NQ Solicitors’ Ian Roberts has advised thousands of applicants within the legal sector over the years and is in no doubt what factors make the difference between success and failure. In this blog, we set out Ian’s top 10 interview secrets for solicitors moving firms upon qualification.
You’re about to qualify as a solicitor after years of hard slog but all that effort could be in vain unless you can secure the right role at the right firm. The good news is you’ve got an interview at a firm you’d love to work for. Here are 10 tips that will help you dazzle your interviewers and get that all important offer.
1. First impressions count
According to various studies, you have c. 17 seconds to make a good first impression, so don’t waste them. The following are basics but shouldn’t be overlooked. Start with a good firm handshake, (but don’t do a Donald Trump). Make steady eye contact (but don’t stare), smile and say “pleased to meet you” in a confident and sincere tone and you’re off and running. The goal is to make a connection and start building a rapport with your interviewer(s).
2. Commit yourself
As Wayne Gretzky said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Or, if you’d rather not take your inspiration from an ice hockey player, think of it this way. If you’re not totally committed to getting an offer, you may as well not show up for the interview. Firms want people who they can see are excited to work for them. If you’re dialing it in, they’ll see through you.
3. “So, why do you want to work here?”
This question is asked at almost every interview and the answer is so important, yet amazingly, this is the question that catches candidates out more than any other. Do your homework on the firm. Answer the question by reference to what you have learned and give specific examples. What it is about the work the firm does, its culture, its reputation and its story that appeal to you. Show why you would be a good fit and why you’re precisely what they’re looking for.
4. “Have you applied to stay with your current firm post qualification?”
The interviewers know how the NQ system works. They are more than likely to ask questions like the above and others along the same lines. “Where you are in the process?” “How many and what seats have you applied for?” “What would you do if they offered you a role?”
These can be tricky to answer. You may be waiting to hear from your training firm and would prefer to stay there if they make you an offer. If so, you won’t want to make it evident to the interviewer that they are a back up.
Alternatively, you may be pretty sure that your training firm doesn’t want to keep you on or may have decided that your future lies elsewhere. But you won’t want to say this if you feel it will shed you in a bad light.
Rule number one, don’t lie. First of all, it’s inappropriate for a solicitor and secondly, there’s a good chance you’ll get caught out. Remember, the legal world is a small one.
What you can say is that you’re aware that it’s a highly competitive process at your training firm and you would be foolish not to see what other opportunities are out there.
You may also give candid reasons why the firm you are interviewing with appeals to you in ways that your training firm doesn’t (without slagging them off). This may perhaps be because of its size, the work it does, its work/life balance, etc. Be subtle and frame all your answers positively.
5. Your CV got you here, but it won’t get you the job
Interviewers are interested in the person behind the CV, not the CV itself. The interview is about you as a person and, to a certain extent your technical knowledge, not your qualifications. What matters now is how you express yourself, how well you will fit in at the firm, what you’ve learned during your training contract and what your ambitions are.
6. Be prepared to talk about anything on your CV
We mean anything. If you say you like the theatre, then be prepared to tell your interviewers what the last three plays you saw were and when you saw them. Or, if you say you speak basic German, be prepared to answer “Warum möchtest du hier arbeiten?”. I’ve known candidates get grilled for 20 minutes or more on seemingly throwaway bits of information on their CVs leaving them wishing they hadn’t put them on there in the first place. It’s your CV, you have to own all of it.
7. Show you are at the right end of the NQ spectrum
We all know that some trainees ‘get it’ from day one. They understand how to run a file, deal with clients, get their work done without drama and are in tune with the firm’s ethos and commercial objectives. They may not be the trainees with the most impressive CVs, but they will make the best lawyers. Your interviewer knows this too and is digging to find out if you are one of these or one of the others. The lame ducks. A good CV but no grasp of what the job is all about. It’s a spectrum and you need to show you are at the right end.
8. Give specific examples of what you have done
Don’t speak in generalities, be specific. Paint a picture, tell a story, put some meat on the bone (pick your own cliché if you like). The interviewer needs to be sitting there imagining you doing the things you’re talking about and picturing you doing the same for their firm. (Remember, while being highly specific is essential, be careful not to give away client confidentiality).
9. Always ask questions
Pick up on points they have mentioned during the interview to show you’ve been listening. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest in the firm, your understanding of the work they do, their culture and the types of clients they have. Check out the LinkedIn profiles of the people interviewing you (beforehand, not on your phone in the interview) and ask about their career path and anything especially interesting or relevant. Ask about future training to show your desire to become a well-rounded lawyer and what your prospects of rising through the firm would be if you do well.
10. Don’t play hard to get
At the risk of sounding like a Facebook meme, “Don’t play hard to get, play hard to forget”. Leave the interviewer in no doubt that you want the job. Be enthusiastic though not gushing. Be keen but don’t grovel. They hold most of the cards and want to employ someone who is genuinely motivated to work for them and do well. Show them you are.