So you’ve got through to the interview stage – but what do you need to do to be successful? Real World suggests 10 tips to make sure your interview goes smoothly
IN THE HOT SEAT
Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, interviews are an integral part of securing a training contract or pupillage. Depending on the recruiter, you might be interviewed by a human resources person, a senior practitioner, or both. You will be expected to demonstrate your reasons for your chosen career path, as well as to display some knowledge of the law – although this will probably be limited for those who are final-year graduates in non-law subjects. What you get asked will obviously differ between one recruiter and another. But there are some basic rules that apply to all interviews. To make sure that you achieve a winning interview, take a look at our 10 "do’s and don’ts":
Practice makes perfect
"Practise your interview technique," suggests Claire Evans, graduate recruitment officer at DLA Piper. She adds: "Remember you’re in a formal setting, so try to curb the use of slang or colloquial language."
Make firms feel wanted
Taylor Wessing’s graduate recruitment and development officer, Nichola Crilly, advises students that there’s a raft of things to research once you have an interview lined up: "Spend as much time as possible finding out about the person who is interviewing you; the type of work the firm does; the departments; what makes the firm unique; who the firm’s competitors are; the firm’s strategy going forward; recent deals, and the structure of the training contract." She adds: "Every firm wants to feel that they are the student’s number-one choice."
Give evidence of your skills
"Find out what skills and attributes the firm is looking for," suggests Denton Wilde Sapte’s recruitment manager, Jo Wilson. "Think of specific situations that you have been in where these skills have been used. Giving a variety of examples is the key, as well as giving depth and detail to answers." However, she warns that students should avoid "waffling" when responding.
Be commercially aware
"I would recommend that candidates familiarise themselves with the business press as soon as they have submitted their applications," says Allen & Overy’s graduate recruitment manager, Zoë Gordon. "That way, they won’t have so much of a last-minute panic about preparing to talk about commercial issues in future interviews. It’s good to research stories relating to the potential employer, and to think about the issues facing the relevant industry sector, too." She warns students not to leave it too late: "It’s no good glancing at the Financial Times on the morning of the interview," she says.
First impressions count
Jane Drew, trainee resources manager at Nabarro, has three key pieces of advice for students with interviews lined up: "Dress smartly, give a firm handshake, and make eye contact." While it can feel like a costly exercise, investing in a good-quality suit will be a wise move. Although some firms and barristers’ chambers will have a dress-down policy, the majority will expect to dress conservatively. That means a black suit for men and women – and no humorous cufflinks or ties, boys.
Don’t be modest
"Interviews are not the time for candidates to be modest about their achievements," advises Allen & Overy’s Zoë. "While arrogance is not recommended either, students should identify all their strengths and achievements before their interview, and prepare the best examples possible to demonstrate these skills."
Don’t go in unprepared
"There’s really no excuse for people coming in without doing any preparation or research on the firm," says DLA Piper’s Claire. "A prepared and knowledgeable student will easily impress me, whereas the opposite will have the opposite effect."
Don’t forget to expect obvious questions
Nabarro’s Jane agrees that lack of preparation is one of the biggest mistakes applicants can make. "Quite often students fall down because they haven’t thought enough about some of the obvious questions they will be asked," she says. Some of the questions she advises applicants to expect include: "What do you know about us?", "What skills do you have that you think will make you a good solicitor?" and "Why commercial law?"
Don’t forget to listen to what’s being asked
"The biggest mistake applicants make is not actually listening to the question, and giving answers that they have pre-planned," reveals Denton Wilde Sapte’s Jo. By all means make some notes on the questions that are likely to be asked, such as "Why do you want to work here?", "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" and "Describe a situation where you worked in a team". However, don’t learn your answers off by heart, and be prepared to tailor your responses depending on what the interviewer actually asks.
Don’t be inconsistent
Nichola of Taylor Wessing urges applicants to be consistent in their reasoning for applying to firms, "One of the major errors that students can make is to passionately describe how they are interested only in training in a mid-sized firm for many well-explained reasons," she says. "And then when they are asked about where else they have applied, they list a whole range of "magic circle"-sized [large] firms."
At the end of the interview, be sure to thank your interviewers by name. It also makes a good impression if later that day you can obtain their email address and send them a "thank you" for taking the time to interview you. Not only will it create a longer-lasting impression of you, it also shows that you are serious in your application to the firm or chambers. Depending on the firm, feedback might also be available for unsuccessful candidates. However, you shouldn’t reach for the phone the minute the rejection letter lands on your doormat. Take some time to reflect on where you fell down during the interview or assessment day. If you still don’t know what went wrong, then contact the graduate recruiter. But remember, these are very busy people, and they may simply not have the time to give any further feedback than that given in the rejection letter. Finally, don’t forget that interviewing is an art form, and improves with time. If you have an interview lined up and you are daunted by the prospect, visit your careers service. It will probably be able to conduct a mock interview, to give you a feel of what it will be like to be put on the spot. Above all, be yourself – and don’t forget to smile!