A woman doing a virtual interview on her laptop

How to impress at an NQ interview


For many trainee solicitors, the end of your training contract marks your first major career crossroads. You may be weighing up a number of options, including whether to stay with your training firm or perhaps whether to explore the idea of making a move. If you decide to explore NQ opportunities with firms outside your own and are invited to attend an interview, you may be wondering what to expect and how to make the best impression during the interview process. Here are some tips as to how to get the most out of this experience.


First impressions count


According to various studies, you have about 10 seconds to make a good first impression, so don’t waste them. In face-to-face meetings, you can start with a good firm handshake, make steady eye contact (but don’t stare), smile and say “pleased to meet you” in a confident and sincere tone and you’re off and running. The goal is to make a connection and start building a rapport with your interviewer(s). With video interviews, which have become more commonplace since COVID, you won’t have the same degree of physical interaction, but similar rules apply. You still need to use your body language in a positive way: smile, keep good eye contact, try not to fidget, and make sure you are smartly presented in a well-lit, ideally neutral setting.


Be prepared


“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” So, take some time to research the firm before your interview to give you a flavour for the business. This will help you to feel confident and to show yourself to be engaged. Pre-plan your route to the offices if you are meeting in person or if online, make sure the technology is working and you know how to use it. Review the LinkedIn and/or firm website profiles of the people interviewing you. Read the job description so you can refer to this during your interview and navigate the firm’s website and/or legal directories for extra commentary on the firm and its reputation. Think carefully about suitable questions you may like to ask and perhaps talk to your recruitment consultant for extra inside information and hints and tips!


“So, why do you want to work here?”


This question is asked at almost every interview and the answer is so important, yet it probably catches people out more than any other. Do your homework on the firm. Answer the question by referring to what you have learned and give specific examples. What it is about the work the firm does, its culture, its reputation and its story that appeals to you? Show why you would be a good fit and why you’re precisely what they’re looking for.


Discussing your options - “Have you applied to stay with your current firm post qualification?”


You may be waiting to hear from your training firm and would prefer to stay there if they make you an offer. If so, you won’t want to make it evident to the interviewer that they are a back-up. Alternatively, you may be sure that your training firm doesn’t want to keep you on (or can’t) or you may have decided regardless that your future lies elsewhere. But you won’t want to say this if you feel it will show you in a bad light.


Remember that honesty is the best policy, and the legal world is a small one. Remember as well that the interviewers will know how the NQ system works and that your plans may not be set in stone. You may choose to explain that there is competition at your current firm and you want to explore all the best options that will give you the chance to specialise in your chosen field. Give candid reasons why the firm you are interviewing with appeals to you in ways that your training firm doesn’t (remain positive and diplomatic.) This may perhaps be because of its size, the work it does, its work/life balance, training and development opportunities etc. Be subtle and frame all your answers positively.


Your CV got you in, but it won’t get you the job


Interviewers are interested in YOU, the person, not just the CV itself. The interview is about you as an individual, your approach and personality and how you come across as well as your technical legal experience – it’s not just about your qualifications or which university you attended. What matters now is how you express yourself, how well you will fit in at the firm, what you’ve learned during your training contract and what your ambitions and values are. Be yourself and let your personality shine through.


Give specific examples of what you have done


Don’t speak in generalities wherever possible - be specific and talk openly and in context about what you have done. The interviewer needs to be sitting opposite you imagining you doing the things you’re talking about and picturing you doing the same for their firm. (Remember, while being specific and detailed is important, be careful not to be indiscreet or give away confidential information). Talk about the work you’ve done in your training seats plus any networking, client management, mentoring or business development responsibilities – all things that demonstrate a well-roundedness which can set you apart from the field.


Always ask questions


The best interviews tend to be two-way discussions with equal engagement, so ask pertinent questions throughout to help stimulate the discussions. Pick up on points they have mentioned during the interview to show you’ve been listening. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest in the firm, your understanding of the work they do, their culture and the types of clients they have. Remember that an interview is not a test designed to catch you out. Most interviewers will genuinely want to get to know you and see you do well.


Don’t play hard to get


“Don’t play hard to get, play hard to forget!”. Leave the interviewer in no doubt that you are positive about their business. Be enthusiastic about the prospects of working there - though not gushing. They want to employ someone who is genuinely motivated to work for them and do well. Don’t be afraid to show them you are.


2022 is poised to be an exceptionally busy year for law firms with strong demand across the UK for newly qualified solicitors. If you are qualifying as a solicitor this year (or have recently qualified) and would like to discuss the market, opportunities or have any general queries, please contact Jon Needham on 07468 700558 or via email at jonneedham@chadwicknott.co.uk, in confidence.



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