Interview questions – what will you be asked and how to answer them
(all links in this article were checked for validity in August 2021)
There is lots of advice available on the web about preparing for interviews and many sample questions. The key is to ensure that you take your advice from a site that has researched the UK market and is up to date. I recommend the following:
- The University of Kent’s Careers Service have an advice booklet which can be downloaded from here https://www.kent.ac.uk/ces/publications.html . Or read their on-line advice here – https://www.kent.ac.uk/ces/student/interviews.html
- Online Learning: The central Careers & Employability Service has a series of presentations available, which cover a range of employability topics from CV’s, Interviews, LinkedIn which you can access on their Moodle page – DP4450 (a combination of recording or power points)
- https://targetjobs.co.uk/career-sectors/law-solicitors/343780-preparing-for-training-contract-and-vacation-scheme-interview-questions – this article talks you through how to approach the questions using example questions. This article, also from Target Jobs, specifically deals with commercial awareness questions – https://targetjobs.co.uk/career-sectors/law-solicitors/291163-commercial-awareness-and-how-to-achieve-it-by-trainee-solicitors-and-law-recruiters
- http://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/law-careers/interview-tips/legal-interview-questions-answers – use the side bar for more articles about interviews.
- The Lawyer Portal – there is a student blog on this link recording top interview tips from a Magic Circle partner.
- https://www.wikijob.co.uk/content/industry/law/list-law-firm-interview-questions – this is a good list of past questions asked at UK TC interviews.
- Wikijobs have analysed the whole recruitment process for a couple of firms including Berwin Leighton Paisner’s (https://www.wikijob.co.uk/company/berwin-leighton-paisner/interview-questions) and Allen & Overy’s (https://www.wikijob.co.uk/company/allen-overy/interview-questions), Again their are hints and tips about how to respond and example questions.
- http://jobs.lawgazette.co.uk/article/top-tips-for-interviews/ more questions and hints.
- https://www.prospects.ac.uk/podcasts – you will need to select the interview podcast. There’s some really great advice in this podcast and one of the speakers is from White & Case so law is covered.
Strengths Based Interviews
There is a growing trend to move over to this type of interview structure and you should be aware of how this differs from a competency interview. A strengths-based interview is all about understanding what energises and motivates you, as well as what you do well. Questions are harder to prepare in advance so the interviewers will get a much more accurate assessment of you on the day. There is a podcast you can listen to here – https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/interview-tips/strength-based-interviews
Examples of strength based questions:
- As a student, were you easily distracted from finishing assignments? (If no) What do you think helped you to keep going on a task?
- Is it more pleasurable to work on your own or in a team? Which is easier for you, working in a team or working on your own?
- Do you find it easy adapting the way you speak and behave, in order to better relate to different people? Tell me more.
- How do you develop and deepen relationships over time? Can you give me an example of what you last did this?
- What would you do if a colleague you were relying on was taken ill the week before an important deadline? (Wait for answer) How do you feel in these sorts of situations?
What the recruiter is looking to spot
- Body language – does the candidate look interested, engaged, are they animated, leaning forward etc.
- Energy – does this appear to dip when talking about something that isn’t a strength?
- Good examples to back-up points made – this is where STAR/CAR can still be used to structure answers
- Tone of voice
- Enthusiastic, descriptive language – ‘x comes naturally to me’. ‘I love…’ etc
Telephone & video interviews
Free practice interviews
…are available for Kent students on Graduates First https://www.graduatesfirst.com/university-career-services/kent/ (also for practicing psychometric tests, Watson Glaser, video Interviews, game based assessments and to receive assessment centre advice).
Recorded interviews are now a very common feature of the lengthy recruitment process at large law firms. Most of the time you will answer pre-recorded questions in a given time frame i.e. one minute per answer and there may be 4 or 5 questions. Such interviews tend to be about 10-15 minutes and may include the questions about why you want to work for this firm, why you want to be this type of solicitor, commercial awareness and competency questions.
The purpose of recorded interviews is to further sift the many competent applicants before assessment centres/interviews. Recruiters want to see more of your personality and to test your verbal communication skills (you’ve already proven your written communication if you have got to this stage).
