Interview preparation

You've been offered an interview - well done. Your potential employers have clearly been intrigued and impressed by your application and they want to know more. Now you need to make sure the real-life version of you stands up to and surpasses the paper-version of you.

Interviews cause a certain amount of concern and built-up nervous energy for a lot of people. That's understandable! You want to impress, but remember:

You won't benefit long-term from selling yourself as someone you're not - be yourself.

Selling yourself short can be just as detrimental to your success in securing a role.

Have a read of the below tips to make sure you do yourself justice to make sure you secure the right role for you, in a firm or organisation where you'll be a great fit.

Looking back on how you've performed in interviews in the past can be incredibly helpful in identifying if you can make any improvements to your technique. Interviewing well is very much a skill and something you can certainly improve constantly throughout your career. Ask yourself...

Have you had any difficulties with interviews in the past?

Have you found any questions hard to answer? Have you been caught off guard in explaining what your weaknesses are? Have you felt underprepared to answer genuinely what you like about the company culture you are interviewing for?

Make sure you're better prepared this time!

Identify any ongoing gaps in your knowledge and preparation and fill them in advance - it will boost your confidence for the interview and is an easy step to make in the right direction.

What was your feedback from past interviews?

This is the best way to understand how you can improve your interview technique. Always ask for feedback after an interview! When you then next find yourself in this situation, you have the best possible starting point to identify what you need to do differently to raise your chances in being successful in securing the job. You can go round in circles if you don’t get feedback.

It may seem obvious, but considering how you want to come accross in an interview is essential. What do you want to display? Make sure you incorporate these qualities into every response to a question, your body language and tone of voice. Example qualities might be:

- Professionalism & maturity

- Ambition and a desire for career progression

- A genuine interest in working for the company in that role

- Personality traits to show you're the type of person that would work well in that company

- Passion & energy

- Desire to learn & develop

Many questions, in some form or another, with fall under the broad umbrella of being about you: your skills, qualities, experiences and expectations amongst other things.

Skills (competencies)

These questions tend to assess whether you're going to be able to do the job. Employers can often structure the entire interview around competencies (see section entitled 'Different interview formats') by assessing your skills in different circumstances:  both professional and non-professional.

TIP! Companies will usually list the competencies they look for in all individuals - check their company website for desired attributes and the job description!

When have you had to use presentation skills?
When have you had to act as a leader of a team?
What is your biggest strength?
What are your weaknesses? (Make sure you don’t pick something essential to the job role!)
Do have any extra skills that set you apart from other candidates?

Qualities

These questions will help employers understand how you work and what you might naturally respond to situations in the workplace. Show off your personality here and showcase the qualities that would make you great in the role you're applying for. 

What sort of qualities do you bring as an employee?
What motivates you?
How do you work in a team?
What would you friends say are your best qualities?
Tell me a bit about you...

Experience

Employers will want to know what experience you have in a professional context - legal experience is often a priority, but don't forget to talk about other roles you've worked in. You will have gained transferable skills in non-legal environments and even non-professional environments, such as during voluntary work or committee roles.  

Tell me about what you’ve been doing most recently.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome? How did you do it?

Expectations

Make sure you prepare for questions about expectations so you're decisive and the employer can see you have a clear idea in your mind about what you expect from your career and what direction you want to take it in.

What are your salary expectations?
How do you respond to pressure at work?
How do you see yourself fitting in with your new team?
Where do you want to be in 5 years?

Make sure you're well-versed in the firm you've applied to! Ideally, you will already have tailored your CV/Application to them so will know a bit about their makeup.

NEVER ask a question like 'what does this firm specialise in?' You should have done your research! A potential employer isn't going to be impressed with your initiative or research-skills if you ask this type of question!

The employer wants to know you've chosen to apply to their firm/organisation for good reasons and you've done your homework to single them out.

Prepare to answer questions like:

What is it about this organisation that attracted you to apply?
What do you know about this firm?
As you know the firm specialises in conveyancing - is this a particular area of interest to you?
What do you know about our company values? Do you feel you are aligned with them?
Can you tell me about any recent cases the firm have been involved in?

It's important to show a prospective employer you know exactly what role you're applying for. You should know what's involved, have a grasp of your duties and responsibilities and a confidence that you'll be good at it.

Some example questions might be:

What do you know about the job?
What do you think your main challenges will be?
What would you do on your first day to familiarise yourself with the job?
If you need help, who would you seek advice from?

Make sure to ask some appropriate questions, as it's good to engage your prospective employer and make sure the interview isn't too one-sided.

TIP! If you don't have any good questions, don't just ask a basic question for the sake of it!

Ask questions that mean you can make an informed decision about whether you want the job. The interviewer needs to see you'd be a good fit in the role, but it's also essential that you've ascertained whether it's the right job for you!

Some ideas for good topic areas for questions are:

Company culture:
Will you fit in with this firm/organisation? Find out if it sounds like somewhere you would enjoy working and matches your values.

Career prospects:
What sort of career paths do their employees forge? What's the progression like? Getting answers to these questions will help you understand how the firm/organisation will support your career aspirations.

Remuneration: How much are you going to get paid?
The appropriateness of this question can sometimes depend on the specific circumstances and feel of the interview - you'll have to judge that on the day. But it's not wise to commit to a job when you don't know the critical fact of how much you will get paid every month.

