Advice for 2018 training contract interviews

Josh Richman - Advice for 2018 training contract interviews

If you're a would-be barrister and looking for tips on pupillage interview technique, click here.

The main deadline for training contract applications is only a couple of weeks away and the interview stage will follow soon after, so now is the time to go through what you need to clear this final hurdle.

There are two stages to a successful interview. First is the preparation and second is the technique you demonstrate at the interview itself. By taking some time to consider both stages you can confidently approach the law firm you're destined to work in, knowing that you're about to deliver a fine interview.

Preparation

One of the most common reasons for not making it past the interview is a failure to prepare. 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. Start your preparation by considering with what the firm wants from you.

The firm obviously thought your application form was very good, 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 in more depth what aroused their interest in the 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 will almost certainly ask you to explain gaps or discrepancies, so it helps to have thought about it 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 of the things you can confidently expect them to want to know is why you have decided on a career in law and what made you choose the broad area of law (eg, commercial, corporate, crime) that the firm works in. You need to to demonstrate that you understand what a solicitor actually does and that you have some knowledge of the area. For example, if you are applying to a commercial law firm, do you know what the role of the solicitor is in business and can you show that you are commercially aware? Know what's going on in the legal press and keep an eye on the sorts of thing we are covering in our Commercial Question section.

The firm will also of course ask why you want to join that firm specifically, rather than another in the same area, so be ready to explain what attracted you. The firm's own website – particularly the 'About Us', 'News' and 'Recent Deals' sections – can help with this, but don’t just regurgitate what you read on the website.

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 the generally accepted wisdom here is 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.

The final part of your preparation should be to have a smart outfit to hand. You don’t need to go expensive, but you do need to be recognisable as a future solicitor, so go for business attire and play it safe! According to the recruiters we have spoken to, inappropriate dress still lets some candidates down every year.

Interview technique

If you have prepared thoroughly for an interview, it shouldn't be too nerve-wracking when you get to the interview itself. Everyone feels nervous but this can work in your favour – adrenalin is a great performance booster. You should be feeling reasonably confident, as you know that they found your application interesting enough to want to see you.

Your interviewer is likely to be thinking about how good you will be with clients. You need to show that you have the manners and demeanour that will not give a partner second thoughts about putting you in front of a client, and that you are personable enough to hold a conversation. 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 not to let your guard down. 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, be careful what you say and if you are offered alcohol, don’t go overboard.

Good luck from all the LCN team for the summer ahead.

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

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