So you’ve updated your CV, worked with your recruiter to fine-tune your application, and – hurrah! – you’ve been invited to interview with a firm you’d really like to work for.
You’re preparing ahead, but you’re starting to feel those pre-interview jitters. What if they ask you a question about something you haven’t done before? What if they give you one of those really strange interview tasks, like ranking your favourite flavours of jam or working out how many lamp posts there are in Britain? Or what if you decided on a change in career direction recently, and you’re worried about how it will be perceived?
Feeling nervous before an interview is perfectly normal, no matter what the company or the role. But it’s nothing to get yourself tied in knots about: however obscure or bizarre the questions they ask, your interviewer will be using your answers to find out just a few basic things about you…
Why you want to work at this firm
On your hunt for your first qualified solicitor role, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will do you no favours. No two NQ positions are created equal, just as there will be immense differences between the firms recruiting for those roles. The work these practices undertake, the skills they value and the opportunities they provide will all have their differences and your interviewer will expect you to already be aware of what sets their firm apart from the rest. Make sure you do your homework before your interview so you can tailor your responses knowledgeably – research your potential new employer’s client portfolio, examine recent press coverage of the firm, and identify what makes it uniquely desirable to work for. The better prepared you are, the better the answers you’ll be able to give.
Your aims, interests and career ambitions
Your interviewer knows where you are in your career already – they’ve seen your CV and your application, and they might have cast their eye over your social media pages, too. The firm you join upon qualifying is likely to propel your career along a particular trajectory, and your interviewers will be keen to know what draws you to this route. With that in mind, remember that your interview shouldn’t be about simply recounting all the things you’ve already done, but about demonstrating how your existing experience supports your suitability for this role and your longer-term career ambitions.
How your training contract has shaped you
Two years is a long time. Your training contract will have given you the necessary practical experience to begin your career as a lawyer, but what you’ll have learnt in those two years will undoubtedly go much deeper. Perhaps you entered your training contract convinced that copyright law was going to be your life’s work, but an exhilarating stint as a trainee in consumer protection has led you down a completely different route; or perhaps you’ve learnt that the role you perform best in isn’t the job you enjoy the most. Your training contract will have taught you more than just the essentials of becoming a solicitor, and your prospective employer doesn’t simply want to hear the verbal version of what’s on your CV; they’re interested in the route you’ve taken to end up in this particular interview, and how that journey has shaped your interest in the legal profession.
How good you are with clients, and how good you’d be with their clients
For better or worse, every solicitor has a different professional manner. Whether you’re the strident type who’s happy to be direct with a client in all matters, or an introvert who prefers a gentler approach, there’s a time and a place for every style – as long as it’s the right fit for the situation. When you’re being reviewed for a newly qualified position, be prepared to conduct yourself in your most authentic ‘client-facing’ manner: your interviewers will be keen to get a good sense of your communication style, your general disposition, and how well you’re likely to suit the spectrum of clients you’d encounter at the firm.
Whether you’ll be an asset to the team
While some skills will be desirable in every newly-qualified recruit, your interviewers may be looking for specific qualities in their newcomer in order to bring new skills or specialities to the team. Unfortunately for NQs, these are the interview criteria it’s often impossible to prepare for: sometimes firms don’t know who their ideal candidate would be until the perfect person walks into the room, and all too often it’s a truly tiny extra CV detail that propels one prospect into a position over the other applicants. But this shouldn’t be grounds for despair; it’s simply another reason why it’s really important to meticulously tailor your application to the firm, and do your research ahead of meeting a prospective new employer.