putting together an excellent application.
4. Prepare answers to questions
There are definitely a few generic questions that will likely crop up during your interview, including “Why law?” and “Why X firm?”. These are questions you can spend time preparing answers to before your interview – it should not come as a surprise when an interviewer pulls these out of the bag. Of course, you want your answer to be well-researched, but it also needs to be authentic. You don’t want to repeat what the candidate before you just said because the interviewer will see right through any answers that have clearly been pulled from a template on the internet or the firm’s website.
To answer these questions well, it comes back to being honest. Why did you pick law? Has it been a life-long ambition? If it hasn’t, don’t say it has. Maybe you didn’t realise this was a career you were interested in until the second year of university, or even partway through your career as an accountant, for example. Did you meet a law firm representative at a law fair who sparked your interest? Or perhaps you have a keen interest in the firm’s specialist practice area or the fact that it’s a global/small high street firm.
On the other hand, a training contract interview isn’t going to be full of questions you will have been able to prepare for. The interviewer will want to test your knowledge and understanding, so is likely to throw some tricky questions onto the table, offering you the chance to think on your feet. If you don’t know the answer to them, it’s ok to say so.
Read ‘How to handle a scenario-based question at a training contract interview’ for more advice.
Your university’s careers service will be able to help you practise your answers, so ensure you’re making the most of them.
Read ‘Five ways your university careers service can help you ace the law recruitment process’ for some more tips on making the most of this service.
5. Prepare a topic to showcase your commercial awareness
By this point of your journey, the phrase ‘commercial awareness’ probably haunts you in your sleep. You all know by now that it’s the key skill that all law firms look for in their future lawyers and it involves you understanding the environment in which law firms and their clients operate.
You can read LCN’s ultimate guide to commercial awareness for our top tips on developing and using this skill.
This is certainly not a skill that you can pick up the night before your interview by reading the Financial Times. Your commercial awareness is something that you need to be building up from the start of your journey as a lawyer. We all know reading the news can be a little dry at times but making it part of your daily routine is a great place to start. There are also lots of podcasts and YouTube channels you can engage with as well.
Read ‘Three podcasts and vloggers you should be following to boost your commercial awareness’ for some inspiration.
The point of this piece of advice is that you can’t pick commercial awareness up overnight. That’s not to say you shouldn’t read the news the night before, or even the morning of, your interview, because you should. But, hopefully, at this point you’ll be able to pull the news you’re reading into your commercial vision and consider how you can apply it within the interview.
‘Trending commercial issues to know about in 2022’ is a good place to start! Plus, our article on how running a business on Depop can sharpen your commercial awareness offers invaluable insight. You can also read the first ‘Wrestle with PESTLE’ article, which looks at the impact of covid-19 on the airline industry.
Plus, look out for LCN’s newly launched Commercial Connect newsletter which will appear in your inbox on the first Friday of every month with a host of content to support you and your commercial awareness journey.
The only way to receive this email is by registering for a free MyLCN account.
6. Speak slow and clear, and listen carefully
Again, it sounds like an obvious one but sometimes the nerves get the better of us and we can end up speaking really fast or perhaps finding it hard to make the point at hand. If this is the case (hopefully you accepted the water at the start), have a sip of your drink and take a minute to regroup your thoughts. Remind yourself to speak slowly at this point too. It’s ok to take a pause between the question and your answer – you’re allowed to have some thinking time.
On top of speaking slowly and clearly, you should also listen carefully to everyone else in the room for several reasons. First, and the most obvious reason, they’re going to be the ones asking you the questions. Second, their responses to your question could prompt you to ask further questions at the end. Third, it’s just polite.
7. Prepare questions to ask interviewees
We all know what happens at the end of an interview, but often we fail to successfully prepare. If you’re not sure, at the end of an interview you’re given the chance to ask any questions you have.
But what are the sorts of questions you should be asking? This is where the research you’ll have done prior to even writing your application will come in handy. At this point, you should know a fair bit about the firm, how and where it operates and who its clients are. So, think about whether you can ask any questions around this. Avoid asking questions where the answer is easy to find with a quick Google search.
Use LCN’s advice on researching firms to help!
It’s also worth checking what the firm has been up to in recent years – for example has it gone through a recent merger? Who did they merge with? Do you know the reason for the merge? If a firm has gone through a merger, you might want to come up with some questions relating to the process. Don’t try to be too clever though – remember firms want to recruit genuine, engaged and enthusiastic individuals so make sure you’re being yourself and asking questions that interest you.
In addition, if you know who your interviewer is beforehand, you might want to do some research via LinkedIn on their journey and ask them questions about the practice area they work in and how they came to be specialising in it? Or maybe you have some more specific questions about the training contract.
Make sure you have a couple of questions up your sleeve that show you’re engaged with the interview, the firm and the training.
8. Let the firm know if you require any adjustments
Remember that the interview is your chance to demonstrate that you’re a suitable candidate for the training contract. If you require reasonable adjustments for the interview, the law firm must accommodate them under the Equality Act 2010.
Reasonable adjustments could include, but are not limited to, wheelchair access, a sign-language interpreter and extra time to complete assessments. Once you know the format of the interview (if this is not provided to you, reach out to the firm’s graduate recruitment team to ask), you should consider the reasonable adjustments that you might require to perform at your best on the day.
Read LCN’s advice on how accessible the legal profession is for lawyers with disabilities in this Oracle.
It might be easier to outline the reasonable adjustments you require and why within an email. Firms should also be open to having conversations with candidates about adapting assessments, if required, should they be unable to make any of the reasonable adjustments you’ve requested.
9. Be polite to everyone
This brings us nicely to the penultimate tip. This goes without saying but please be polite to everyone. From the person on reception to the employee who comes to collect you to take you to the interview room and, of course, the interviewers.
LCN blogger Bethany Barrett also talks about this in her blog ‘How to approach assessment centres’.
10. Reflect on your interview
So, how do you think you did?
It’s normal to leave an interview feeling overwhelmed. You might also feel frustrated because as soon as the door closes it seems like an entire section of your brain suddenly opens and you remember all the things you wanted to mention but forgot. These emotions are normal, so feel them, embrace them and then concentrate on moving forward.
Whether or not you have another training contract interview in the pipeline, it’s a great idea to review the interview and your initial application to consider what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what you can prepare better for next time. This might sound like a tedious task, particularly if the interview didn’t go to plan (that’s ok) but it’s worth doing so you can approach the next one with more of an idea of what gaps you need to fill.
Read LCN’s advice on asking firms for feedback in The Oracle.
Olivia Partridge (she/her) is the content producer at LawCareers.Net.