9 top tips for your training contract interview
Going into an interview is always a daunting experience no matter how many interviews you have had but there are ways to make it just that little bit easier on the day and here are the 9 top tips we’ve learned from our own experience:
1. Always give examples
Many firms will have a set of core competencies they look for when recruiting so it’s always beneficial to think of some examples as to when you have demonstrated those competencies in the past, so they’re front of mind when asked for.
And the examples do not have to be legal! Think back to any part time work, work experience, extracurricular activities etc you have done and match your best examples with the competencies you think may come up in the interview.
Try and remember them using a few key words for each example rather than a script as that will can come across as too rehearsed.
Many firms may also ask questions about information contained within your application form, so it would be a good idea to read back over your application before you go in. If you fibbed on your application this is when you would be found out so don’t lie!
2. Research the firm and profession
Commercial awareness is key and many firms expect all applicants to have a good grasp on current issues.
A good place to start is by looking at key news stories and thinking how that could impact the firm or its clients. Ensure your research goes deeper to make yourself stand out; there is plenty of material online to help you.
It is likely that an interviewer will want to know why you want to work for the firm. This question is where the majority of applicants tend to trip up. It is important to give a good, innovative and non-generic answer and that means you’ll need to work out that answer in advance.
Invest time in that part of your preparation. Do they specialise in a certain area of law? Do they represent certain clients? Do they have a good charity or pro-bono scheme? Identify a few key topics that can be developed into a reason why you are the firm are a good match.
You can find out more about Commercial Awareness (and how to use it to your benefit) in one of our recent articles.
3. Ensure you give adequate information and examples but DO NOT ramble
You may be nervous in an interview, that’s understandable and your interviewer should be aware of that and try to put you at ease. However, being able to communicate clearly and get to the point quickly whilst under pressure is an essential skill for a solicitor. Therefore it’s a good idea to practice generic interview questions and answers with a friend to make sure your answers are concise but still include all the essential details (and if you don’t feel comfortable practicing with a friend or family member, try saying your answers in front of a mirror).
In the interview speak clearly and at a good pace, ensure you use formal language rather than colloquialisms and always, always, always avoid the word ‘like’!
4. Off the wall questions
‘If you could be any type of biscuit what would you be and why…?’.
‘If you could have any three guests for dinner who would you have and why…?’
These questions are designed to demonstrate to the interviewer how well you can think on your feet and whether you can remain calm under pressure. Ideally the answer should show something about your personality.
If the interviewers question your answer this is normally an attempt to challenge your views and you should stick to your guns and politely explain the reasoning behind what you have said especially as ultimately there is no right or wrong answer. The interviewer will just be interested in how you go about answering the question and whether you can remain calm under pressure.
5. What is your biggest weakness?
This is an extremely common question in interviews. No-one is perfect and everyone has areas in which they could improve.
The interviewer is not trying to find your biggest fault; they want to see whether you are self-aware enough to recognise your areas of weakness and are looking to address them. For example, you could really dislike public speaking but have joined a local drama group to develop your speaking skills.
We all have areas we could improve on so again it’s always a good idea to work out yours and what you’re doing to overcome it/them before your interview.
6. Keep calm!
If you are struggling to answer a question or do not know an answer, don’t panic!
Take a moment to take a breath and think about your answer. The interviewer would much prefer you do this then start rambling or not answer the question. Remember, they will have been sat in your position a number of times so will know how you feel!
7. Your Questions
This is your opportunity in the interview to find out more about the firm (and reinforce your enthusiasm for the position).
Whilst you may think an interview is all about whether the firm likes you it is also a crucial opportunity to see whether you like the firm back! You will be investing a minimum of two years into the firm and it is important you’re comfortable the firm is right for you.
It is important that you don’t ask questions the firm’s website could have answered so stick to asking intelligent questions that will help you make a good impression.
8. On the day
First Impressions: Ensure you dress accordingly and make sure that when you meet someone at the firm you are polite, make eye contact and smile – this doesn’t just apply to the interviewer(s)!
Relax: Make sure you have a good night’s sleep the day before the interview and a good breakfast on the day of your interview.
Review: Re-read your questions and prospective answers/examples that you will use to answer competency-based questions, but don’t try to memorise a full answer, just bullet points. If it would help you can take a note pad into the interview which has a few key phrases to jog your memory.
Arrival: Ensure you know the route to where the interview is taking place and work out your travel arrangements beforehand. Give yourself plenty of time to arrive. If you are running late then let the interviewer know as soon as possible.
9. After the interview
You can breathe a sigh of relief as the interview is over but make sure you follow up after your interview.
Write a short email (although a handwritten card or letter is more personal and will help you stand out) thanking the interviewers for their time.
You could also email a further question or two to show that you are serious about your application (and stay front of mind).