Legal English Online - Building a successful Law Career: Giving a successful interview

Building a successful Law career - Part 5

Giving a successful Interview – What to do and what not to do!

In the last article, we looked at how to structure and write your CV in order to get an interview for the job that you want. In this article we will look at how to prepare for the interview, how to behave during the interview and, finally, some of the things you should, and should not, say during the interview.

Many job opportunities for lawyers require a two or three stage interview process. You must consider what you want to achieve in each interview. You wrote your CV in a style to achieve being offered an initial interview. If it is a 3-interview process then, in your first interview you want to achieve getting invited back for a second interview. In the second interview, which will be to choose the best applicant for the post, you want to achieve being invited back for the third interview to confirm you in the post.

Remember that you have a unique variety of skills and experiences and knowledge. You must display sufficient of these talents during the interview to show an employer that you can help the organisation reach its objectives. As with everything in life, the interview will go better if you prepare for it before you arrive. In order to prepare properly learn something about the organisation so you can mention some of what you learned to show your interest in the company. This can also lead on to a detailed conversation about a topic you are familiar with if you are careful to mention the right topic. Think about your own career successes and problems which you have overcome and think about how you can mention those to show what you can do to help the company achieve its goals in the future. If you have researched the company, you will know what these goals are.

You must also think about some probing questions to ask. This will show the interviewer your own depth of knowledge and understanding of your work and their company, and also what is important to you. There will probably be two or three interviews, so you will need to change these questions as you proceed through the interview process. Think of the standard questions you expect to be asked and you can prepare answers for them before you arrive. Make certain that, if you are going to mention something you did successfully, then you are able to give all the details. Many people fail to stress a past success sufficiently to impress the interviewer with it.

The best preparation for an interview is practice. Ask a friend to pretend they are interviewing you. Get them to use some of the standard questions that interviewers ask e g’ tell me about yourself’, ‘where do you want to be in five year’s time’? If you have the option to videotape the interview, do so and then you can see how you behave. You may have small mannerisms and movements that you were unaware of, and will wish to eliminate to create a better impression.

The night before the interview – not the morning of the interview, prepare all the documents you will need, including 3 paper copies of your CV to be able to supply up to 2 interviewers if necessary, plus one for yourself. Leave in good time to arrive before the interview is due to start – Don’t put yourself under pressure before you have even arrived at their office.

One of the things of the interviewer should be looking for is to check that you will fit comfortably with the rest of the team of employees. So be pleasant and friendly. Be certain to make eye contact. Be professional by arriving on time and in suitable professional clothes. Give a firm handshake, especially to westerners working in the law company – they put great store on this. During the interview, make sure that you answer the questions but make certain that you stick to your message. When the conversation varies from the topic you wish to speak about – i.e. how you can assist the company to achieve its targets, gently bring the conversation back to your talents experience and successes. Don’t sit silently waiting for them to think of another question.

Interviewers will probably ask you some difficult questions, such as, ‘What are your weaknesses’? ‘Why did you leave your last job’? When dealing with difficult questions like these it is important to be honest but to say the right thing and to stress the positive rather than negative. For example, it would be a mistake to say, ‘my main weakness is that I need to be pushed to complete targets on time’. It would be much better to say that, when you were at university you had an issue with completing paperwork but that you recognised this failing, and you now use a diary and organiser to make certain that all projects are always completed on time. This shows that you accept that you are not perfect but that you had a problem which you have outgrown through your own efforts. When dealing with difficult questions always talk about what you are going to do in the future. If the questions refer to something in the past then show how you overcame the problem and have developed so that it is no longer an issue but how your development will help you in the future. One thing you must never do is to blame others for something in the past. e.g. ‘I left my last job because I didn’t like the people there – they were very unfriendly’ – it would be better to say, ‘I left my last job because I wanted the opportunity to work with a new team to reach my full potential’. Don’t say, ‘I left because I wanted more money’, better to say –‘I felt it was time that I took on a more senior position to develop my career’. Don't be conceited. Never chew gum. Try not to look at your watch. Always say ‘Thank you’ at the end of the interview and make certain that you send a thank you e-mail the same day – even if it is 7 pm when the interview finishes make certain the e-mail goes that evening.

Now, let's look at 10 things you must never, never say during an interview.

