The key to any successful interview is preparation. While both of us spend a good amount of time preparing all of our candidates for any interviews we arrange, we have included some general interview tips below:
Preparation is key. Do as much as you can to prepare before any interview as this will put you in the best frame of mind to be yourself and calm your nerves. Specifically you need to know:
Location – exactly where you are going, the address, floor and who to ask for upon arrival;
Interviewers – look on firm websites and LinkedIn at your interviewer’s profiles. This might help you uncover similarities to your background or questions you might like to know more about;
The Job – you should know as much as you can about the job you are interviewing for and the firm/organisation you are interviewing with. If there is a job or position description carefully review this so you know the key things the firm or company is looking for in the ideal candidate. For a law firm, have a look at the firm website, the practice areas the firm works across, any press the firm has had recently (Lawyers Weekly, Brisbane Legal, LinkedIn). For a company, review the company website, any publicly available information (annual reports etc.) and try to understand the business. Use Google and your network to find out as much as you can.
Your CV – you need to carefully review your CV as you should not need to refer to it in the interview. You should be able to confidently speak to the matters contained in it and importantly, the achievements from the positions you have held to date. Think carefully through the matters you have detailed in your CV, your involvement in those matters and any synergies with the type of work involved in the job you are interviewing for.
Your skills – Beyond your technical legal knowledge and skills, have in mind skills that are transferrable to the job you are interviewing for. This can include supervision of others, leadership, time management, client relationship skills and business development skills.
Behavioural questions and how to answer them – be prepared for behavioural questions (which are based on the concept that past behaviour is a good indicator of future performance). These include:
- what are your strengths and weaknesses?
- how would you describe yourself?
- describe your biggest career accomplishment.
A good way to prepare for these is when you are reviewing your CV and matters you have worked on try to think of examples including:
- a difficult matter that blew up and how you handled that pressure situation;
- a matter you are particularly proud of;
- a difficult client and how you successfully handled that relationship;
- where you have worked effectively in a team situation and on your own; and
- where you have worked under very tight time constraints effectively.
If you have a number of these examples ready, you will be able to use them to answer a lot of the behavioural questions that are put to you.
Questions – You should have a number of questions to ask in the interview but these might include:
- What is the team structure/reporting line?
- What work would I likely be involved in in the first 6 months if I were successful in getting this job?
- What are the prospects for promotion?
- What level of client exposure will you be given?
- What would your budget be for your level?
Before the Interview – First impressions are very important so always dress professionally and remember, you’re interviewing as a lawyer and not as an advertising creative! It’s safer to err on the side of caution in a conservative suit/professional dress, simple colours, remove any obvious piercings, make sure your hair is neat and don’t overdo the cologne or perfume!
Arrive about 5-10 minutes early. Being late or overly early is unprofessional and shows a lack of consideration for your interviewer’s time. If it is particularly hot it will also help to cool down. If you are too early, wait in the building foyer and don’t head up to the floor until about 5-10 minutes before your interview. While you wait for your interviewer to collect you, take in the feel of the reception area. It will give you an insight into the firm/company.
Turn off your phone. Don’t just put it on vibrate! If you bring anything into the interview just bring a copy of your CV and perhaps a compendium to store it in. certainly don’t take in an iPad, water bottle or cup of coffee!
Greeting – If you are taken to a room to wait for your interviewer, make sure you face the door to which they will enter the room. There is nothing worse that meeting someone for the first time and it is the back of your head! Also, if offered a drink, avoid coffees, teas or tempting as a smoothie might be, only ask for a water. When you are greeted by your interviewer, walk tall, offer a firm handshake, a smile and maintain eye contact throughout the interview. If you struggle to make eye contact, some people suggest looking at the point of the nose of the interviewer – it still looks as though you are making eye contact!
During the interview – Don’t assume the interviewers have carefully read all of your CV. Be prepared to outline in detail matters that are in your CV.
A common first question, “Tell us about yourself”, whilst seemingly innocuous, is one which can derail an interview right from the start. So prepare for this and be able to provide a summary of your background. Your answer should be clear and succinct and you should take this approach throughout the interview. Whatever you do, try and avoid waffling…they really don’t want to know where you went to primary school, or on family holidays. Keep it snappy and professional so as to not waste valuable “interview” time.
Be aware of your body language – maintain eye contact with the person asking you questions but if there are others on the interview panel extend your eye contact to them also. Try to relax, smile and respond in positive terms to your interviewer.
Listen to the questions you are asked and if you are unsure as to how to answer the question rephrase it in your own words and clarify that is what they are asking for.
Your interviewers will be seeking to assess your experience, communication skills, people skills and confidence. Use the preparation you have done so you can confidently explain why you are interested in the role/company, how your experience is relevant and why you are confident you will be able to perform.
Be prepared to discuss your career goals but tailor them so that they fit in with the organisation and the role on offer. Keep a reasonably tight lid on your ambitions though – for example, being a second year lawyer and “striving for partnership in the immediate future” might understandably put some interviewers off!
You may also be asked about current legal issues, cases or changes to the law so don’t be surprised if these come up.
If you are asked why you are moving on from your current role do not make negative comments about your current employer (or other past employers for that matter). Focus on the positive things that this position can provide you. For example, you might answer that “I am looking for a new role because I am seeking to work in a larger law firm where I can gain experience on larger matters” rather than “My current firm only works on small matters as the Partner I work for only has small clients”. Turn the negative into a positive.
Salary – If you are asked about salary tell the panel that you are seeking market rate and defer to your recruiter to deal with the salary negotiation. This is surprisingly easy, as people don’t like talking about money, and the risk you can run by answering it in the interview is either over-selling or under-selling yourself.
Finishing the Interview – Finish the interview on a good note. Typically interviews will finish with you asking a few questions. If you are interested in the role, say so and make one of your questions about what you would likely be working on in the first six months of the job. Thank the interviewer/s and ask what the next steps/timing will be.
At Peppercorn Recruitment, our Partners are both former lawyers and have a combined two decades of legal recruitment experience. We have provided frank, honest and pragmatic advice to many lawyers over their careers on matters such as negotiating salaries, drafting CVs, interview tips and tricks and of course, changing jobs.
We hope you find this a useful point of reference in your career planning, but should you wish to have a confidential discussion about how we can help, please contact either Peter or Ross. We’re happy to help!