Practise answering those questions that you can’t predict

That title sounds strange, but I’ll try to explain what I mean.
Many interview questions are designed to make you think of an example story to demonstrate a particular competence. Then there might be follow up questions about how you dealt with the challenges along the way, and then perhaps in retrospect whether you’d have done anything differently.
So the point is that even though you can’t predict the specific question, it’s a good idea to think of a few examples of your most interesting professional experiences, and really analyse how you acted along the way – and then practise telling the story (see my previous post about rehearsing in front of friends or the mirror) – always bear in mind that these stories should demonstrate skills that are relevant to the role of being a lawyer.
And finally, yes, it’s OK to have made a mistake and describe it, as long as you have the self-awareness to realise that it was a mistake and show what you have learned.

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Practise answering those questions that you can predict

There are a few questions that you can be quite sure will come up if you have a few interviews, such as:
Why do you want to be a lawyer?
Why this firm?
Tell me about yourself
In my coaching sessions, I make 3 points on this type of question:
1. I can’t answer these questions for candidates, because
2. they need to be answered in a sincere way with well practised answers; and
3. those answers should be concise.
Here I want to develop points 2 and 3. When I ask these (or any) questions, the worst answers are those that don’t seem to end – it is so frustrating when a candidate doesn’t stop talking.
Much better to rehearse answers to friends and in front of the mirror that last no more than 1 or 2 minutes, and then stop. After you have finished, be comfortable with a moment of silence while the interviewer digests your brilliant answer and moves to the next question.

CVs – any relevant skills / work experience?

One candidate came to me during 2011 with her cv and we reviewed the work experience section together – mainly 3 holiday jobs working in a shop, a restaurant and a lettings agency. I asked whether she thought that any of this was relevant experience for an application to be a trainee solicitor, and her answer was “not really”. So I asked her to describe the types of activities involved, which led onto a discussion of the skills that she had developed – by the end it was clear to us both that her experience was very relevant.
Let me explain – this candidate had:
1. worked in a mobile phone shop, which involved discussing with customers about their requirements and then advising them on the type of contract to take out
2. managed the process of getting a tenant to sign up to a tenancy, juggling the landlord, inventory, credit checks, deposits etc.
3. dealt with difficult customers in a busy restaurant, and taken responsibility for writing up procedures and training up new waiters and waitresses on procedures
So we rewrote the experience section of her cv under various headings such as “Stakeholder Management” “Client Advisory” and “Project / Document Management”.
Then I asked the question again: “Do you have any relevant experience for the role of trainee solicitor?” – Answer – “YES”.
So I take away from this that any holiday job can be helpful in developing skills that are relevant to the role of being a successful solicitor. It also gives a candidate the chance to show that they understand what skills are needed to do the job well – that’s important.
Finally, I’m not always that impressed by candidates who have not done any holiday jobs except legal internships. Don’t get me wrong, these legal internships are very useful – in fact that was how I landed an offer from a large City firm. It’s just that the better candidates have done other jobs as well and can talk about the positive transferable skills that are relevant to being a solicitor – it just needs a bit of creative thinking.

How I started doing career advice: tailor your cover letter

In my “About” page, I said that I receive a lot of speculative job applications, and notice a common theme, in many (but not all). And that is that the cover letters are too general, and some even “copy / paste” from general law firm applications; a cover letter that mentioned a motivation to work at “your law firm” didn’t go down well when the recipient (i.e. me) works in house in a company’s legal department.
And when I meet candidates, many say that they have applied for hundreds of jobs and that I was the only one to have replied – my conclusion is that this approach to job hunting can cause a vicious circle of sending out too many e-mails and letters in an unfocussed way – which is a waste of precious job-searching time and energy.
Anyway, why am I the only person that responds? Because I really enjoy meeting potential candidates and working with them to help improve their job search. I suppose that it was a gradual process: I started to notice common themes in these applications and I know what impresses me and what doesn’t. So I began to reply with a few tips on improving the quality of the cover letter; the next step was that I started to offer up to an hour of my time after working hours to review motivation, interview technique, cover letters and cvs. I now work with the Law Faculty at Reading University on careers coaching.