How does the company plan to respond to changes in the legal profession over the next 10 years?
Getting an idea of whether the firm/organisation has a long term strategy can be essential in understanding how you will fit long-term with them. There will be many changes to the future of the profession and it's good to know Managers/Partners all have a knowledge of how this will affect their employees and the company strategy. It will also demonstrate your wider commercial and economic awareness and hopefully provoke an interesting discussion. Make sure you're ready to share your views and opinions.  

The STAR model is an approach to answering questions which steers you away from providing weak or incomplete answers.

Instead, it will help you provide a full answer to every question you're asked. It ensures you use real examples in your answers and paints a visual picture for the interviewer.

To illustrate how the STAR model works, see below how it has been used to answer the following question:

‘Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion’.

Situation: I was part of the university debating team. We regularly took part in competitions around the country, usually comprising four rounds of competitive debate judged by a series of neutral and experienced judges. At one competition, my debate partner and I had to argue a different case in each round. One round was particularly tricky as I was asked to argue in favour of something I did not believe in – the death penalty for terrorists. I am a member of Amnesty and find the death penalty unconscionable.

Task: The nature of such competition is you have fifteen minutes to prepare for the debate after the topic is announced. We worked as a team. I tended to enjoy the ‘prep room’ and enjoyed generating arguments whilst my partner was often good at working out what the opposition might say.

Action: I had to put my personal beliefs to one side and worked out a strong series of arguments. My partner and I then divided the arguments evenly between us and argued the case.  

Result: We won the debate and I received the highest score in that round. The three judges unanimously agreed that we’d won the arguments and we reached the final of the competition. I know that as a trainee solicitor I’ll be expected to update my team on changes to the law and pitch to clients. I hope that my background in debating – as well as other presentations at university – will help prepare me for this.

Why is that a good answer?

- It answers the question directly and concisely.

- It’s specific and focuses on what the individual did. It’s easy for candidates to talk about team-working and use ‘we’. Whilst this is sometimes necessary, the interviewer is assessing YOUR competency. They want, therefore, to know exactly what YOU did in a situation.

- This example more than answers the question. It alludes to the sort of things solicitors do all the time: team-working and making a case on behalf of a cause they may personally dislike. It also shows the individual understands their own strengths and weaknesses.

- It's a real-life example and relates directly to how the person reacted to a real-life experience.

- The candidate shows they are aware of why the question is being asked and goes above and beyond to show their knowledge of the role. This should be at the forefront of your mind when answering such questions: why does the organisation want you to demonstrate this competency? Why does a trainee solicitor need to demonstrate such a competency?

 

'Traditional' experience-based interviews

Whilst many interviewees may expect to encounter a more traditional-style of interview, in reality larger firms these days often prefer to adopt competency or strength-based interviews. However a lot of firms and organisations, particularly those that are smaller, may still use a traditional approach.

In this style of interview, employers will often first focus on your CV and ask you specific questions relating to your experience. They may then afterwards relate this to the job description to understand how your experience matches up to the new role.

Employers may then ask you some questions about you more generally, to get a feel for you as a person: your strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and interests.

Competency-based interviews

Competency-based questions often appear on application forms or in interviews. They’re designed to assess a candidate against a standard set of competencies required for a role. Asking these questions enables employers to understand a candidate’s past behaviours and experiences and are used as a basis to predict future behaviour and suitability for a job.

Read the article by Rob Marrs, Head of Education at the Society: How to ace competency-based interviews

A few examples of competencies an interviewer could be looking for you to demonstrate are:
- teamwork
- time management
- leadership
- decision-making
- adaptability

You might be able to guage what competencies might be important to an organisation from their website or the job description.

Strength-based interviews

These interviews are a relatively new style and might be used particularly by bigger firms or organisations. These interviews are about identifying what you’re good at and what you enjoy. It helps employers get to know the ‘real you’ and assess if you’re going to be the right fit for the role and the firm/organsation as a whole.

These questions can sometimes throw you off as they’re quite broad, but link it back to the workplace and what you’re like as an employee.

If you’re working in a group, which person are you?
When are you at your best?
Are you a starter or a finisher?
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Stress interviews

A stress interview puts you under intense pressure and is used to assess how you respond to a hostile environment. The interviewer may test you by appearing angry or disinterested, asking difficult questions and challenging everything you say. Remember, this is a challenge and they are looking for someone who can handle tough situations in a confident and assertive manner.

Stress-based interviews are not hugely common and are typically used more often in a Sales environment.  

Panel interviews

Panel interviews involve an interview with typically between 2 to 6 people. This style is used when a company wants to get a rounded opinion on the suitability of you as a candidate, from several employees. Panel members can discuss their opinions and choices and it ensures decisions are more objective.

As there are several interviewers, it is likely they will have different styles of interviewing. However often 1 person will take the lead, with the others taking notes and jumping in.

Telephone interviews

Employers often use telephone interviews to screen a large number of candidates prior to face-to-face interviews.

TIP! Create a professional environment for a phone interview. Make sure you're somewhere quiet, private and calm. Dressing professionally and sitting up straight can come across on the phone to the employer and will make you feel more confident and prepared.

Telephone interviews can often feel quite scripted as employers may have a list of questions to ask you. Try and vary your tone of voice to ensure you sound more natural and if possible, ask some questions of your own to promote a conversational style.

It can be hard to judge the reactions of the employer on the other end of the line so if you feel you need to, you could ask if they would like you to elaborate further, or if they'd like further examples to support a question. If you haven't quite understood a question, make sure you ask for clarification.

The most important thing during a phone interview is to be confident and engaging. Employers will often run through experience on your CV which they already know, in which case the telephone interview is serving to assess your communication skills.