Your first NQ role: The dos and don’ts of preparing for your interviews

An NQ solicitor interview is likely to be your first experience of the qualified legal world, and the process can feel quite daunting when you’ve never done it before. Here are some of Brooke Thornham’s ‘interview dos and don’ts’ to guide you through the process.


Preparing for your interview:

DO: Research the firm thoroughly

There’s no excuse for not doing your homework properly before an interview: the majority of the details you should brush up on will be available on the internet via legal directories, legal news and industry websites, and local business news pages. As well as what’s available on the internet at large, take some time to thoroughly appraise the information the firm shares about itself: pages on the website, partner profiles, LinkedIn, unique selling points, and so on. Try to retain some relevant facts about the business (size, turnover, history), as well as any pertinent information about work undertaken by the team you’re hoping to join (sector focus, named clients and so on).


DO: Know your CV

This should be your top priority; you will need to know your CV inside out and be able to talk about your experience with confidence. You should also be mindful that the CV you submitted to your recruiter may not be the same as the CV your recruiter submitted to the firm: it’s likely to have been reformatted in your recruiter’s ‘house style’, and they may have removed superfluous details or extraneous information before sending in your application. Ask your recruiter for the ‘final version’ of your CV; at Brooke Thornham we’re happy to send you a copy of the CV the interviewer received in order to help you prepare fully.


DON’T: Forget your recruiter

Legal recruitment consultants exist for a reason: finding your ideal NQ role can be a tough and tiring journey and we’re here to make it that bit easier for you. So, when you’re preparing for your NQ interview, don’t forget to ask us how we can help: recruiters often have information about firms which isn’t in the public domain, and which can help you prepare more efficiently and give you that extra edge on the day. For example, Brooke Thornham’s long-standing connections with legal firms across the north of England give us insight into their differing interview styles, partner personalities and pet hates, and the kinds of questions they tend to ask candidates at interview. Take the opportunity to ask your recruiter for help: it can make the difference between success and failure.


In the interview:

DO: Stay focused

Interviews for NQ roles are very different from interviews for training contracts, so don’t go in expecting the meeting to take the same route as interviews you’ve had in the past. Try to anticipate what your interviewer is trying to determine from their questions: they’ll want to assess whether you’re good with clients, for example, and what level of involvement you had on the projects you worked on in your training contract. Don’t let yourself get side-tracked answering questions they haven’t asked, though: take some time to think about the question before you respond, then make sure you stay on point throughout.


DO: Ask questions

Interviews are a two-way process: while the interviewer is determining whether or not you’d be a good fit for the firm, you’re busy assessing the company culture, career development opportunities and specialisms they can offer. This means that the interviewer certainly shouldn’t be the only one asking questions; you should use your own queries about the role and the company to open up dialogue, and to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm. Enquiries about getting involved in additional activities such as marketing will be well received, and questions which demonstrate that you know something about the firm are very important.


DON’T: Get caught short

Expect a range of ‘why’ questions from your prospective employers. Think of these as a kind of risk assessment: they’re trying to make sure they make a successful and lasting appointment, and your answers to these will give them an understanding of your future ambitions and how you plan to spend the first few years of your legal career. Why are you looking to leave your current firm? Why are you interested in this particular role? If you can’t answer these questions, you’ll struggle to give your interviewer a sense of your ‘bigger picture’, and they may conclude that there’s little to differentiate you from their other prospective NQs.


After the interview:

DO: Speak to your recruiter

Try and call your recruiter as soon as is practicable after your interview. Those initial thoughts and gut feelings you have straight after an interview are important, so share them with your recruiter. What went well? What didn’t? Are there any questions that you wished you’d asked and hadn’t? It can be really helpful to debrief after an interview, and the conversation will help you to distil your thoughts. If you’re working with one recruiter on a number of opportunities and interviews then it’s helpful as a compare and contrast exercise, as they’ll make note of your thoughts after each meeting; this includes the details that you may forget later, so this can be really helpful when it comes to choosing one opportunity.

Your recruiter will be speaking to the firm after your interview, and it’s standard for them to want to understand your thoughts about the practice, the role, and whether you’re interested in progressing to the next stage. Speak to your recruiter to gain a further understanding of the next steps if you’ve been successful at first interview – they’re there for a reason.


DO: Take time to reflect

Coming to the jobs market as a newly qualified solicitor can feel extremely daunting. If you didn’t complete vacation scheme placements, you may have only had experience of working in one type of firm so far, so this is your chance to branch out and broaden your experience. Your recruiter will (hopefully) have you in process with several firms, and post-interview is a great time to reflect on what you do or don’t like about each. For example, you may have entered the process thinking you only wanted to move to one of the big six firms, but after meeting them you might feel that the culture of a mid-tier firm would work better for you.

Take the time after interview to really think about how you’ve found each meeting, and what is has taught you about your career goals. A good recruiter won’t mind that your brief for them changes part way through the process; they’ll understand that things change, and will work with you to secure the role you feel would be right for you.


DON’T: Despair if you aren’t offered the role

Being turned down for a role can feel very dispiriting, particularly when you’ve invested a great deal of energy into preparing for your NQ solicitor interview, and it can be easy to slip into black-and-white thinking and conclude that the interview was a total disaster, or that the firm has made a big mistake in not selecting you. But, instead of despairing, try to view the experience objectively and learn from it for your next application.

Review any feedback from your interviewers: if they thought you lacked experience in a necessary field, perhaps you wouldn’t have been ideally suited to the role after all. Or if it was a close call between you and another candidate, your next application might need just one more unique element to give you an extra edge. An unsuccessful interview doesn’t have to be a bad thing – and, after all, there’ll always be a next time.


Here at Brooke Thornham we fully appreciate the need our NQ candidates have for guidance and support at interview stage, and we always ensure they are as well prepared as possible to given them the best chances of securing an opportunity. If you’d like to work with us then get in touch via our Contact page, or take a look at our FREE NQ Resource Hub for more expert legal recruitment advice.

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