Where can you see yourself next?

Interview tips

Interview tips

I’ve been sending people to interviews for over twenty years so there’s not much you can do that will shock me. I could write a book (still deciding whether it will be a comedy, drama or horror)! However, what becomes clear when you listen to hundreds of candidates giving you post-interview feedback, telling you the story of what happened and what they were asked, is that nothing really changes. There is the odd curly question but, fundamentally, Partners ask the same questions every time.

This isn’t reinventing the wheel, however, here are my top 5 tips to help you clear the common hurdles.

(Before we start, I’m assuming we don’t need to cover “grown-ups don’t take their mum to interviews”, “using an expletive in every sentence normally ends badly” and, my personal favourite, “telling your female interviewer that she’s hot and then proceeding to demonstrate that you weren’t lying on your CV when you said you loved Brazilian Samba dancing” – he didn’t get that job..)

  1. Know what you wrote in your CV. You’re not going to get asked to regurgitate the law that you’ve learned but you’re almost certainly going to get asked to talk the Partners through a matter you’ve mentioned in your resume from three years ago.  Take a bit of time the night before to remind yourself what you listed – what the matters involved, what role you fulfilled in the team, what were the challenges, what were the outcomes and what you learned from the work you did.
  2. Know who you’re interviewing with.  Some firms are household names, some you won’t know until their name is suggested to you.  In both cases, don’t assume you know who the firm is, what it stands for and where it sits in the market.  I’ve often had candidates asked “so, why us?” and “big, good work and change of scenery” will rarely cut it.  Any decent recruiter will be able to position a firm in your mind, so you have a clear sense of how the firm you’re talking to views themselves.  You won’t get asked it directly, but be prepared to answer the question, “so, who are we?”
  3. Remember this sentence in case you’re asked directly about your salary expectations “I’d really need to be guided by you and take advice from my agent but, provided I’m being paid fairly alongside other lawyers at the firm at the same level as me, I’m happy”.  We can deal with the numbers afterwards, there’s no need to attempt to put a price on your head on the spot.
  4. Everyone hates “have you got any questions for us?” so have these tucked up your sleeve for emergencies:
    • Could you paint me a picture of what my first 6 months will look like with the firm in terms of training, development and access to matters?
    • What part do other lawyers at my level typically play on matters?
    • Could you give me some insight into how my role will develop as I become more senior?  What are the stages of progression, the expectations and the opportunities open to those who perform well.
  5. Finally, interviews are anxiety inducing but they’re rarely the interrogation you’re expecting.  This is particularly important for more junior candidates who last interviewed when you were seeking your first role.  As juniors or would be graduates, you bring precious little to the party except your academics and your potential. There is an army of you queuing up to be judged upon which fruit you would choose to be, if you were asked to become a fruit.  Fast forward two or three years and the balance of power shifts dramatically – you’re the lawyer, you’ve got the experience they need, they’ve not seen a similar CV for five months and you’re meeting with four other firms.  You need to prepare to put your best foot forward in every interview but don’t feel scared (or grateful), this is now a meeting of equals, of two parties who both stand to gain from a fruitful engagement.
Matt Harris

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