There is some good advice in this article by Gemma Baker who works legal recruitment and has worked for Aspiring Solicitors on the LawCareers.Net webpage.
You may find the following articles useful:
- UoK CES’ advice on telephone interviews: https://www.kent.ac.uk/ces/student/interviews.html?tab=telephone-interviews
- Eversheds advice on telephone interviews: http://www.eversheds.com/global/en/where/europe/uk/overview/careers/graduates/telephone-interview-hints-and-tips.page
- Wikijobs advice on telephone interviews: https://www.wikijob.co.uk/content/interview-advice/interview-types/telephone-interview
- There’s a short video by the Bright Network on https://youtu.be/Sq8nnvgLWwY
Face to face Interviews
Once you have been invited for a face to face interview you know that you are a serious contender for the job/opportunity. You will already have been identified as competent and suitable for the job but the firm want to know that you do truly ‘fit in’ and that they like you as a person and future colleague. Remember that the interview is a two way thing and you must also be satisfied that you like them!
Most firms will interview you by means of a ‘panel’. That is to say, there are likely to be 3 or 4 people interviewing you. Persons on the panel may include a partner of the firm, training manager, Personnel/Human Resources Officer, solicitor. Each will likely have a set number of questions to ask and someone/all will take notes as you speak. If you are offered a second face to face interview you may find that this is with just one person – often a senior partner.
During C19 face to face interviews have largely taken place on-line. However, all of the below advice applies – the purpose of the interview remains the same and you’ll be interviewed by the same people as you would have done in the office. In many cases candidates have found an on-line interview to be easier.
Preparation before the interview:
- Make sure that you have reread your application form and can hold a conversation about any topic you have introduced.
- Reread the recruitment literature and the firm’s website too. Make sure you do understand who they are and what they are about. Understanding their clients is very important. What deals have they been involved with? Can you talk about one of them?
- Your “commercial awareness” should be up to date. Think about the issues that may be affecting this firm or their clients. Sometimes even little things can be important i.e. what is the dollar to stirling exchange rate today; what is the price of a barrel of oil today?
- Practice. Have a mock interview (see below). Run questions and answers through your head but don’t “rehearse” stock answers as you are likely to fall into the trap of trying to memorise a “script” and this will look very false in interview especially if the answer does not quite fit with the way in which they have worded a question.
- Identify the skills and competencies that the firm are looking for in their trainees and know how you can demonstrate that you have them. It is likely that you will be asked about times when you have worked in a team / failed at something / what is good customer service / how you demonstrate resilience (this question has become very common since C19 and lockdown) etc. Where possible try to use examples from outside of academia to demonstrate your abilities. This should give you more opportunity to be interesting and different to other candidates (you will all have studied for a considerable time but your extra-curricular activities will be more individual).
On the day:
- Arrive at least 10 minutes early and be polite to everyone – it is not uncommon for the receptionist to ask what they thought of people. You never know whom may be asked for their impressions of you. If kept waiting in reception read a newspaper not some trashy magazine. Avoid using your phone – even if you are doing something serious it may look like you are on social media or that you can’t put it down!
- If you are being interviewed on-line, log in on time – 30 seconds early is enough.
- Dress appropriately. This is a conservative profession so you must be smart and well groomed. Even if the firm have a more relaxed dress code you should see the interview as a time when you must dress in the way you would if you were going to an important business meeting / court. Not making the effort to dress appropriately will make then think you won’t put in the effort for other things.
- Men – wear a suit, shirt and tie. Make sure your shoes have been polished and your socks match.
- Women – a suit (trousers or skirt) or dress and jacket should be worn. Ensure that blouses are not to low cut and skirts are to the knee (at least) and do not ride up when you sit down. Tights/stockings will always look better than bare legs. Shoes can be flat or high (not too high!) but make sure you can walk in them. Be careful with accessories and make-up. What does your jewellery, nail polish, make-up, scarves etc. say about you? Whilst this is an opportunity to be a little daring or creative you do not want to be remembered for being too outrageous.
- If you are being interviewed on line make sure that you dress appropriately – including your bottom half (some interviewers have asked candidates to stand up!)
