Succeeding at interview

Succeeding at interview

Newly Qualified Career AdviceCareer Progression Working in Legal


Job hunting can be time consuming and sometimes a little stressful. To minimise both of these factors, it is worth ensuring that you have solid market information and comprehensive advice on the recruitment process of any law firm that you are interested in approaching. When your latest CV has been submitted to a law firm and you are offered an interview, it is vital that you take the time to fully prepare. This is your chance to seriously impress.

Over many years I have worked with lawyers of all levels of seniority and I make sure that I take the time with every candidate to ensure that they are as ready as they can be for any interview. Research shows that over 80% of candidates do little or no preparation before an interview. That’s good news for you if you do the opposite!

Here are my tips to ensure sure you shine at interview:

How to Approach an Interview

  • Applying the basic set of principles (often referred to as the five Ps) set out below: this already puts you in the top 20%, and significantly increases your chances of success.
  • Remember, you should come out of an interview confident that you have answered three basic questions:
    • Do you have the technical skills and experience to do the job?
    • Will you have the right attitude and commitment to the job?
    • Will you fit in?

So let’s look at the steps - the 5Ps:

1) Preparation

  • Research the firm - websites are often a great starting point, but try to get a behind-the-scenes perspective using your own network.
  • Find out about the people interviewing you - many websites carry partner profiles, so make sure you know their names, their positions at the firm and, where relevant, the type of work they are involved in.
  • Familiarise yourself with the job spec - what are they looking for? Knowing this will give you the best chance to persuade the firm that you meet their needs.
  • Confirm the format of the interview - will there be a psychometric test or a technical exercise?

2) Practice

  • Gathering your thoughts on likely questions beforehand is only going to enhance your overall presentation.
  • Consider the points you want to make, and how to structure your responses to best sell your strengths against their requirements.

Specific points to consider include:

  • Know your CV inside out - be ready to expand on any decisions you’ve made regarding study or previous career moves and be confident talking about your key achievements.
  • Strengths and weaknesses - analyse and assess them honestly. Be prepared to answer questions on them in a way that illustrates your skills and how you could contribute to the firm.
  • Reasons for leaving - guard against being too negative or critical about your current firm. Focus more on what you hope the move will achieve rather than what you are keen to leave behind.
  • Career aims - both short and longer term, and how they relate to the position on offer.
  • Two-way street - think through what you want from the meeting and what questions you need to ask. Interviewers often feedback that they are as impressed with the questions a candidate asks as the answers they have given.
  • Top tip - we’d never advocate preparing answers to questions to roll out word for word, but it may be wise to prepare a brief career overview in response to that popular kick-off question ‘tell me something about yourself’. If it does come up, you are off to a flying start, and will be set up for the remainder of the interview.

3) Punctuality

  • Confirm the exact address where the interview is taking place - many firms have two offices in the same city so it’s important to know which one you need to be at.
  • Avoid the rush - allow yourself plenty of travel time but always take a contact number in case of any unforeseen delays.
  • Arrive there early - ten minutes in reception will not only give you time to collect your thoughts but also a chance to observe the firm first-hand and to gain greater insight into your prospective employer.
  • Make sure you know roughly how long the interview will last - you don’t want to be fretting about your next meeting.

4) Presentation - First Impressions Count

Research has shown that 70% of a first impression is based on appearance and body language. At an interview you are marketing a product - yourself. It’s worth bearing these points in mind:

  • Dress to impress - ask yourself ‘do I look the part?’ You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
  • Firm but fair - a strong but not overbearing handshake and a natural smile complete the positive picture.
  • Be confident but courteous.

5) Performance

  • Are you sitting comfortably? Practise a comfortable sitting position beforehand that feels natural. Relaxed shoulders present an open and confident manner. If you tend to fidget, keep your hands apart and don’t hold a pen or copy of your CV.
  • Be aware of your voice - pace, tone and intonation all contribute to your success in an interview. If the role demands energy and enthusiasm, show some.
  • Be yourself - personality and culture fit is important, act naturally and ask yourself whether the environment suits you.
  • Listen carefully and think before you speak - pauses seem longer than they are, and the interviewers would rather hear the best answer you can provide, not the quickest.
  • Make your answers clear and concise - always use positive language. You’re in control of what you want your interviewer to know, so take responsibility for answering the three key questions from the start. Focus on selling yourself throughout but don’t be tempted to fill silences.
  • Stay positive throughout - very few people walk out of an interview thinking it went absolutely perfectly. Do not get discouraged if a particular point doesn’t go as well as hoped. Your interviewers will form opinions over the whole interview rather than one question.
  • Do I mention money? Although you’ve thought about the salary side of things, always allow your interviewer to initiate discussions. This often won’t occur during the first interview. Negotiate as late as possible: you will have most influence when the interviewer has decided they want to offer you the job. I would advise using a recruitment consultant to do this for you to avoid awkward conversations with a future manager/employer.
  • Ask questions - as well as completing the picture from your perspective, this shows you have done your research, and demonstrates a genuine interest in the firm.
  • Remember - It is a business meeting, not an exam.

What Next? A few useful post interview pointers.

  • Make notes immediately afterwards on what you thought went well, what didn’t and what you’d do differently next time.
  • Pass your interview feedback on to your recruitment consultant.
  • If you are not using a recruitment agency, follow up with a brief thank you e-mail, reiterating your interest in the position. If you have any additional information, which might help the company make a decision in your favour, offer it here.