So you’ve made it through the lengthy application stage. Don’t start congratulating yourself yet! The hard work starts here and this is your chance to shine. You’ve shown that you’re good enough on paper, now in the interview, show yourself to be the best person for the job.
Obvious questions that will come up include, why us? Why you? Why law? You should have stock answers to these. I found it helped to write them down – usually in bullet point form and then practise in front of the mirror. This can help your confidence and you can monitor your body language at the same time.
You should have conducted research about the law firm/company that you are applying to. There is no excuse for not doing your homework! With a law firm, you should look out for a few key deals, but also get a feel from their website about what kind of firm they are, what kind of training programme they provide, and whether there is the opportunity for secondments. But don’t think you will earn brownie points if you start asking about whether you could get a permanent job in the Paris or New York office. They may question your dedication to the application office!
You should have at least three key points, with examples of why you are the best person for the job. And the example is key. Otherwise it’s just one whole bragging exercise. And that way, you are giving the interviewer evidence of your skills.
A hundred thousand reasons for this. Just make sure yours is true, as lawyers/interviewers/managers can tell a fake pretty quickly. That’s true of the whole interview in fact. Don’t try to be someone you’re not just to ace the interview. Interviews are not designed to trip you up, but instead to give the interviewer a flavour of who you are. They are trying to see if you would be a good fit for the team. This includes not using vocabulary you are familiar with for the sake of “poshing it up”. I myself had heard the phrase “document perusal” as an alternative phrase of reviewing documents, so when my law work experience came up, I described myself as having “perused documents”, which brought out peals of laughter from my interviewers. I didn’t get the job.
The truth and nothing but the truth.
For the same reasons, be truthful. A relationship between employer and employee is one founded on trust. So if that is gone, you are really in trouble. A family friend lost his job months after being in his new role after admitting to bumping up one of his A-level grades from a C to a B. The employer had no choice but to fire the family friend. So one little “white lie” cost him his job.
Me in three.
More tricky questions include describing yourself in three words. The key focus here is to look at what your employer is wanting in a great employee and tying this in with your skills and attributes. Attention to detail is a good one, but you cannot really put that down if your application is littered with typos. Similarly, being strong on communication and organisational skills might not be sensible if you turn up half an hour late to the interview.
Don’t be late.
Which brings us to punctuality. It is better to turn up half an hour early and wait in a coffee shop across the road rather than turning up late. So if this means getting an earlier train, or setting out that bit earlier, it is worth it. It also gives you time to prepare yourself mentally and to get yourself into “the zone”. A quick trip to the coffee shop bathroom for the pre-interview check in the mirror (teeth, nose, newspaper marks on face) is essential. If you are wearing tights, a spare pair in the bag does not go amiss in case of ladders.
Other standard questions include giving examples of when you failed at a task and turned it into a positive, or when you demonstrated leadership skills. Again, use your experiences to think of how you can demonstrate skills that the employer wants. And it is possible to draw out many skills in all types of experiences, whether big or small. For example, you may have been involved in a mini-enterprise campaign at school or involved in a committee for a sports club at university. Interviewers are not expecting everyone to have formed multimillion pound companies when they are applying for their first job!
Most of all, enjoy the experience. At the end of the day, even if you are not successful, it’s a process that you’ve gone through. And if you are not, please do get feedback. It may help you for future interviews. I used to find that it helped to write up which interview questions I was asked and then to come up with stock answers. You never know when the same questions might pop up.
Leave on a positive. Firm handshake and big smile. Onwards and upwards!
Jane-May Cross is an Editor on the Practical Law China team. Jane-May trained and qualified with Reed Smith. In 2008, she joined Practical Law as an editor in the Cross-border department, managing projects such as the Life Sciences, Corporate Real Estate and Investment Funds multi-jurisdictional guides. Jane-May was appointed a Practical Law China editor in September 2011. She speaks Cantonese, is learning Mandarin, is fluent in French, and holds a French law diploma.
Jane-May studied at the University of Leicester, Université Jean Moulin (Lyon III) and the College of Law. Jane-May is currently a non-practising solicitor.