Interviews can be a daunting prospect. By and large, the better prepared you are, the easier the process and the greater the likelihood of something good coming from it.
Its impossible to prepare for every interview scenario but here is a helpful snapshot of just some of the things our candidates have been asked recently and how to go about answering them:
Why are you looking to leave your current firm?
This is often one of the first questions that come up at interview and having some kind of well thought out answer is fundamental. Firms are looking to hear positive reasons for a candidate seeking a move. Answers that revolve around salary factors alone or involve excessive negativity about your current employer are unlikely to be met with a favourable response. You should concentrate on the appealing nature of the role and the firm you are interviewing with. Conversations around the reputation of the firm, the quality of the work on offer, career progression and the opportunity to develop should be the focus of any conversation.
Why do you want to work for us? Why do you think you are suited to the role?
These kinds of questions test your knowledge of the firm and the role itself. We can’t emphasise enough the importance of doing your research on things like: size, reputation, training, progression, quality of work etc. It’s a real opportunity for you to showcase your knowledge, skills and experience and where you might fit into the role, the department and the culture of the firm. If possible, try to emphasise what you can do for firm and not just what they can do for you.
Tell us about yourself
This is a very open-ended question but flummoxes a lot of candidates. Interviewers are keen to hear how you have interpreted the question and is a real test of a candidate’s verbal communication skills. We would recommend focusing on a brief summary of your career to date, recent experiences and significant relevant achievements. Afterwards you could even ask if they would like you to expand on particular areas. Examples of relevant achievement could mean a consistent billing history, an ability to win clients or any interesting or impressive work you have done of late.
How well do you work under pressure?
A fairly standard question but one that can be answered badly by using clichés or hyperbole. You should try to emphasise that you work as well under pressure as they do at any other time but that when the pressure is ramped up you are able to prioritise important tasks so that your workload is manageable. Simply being able to give one or two specific examples of scenarios you have faced and how you have dealt with them can help you stand out from other candidates in the process.
Are you applying to other companies?
The focus here is on demonstrating that you've not been applying for multiple jobs without much thought. If you are in the process with other firms, it might be useful to mention firms/opportunities with similar attributes to the one you are interviewing with. Good candidates should be able to highlight a particular interest in a role and commitment to that firm without too much teeth pulling.
What kind of salary are you looking for?
A key part of your pre-interview research should be to try to identify the likely salary range on offer. This can often be included in the job advert itself. It’s important to state that you expect it to be within that range and not to ask for something that may rule you out on account of unrealistic salary expectations. Good recruiters will already have covered this subject off with the firm prior to you attending the interview and as such you will need to check what has been discussed between the firm and the recruiter pre-interview to ensure everybody is on the same page. If you are looking to increase your salary this can be a useful opportunity, if asked, to justify a realistic increase based on your experience and your suitability for the role.
How would you go about helping to generate business for the firm?
Firms are increasingly looking for something extra to help distinguish between candidates who, on paper, have similar skills and experience. An ability to be client facing, win work and network with potential clients can help make the difference in this scenario. Candidates who can demonstrate a history of spotting business opportunities and developing new clients will find this question a lot easier. If this is something that you are unfamiliar with, it may be helpful to concentrate on your ability to manage existing client relationships and securing more work from them off the back of providing a first-rate client service. An underrated and often ignored aspect of generating new business can be as simple as suggesting that different departments communicate with each other and ensure that they try to cross sell other legal services to existing clients.
What's your greatest weakness?
Remember that it is only natural to have weaknesses. What firms are looking for is evidence that you can show how you have worked on these weaknesses to turn them into strengths. One approach is to admit a particular weakness that does not impact on the job you are interviewing for and then describe how you overcome it by using strengths which are relevant to the job itself. A useful example of this could be overcoming a lack of public speaking skills by extensive preparation and organisation. Be aware that the interviewer may ask for more than one weakness, so go prepared.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
It may be helpful to give consideration to what the interviewer is looking for in this scenario as some can be wary of candidates that seem to lack ambition and do not aspire to make partner within a realistic time frame. Others can be conscious of the extent to which they can realistically accommodate a further partner in the short to medium term. This question can be a useful opportunity to ask for information about what career ladder the firm has in place and whether they have specific criteria for promotion from Solicitor to Associate or Associate to Partner. Don’t be afraid to ask for examples of other employees of the firm achieving promotion.
How do you manage your time?
Time management is an essential skill in any workplace. Being able to provide a slick and sensible answer to this particular question will impress any interviewer. Be sure to mention how you handle different aspects of time management including work prioritisation, meeting deadlines, avoiding multi-tasking, handling interruptions and maintaining work/life balance. If you are able to provide specific examples, all the better.
Other typical interview questions/topics include:
- What are your main achievements to date?
- Describe the most complicated project or complex task you have encountered. How did you tackle it?
- Describe a situation where you had to deal with a difficult client and how you handled it.
- Give me an example of where you have had to deal with a difficult team member. How did you resolve the issue?
- Give an example of a time when you showed initiative.
- Have you had experience of writing articles, presenting at seminars/conferences? How did this come about?
- Are you flexible to move/travel?
- What's your view on...? (current affairs question)
- Have you any questions to ask?