Interviews are a necessary evil when it comes to any successful legal career. Regardless of whether you’re a recent law school graduate, paralegal, solicitor or senior legal professional, interviews are unavoidable in your pursuit of career progression. A career in law is challenging and rewarding but highly competitive – so the following hints and tips should go some way to arming you for the battles ahead!
So, the hard part is over. You’ve found the perfect role online, built the ideal application and after being up against all of those other applicants – you are one of the few that has been shortlisted for a job interview! So now what? Love them or hate them, job interviews are a necessary step towards securing that dream legal role in your preferred area of law and developing your legal career. So, why would you not do everything in your power to give yourself the best possible chance of success?
Contrary to popular belief, the outcome of an interview is very much in your control. Sure, you can’t force a hiring manager to like you. “Team fit” really can be a thing and sometimes “culture” and “ethos” really may not align, possibly creating a “lack of synergy” – Just a few of the creative rejection reasons hiring managers use on a regular basis! But the reality is that if your CV has been shortlisted for the interview process, a key decision maker in the hiring process has vetted your work experience and skills and has deemed that on paper, you can do the job, so please take confidence from that!
What are law firms looking for during the interview process
- Law firms want to seek assurances over your work experience and check you are who you say you are on paper
- They need to identify your technical strengths and weaknesses. How your existing legal work experience will help you and identify any existing skill gaps. They will then assess how easy/difficult it might be for you to transition into this new role
- Qualify your motivations and ambitions. They want to see if these align with the practice area and responsibility for the role you are interviewing for and/or whether they can facilitate your professional growth at their law firm in the short/medium/long term.
Why is this important? In a perfect world, you could show up to an interview and just be yourself. But the reality of an interview is that it should be viewed as a transaction. Both parties are seeking value from one another so, if one or both parties fail to deliver then the chances of interview success fall to almost zero.
So, what can you do to take control, showcase your value and give yourself the highest probability of interview success?
Here are five interview top tips that can help you prepare and perform well during your law firm interview
- “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – Do your research! Make time to research the law firm and the position before the interview. Check the firm’s website, job description , their social media presence and the profiles of the individuals you will be meeting with. Identify the core values of the company along with any relevant news articles, awards etc. This can help you better understand the company culture, their narrative and story. The knowledge gained from this research can be used to strategically align any answers you give with what you feel the firm may be looking for, therefore giving you a competitive advantage over other candidates in the process that may not have researched as thoroughly as you
2. Nail the basics. Most interviews follow a similar format, consisting of a mixture of interpersonal, competency-based and scenario-based interview questions. There are a million interview guides on the internet recommending various techniques, so find one that works for you. The STAR technique is a common favourite for competency and scenario-based questions (Situation, Task, Action, Result) and there are plenty of lists of common interview questions which will include classic headache questions such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult challenge.” Often the challenge that interviewees face is having to spontaneously recall appropriate examples of professional scenarios that highlight the skills and values the interviewer is looking for. This can be easily remedied by ensuring you fully familiarise yourself with your CV and prepare scenarios for you to talk about for these types of questions ahead of time.
3. Dress to impress! Whether it is a video interview or an in-person interview, how you present yourself starts with your appearance. The generic shirt/blouse and blazer combo may now be best left behind in days gone by for some industries, but if you are interviewing for a corporate/professional services organisation, including a law firm, corporate business attire still has an important place. Dress appropriately for your audience, it is almost always better to be overdressed than underdressed because even if you find yourself as the “best dressed” person in the room – it shows you care, you have made an effort and that you are taking this interview seriously. Regardless of what you wear, make sure your clothes are clean, neat, and professional-looking.
4. “The early bird catches the worm!” Being late to an interview is a huge no-no. Being late shows a lack of organisation, poor forward thinking/planning and this can often be perceived as a lack of care or interest. Would you hire someone who gave this as a first impression? Admittedly, things can happen. Things such as public transport strikes, unavoidable work/family commitments, various personal or professional disasters that (typically) have all occurred just before your big interview. However, the majority of these are avoidable with good forward planning. Booking a day of annual leave, clearing your diary of all non-essential commitments, and arranging your interview at a mutually convenient time that you can definitely attend without issue. If your interview is virtual, test your IT equipment a few hours before to ensure everything is working properly. Log into your virtual meeting room 5-10 minutes before and ensure your camera is on and that you are somewhere quiet with a strong Wi-Fi signal or wired internet connection. If your interview is in person, it is always best to arrive 10-15 minutes before, get comfortable at the office, review your notes and calm any last-minute interview nerves.
5. Keep it positive! It is important to be as confident and positive as possible during the interview and this starts with your body language. Plenty of people suffer with interview nerves but if you prepare properly, with the right coaching even the most nervous interviewee can at least appear assured for the duration of the meeting. During the interview, ensure you listen to each question, take a brief moment to consider your answer and deliver your answer in a calm, confident and concise manner along with an appropriate example to support your points. Eye contact with the interviewer/s is important as well as smiling when appropriate. Keep yourself on topic, use positive language (even if describing a company you didn’t enjoy working for or are actively looking to leave!). Remember that the interviewer wants to get to know you and your skills, so try to focus on your strengths and what you can bring to the role along with having a positive narrative that says, “This move makes sense for all parties!”
In conclusion, interviews can be stressful, but by understanding what they are and following the steps listed above, any applicant can drastically improve their chances of interview success. Simple actions such as researching the law firm and position, preparing for common interview questions, dressing appropriately, arriving early and being prepared, along with being confident and positive can make a massive difference when securing your next legal role.
Do not underestimate the level of influence you have on the outcome of an interview, the most successful interviewees prepare fully, showcase their value, solve problems and align themselves with the role and the company. So why leave it to chance?
If you are a legal professional looking to further your career and make your next move please contact a member of our specialist private practice law firm recruitment team.