It’s graduation season and law students across the UK have started looking for their first paralegal role to kick-start their careers. I’m working with a lot of recent graduates who have managed to secure interviews for paralegal roles and the prospect is often very daunting. This is particularly true for graduates with no legal work experience, many of whom have not been interviewed in such a professional capacity before. In this ultra-competitive market, the key to ‘acing’ your interview is in the preparation! All interviews are different and it is impossible to know exactly which questions will be asked. However, I have put together some useful tips that should help guide your preparation and help you successfully land your first paralegal role.
Research the law firm and the interviewers
One question that you’re almost guaranteed to be asked in your interview is ‘what do you know about the firm?’ or ‘why do you want to work here?’ Therefore, it’s important that you research the firm well. Websites are a good starting point however you should also gain information from other sources. For example, look at their directory rankings, read legal articles and relevant news updates to really get ‘behind the scenes’ and impress your interviewers. It’s a good idea to follow the firm on LinkedIn as they’re likely to post updates there. You might have friends who work at the firm so talk to them to find out about news within the firm. You should also find out who will be conducting your interview and look them up. You can usually find Partners’ profiles on firms’ websites and this can give you insight into the type of work they carry out. You can also look them up on LinkedIn to learn about their career and experience.
Really get to grips with what the role entails and what skills are needed for the role
It’s really important that you know exactly what the role entails and what skills are needed for the positon. You should read the job specification several times. Also, if you know someone who has a similar role, you should talk to them and try to get a real understanding of what the role involves on a day to day basis. An interviewer will be looking to establish whether you have the skills necessary to carry out the job and these are usually listed on the job specification. You should give specific examples that demonstrate your skills and strengths in relation to the role in order to persuade the firm that you meet their needs. Obviously as a law graduate you won’t have the exact skills for the role yet since you won’t have relevant legal experience, but you can focus on your transferable skills. Transferable skills can be picked up during your life, your studies, previous non-legal jobs, etc.
Know the interview format
You should make sure you know the format of your interview before attending. Interview formats can be very different; for example, you may have to undertake a psychometric test or you may have to carry out role play (more common for legal advisor type roles). Some interviews test you on points of law specific to the job role (e.g. with a case study) so obviously this would require different preparation. You may also be asked to complete a test before or after your interview. It is essential that you put 100% effort into these tests and really try your best - we’ve had a number of candidates who have slipped up on this as they did not treat it as part of their interview.
Ensure you know your CV very well
You must be prepared to be questioned on anything on your CV so make sure you know it inside out so you can expand on anything you have listed on it. Make sure you’re prepared to talk about the overall matter, your particular responsibilities/duties, etc.
Consider how you’d answer the more common interview questions
It isn’t wise to try to prepare answers to reiterate word by word in your interview. However, it is a good idea to consider how you’d answer some of the more typical interview questions. These may include: “tell me about yourself” and “what do you think your strengths/ weaknesses are?”. You may also be asked “why do you want this [paralegal] role?” It’s really important not to emphasise that the paralegal role is just a “stop gap” until you secure a training contract. Remember, firms want to see a passion and commitment for that particular role!
We generally advise candidates to arrive about 5-10 minutes before the interview. You shouldn’t arrive too early either as this could be an inconvenience for the firm. It is essential you know exactly where the office is so you don’t get delayed looking for it. Make sure you confirm the exact address beforehand as some firms have multiple offices so it’s important to know which one you need to be at! It’s also a good idea to take a contact number in case of any unexpected delays.
At the end of most interviews, you will be asked: “have you got any questions?” Never say “no” as this will make it look like you are not interested. We advise candidates to prepare questions that they might want to ask in order to show a genuine interest in the firm. But, make sure you don’t ask something that has already been covered in the interview. Interviewers have commented in the past that they are as impressed with the questions a candidate asks as the answers they have given.
Don’t think that just because other candidates have more experience, you won’t get the job
A lot of law graduates I speak to doubt themselves when interviewing for a paralegal role because they are up against candidates with relevant experience. This need not be the case. The law firm has already looked at your CV and will be aware you don’t have prior paralegal experience, yet they still want to interview you. You can only offer them what you have. The fact they want to interview you shows they see potential in you. On many occasions I’ve recruited for paralegal roles and have had an experienced candidate and a law graduate at interview stage for the same role. Occasionally, those without experience land the job because they were better prepared and showed more enthusiasm.
Your interview is an opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd and really sell yourself. So ensure you do your preparation and leave a lasting positive impression!
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