- If offered a drink accept only water (if you take a hot drink you may spill it and burn yourself and/or leave a stain on your lovely suit). Taking a sip of water can also be used as a delaying tactic to give you time to think about your answer to a question. (Note – this relates to beverages in the actual interview only).
- Be calm. If you are asked a question that you do not immediately know the answer too do not panic. It is perfectly OK to say “can I have a minute to think about that” (but don’t take too long as silence can be very awkward). If the question requires knowledge to answer it and you really don’t know the answer you either need to try to work the answer out (and speak your thoughts out loud to avoid that silence) or admit that you do not know but offer up an alternative similar topic that you do know about. Some questions are asked just to see how you may react under pressure. Stay calm and express your thoughts: it is likely that there is either no correct answer or they would not be expecting one. But, they do want to see how you handle a difficult situation. For instance. “how many inches is it between London and Paris”. In this instance you might discuss how many miles it is between the two and then how many inches there are in a mile (perhaps by calculating how many inches in 100ft and then how many feet in a mile etc.). You may need to do some rudimentary maths in order to come up with an estimate. Calmness is key. These types of questions are pretty unusual in legal interviews.
- Think about your body language – maintain eye contact with all of the interviewers, smile, have a confident handshake and don’t fidget. In an on-line world, look into the camera and make sure that your face is fully in the picture – best to have the camera at eye level rather than looking up at you.
- Answer the question that you were asked and not the one you wanted them to ask you. If you did not fully process the question ask them to repeat it.
- It’s OK to have notes with you (either on-line or in a real interview). If you need to refer to them you can but you shouldn’t keep doing this and you must avoid reading from them. A problem with having notes is that you can fall into the trap of answering the question you were thinking of when you wrote the notes – make sure you answer the question that was asked!
- At the end of the interview you will most likely be given the opportunity to ask questions of your own. You should have one or two to ask. Avoid questions about money or anything else that you should know from the website or the process so far. If you genuinely had a question that has been answered during the day/interview then tell them that this has happened. If you cannot think of anything try asking one of the interviewers what they like about working for this firm (although, I think is now very overused and the impact has diminished) or how the firm intends to address a particular issue in the legal/business world. If you are brave enough ask them if you have left any doubts in their minds about your suitability. This one works really well if you are brave enough!
- Thank them for their time at the end of the interview and say something to indicate that you are looking forward to hearing from them.
There are a number of opportunities to have a mock interview.
- On campus:
- The central Careers & Employability Service can offer you a mock interview at a time to suit you. Contact them to book an appointment – https://www.kent.ac.uk/ces/advice.html
- Jayne Instone, Employability & Placements Manager, LSSJ can also offer mock interviews or just have a general discussion about interview preparation.
- In February Jayne Instone and the Kent Student Law Society host a mock interviews day where a number of legal recruiters/ training managers and/or solicitors come to Kent to offer formal mock interviews. You will be told when this is happening via the weekly employability bulletin. In 2021 this took place remotely. After C19 it is likely that we shall have both on-campus and remote mock interviews available. Sign ups are necessary.
Other mock interview opportunities
- If you have a mentor via the KLS Professional Mentoring Scheme your mentor may be willing to run through an interview practice with you.
- Aspiring Solicitors annually offer formal mock interview with your choice of law firm. They also offer an ‘Ambassador‘ scheme which allows you to make contact with a solicitor in practice. This may be another way to ask questions about interviews and….you may be lucky enough to find someone to run you through a mock interview!
- A local law firm runs an annual competition (in Spring term) to win a mock interview. You will hear about this via KLTS and the Employability Bulletin.
- Team Up in partnership with Norton Rose Fulbright provides an annual opportunity to take part in their week-long programme of training, mentoring and interview assistance to outstanding and diverse students. The programme is open for applications in the spring term but you can find out more on their website. Once again, you will be notified when the new scheme is open via the employability bulletin.
- Use the ‘Diversity’ tab on this blog to find out more about schemes that might help with this.
Mock Interviews for all careers
Further to the above the central Careers & Employability Service are able to offer you a mock interview for any chosen career. Fix an appointment by dropping into the CES building (between Keynes and the bus stop) or email them on email@example.com