  1. What is the salary? – It is up to the interviewer to raise the topic of salary. Let them tell you how much it pays. It's part of your preparation to find out the typical salary for that position in that city. Then, if they ask you how much you expect to be paid? You will be able to give them a realistic figure.
  2. What does the company do? – This shows that you have no particular interest in this company but would accept any job just to receive a salary. You will not get the job.
  3. Do not use slang or modern idioms and make certain that you use correct grammar. – This is a formal professional conversation and you are showing what a professional lawyer you are – don't make the interviewer have to guess what you are talking about.
  4. The interviewer wants to know what you can do for the company so don't start asking questions about what the company can do for you. – This makes you appear selfish and that you feel that you are doing the company a favour by giving them the possibility of employing you.
  5. Never, never, ever swear or use bad language. – It indicates that you may well swear at a client, or other staff, if you can't avoid swearing in a job interview.
  6. Don't refer to people as stereotypes. – Don't refer to all black people, all disabled people, all men, all women, or any general group using derogatory words terms or phrases. This would show that you cannot work with certain types of people as a team member and therefore may not fit in to the company.
  7. Never criticise your former employers, or law professors. Don’t talk in detail about problems you had at another company – If there was a problem, then refer to it very, very briefly as a difficulty with personalities/work practices and then move on to talk about a different topic and the future. Do not expand the topic to show why you were right and they were wrong. The interviewer will think there is some sort of personality problem with you, or will think that this is how you are going to talk about them someday and will not want you in the team.
  8. If asked, ‘Do you have any questions’? Do not say, ‘No’, or ‘I think that covers everything’. – have some questions prepared about what the company wants to achieve in the future this tells them that you see yourself as part of that future and will work to share in achieving the success they want. Failing to ask questions tells the interviewer that you are not interested in the company, or in your future career.
  9. If asked, ‘Do you have any weaknesses?’ Do not say ‘No’. The interviewer will think that you are either very arrogant or that you are lying. – Refer, instead, to what is called a positive weakness. e.g., ‘I don't like to waste time on making polite telephone conversation’. This shows that you want to get on with your work and is regarded as a positive weakness. Have some of these answers ready for the interview before you arrive.
  10. If asked,’ Tell me about yourself?’ Do not launch into your life history and ramble on for 10 minutes about everything you feel important that has happened to you. – The interviewer really just wants to know a little about your personality and the biggest achievements in your life. Don't dwell on any one point. Let the interviewer ask you about it if they are interested by it.

Two final points. First, the interviewer may wish to see how you respond in an unexpected situation, or if a sudden problem occurred. For this reason, you may be asked what seems a really stupid question. e.g. "If you were an animal, what sort of animal would you be"? The interviewer is trying to surprise you and the most important thing is not what you say, but the fact that you are able to think quickly and give an answer, even if it sounds as stupid as the question. I remember one situation where the interviewers loosened the panel on the back of the applicant's chair so that the chair broke when the applicant attempted to sit down. The interviewers wanted to see if the applicant would respond, or would sit stunned and shocked by what had happened. The interviewers said later they would have been happy with any words or response, but not with no response. There is no wrong answer to these crazy questions other than to make sure you say something even if it makes less sense than the question. Just take a second or two and then answer, e.g., ‘I would be a black panther because I would wait silently in the night for my victims’. (What utter rubbish – but it's an answer to the question).

The Second point is that what follows is a very standard question, so be prepared for it – ‘Why do you want to work here’? Make certain that you have an answer ready for this question and try to tie in how your unique qualities fit in with the company's aims for success.

The purpose of an interview is to see if you and the company are suited to each other. You may well be the best applicant for the job in terms of qualification but it may become obvious during the interview that you would not be happy working in an organisation with the kind of culture that is described to you. If you want to feel successful in your life then working in a job which you enjoy is a big part of that feeling and if, during the interview, you realise that you might have made a mistake in thinking that this was the perfect job for you, then do not be afraid to tell the interviewer. You will be helping them to do their job and they will appreciate this and possibly recommend you to their friends in HR in other companies for your honesty and integrity. It may also be that they will realise that they have been giving you the wrong impression about the culture of the company and will change what they have said. Do not be afraid to walk away from a post which you realise would make you unhappy. Better to wait until you find a post where you can use and develop your talents and will be happy in your work and a lot more successful in your career.

Part 1 - Some general basics
Part 2 - Growing  your own professional client base – Networking Events
Part 3 - Essential skills – The Ability to speak in Public
Part 4 - Writing a successful CV
Part 5 - Giving a successful Interview – What to do and what not to do
Part 6 - Letter writing skills
Part 7 - Deciding which area of law to work in
Part 8 - Seven skills that will land you work experience at a law firm
Part 9 - How to move your career into top gear – Winning quick promotions
Part 10 - The Key to moving ahead in your career – Mastering Legal English!