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In this month’s blog we consider a few do’s and don’ts surrounding interviews. This is an area where general common sense should prevail, but given what I have witnessed first hand as an interviewer and as an agent receiving feedback, it is clearly a minefield in which candidates sometimes get it horribly, horribly wrong.
Here are a few basic tips:
• Do your research. Interviewers want to be convinced that you want the job. Demonstrating you have some decent knowledge about the firm is a good start. Not only that, but the better prepared you are, the more relaxed and comfortable you will be. Start with the firm’s website and find out what work the firm does and what the firm is known for e.g. their key sectors and focus in on the department you could be joining. Read the bios of interviewers carefully and the person to whom you’ll be reporting. Also, check out the firm/department’s profile on Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners if available as this will provide really useful information to impress at interview. Re-read the job spec and try to relate your work experience to the specifics of the role.
• Remind yourself of your career history. During the interview, you’ll be talking about what you’ve done and what you currently do. It’s easy to forget what matters you were working on last week let alone last year but you need to be able to talk fluidly about your past work. That is the easy part of the interview. Don’t let yourself down by giving a hazy account of the matters you have listed on your CV that you have worked on. And definitely don’t contradict your CV. If you have put on your CV that you played a pivotal role in Project Lemon (or some other ridiculous name!), don’t then inform your interviewers that you took notes during a meeting once and prepared the bible of documents. The best way to avoid this kind of situation is to be honest on your CV and during the interview. That way you won’t be embarrassed by any ‘embellishments.’
• Research where you are going and if appropriate, where you can park ahead of your interview so that you get there on time and un-frazzled! Don’t think you can ‘wing’ it with your terrific sense of direction, get lost and then turn up late using the ‘cows on the road’ excuse. Equally, if your interview is at 11 O’clock, don’t turn up and announce yourself at 10:30. This will just annoy your interviewers.
• Do wear a clean pressed suit, polish your shoes and comb your hair. Don’t go tie less in an attempt to look confident and laid back. It just looks like you couldn’t be bothered to make an effort. And don’t mismatch your suit upper with your suit lower – you aren’t going for a job with a social housing association. Ladies, as proud as you might be of your legs or chest, now is not the time to ‘get them out.’ Whilst the interviewers may be side tracked by your low cut top and impressive décolletage, this doesn’t give a very professional image. Let’s remember we are dealing with law firms here – who are still, despite trying hard to reform themselves, a straight laced bunch.
• Sound enthusiastic about the role and the firm for which you are interviewing. Don’t list off all the other jobs for which you are interviewing, especially if they are in different locations and for different specialisms. You’ll have a harder job convincing them that ‘this is the job you really want’ when you are interviewing for a construction role in Bristol if you’ve told your interviewers that you are also interviewing with three firms in London for corporate roles.
• If asked about your outside interests, keep them fairly conservative. Team sports is a tick in the box. Hosting Ann Summers parties and writing erotic fiction, as was described to me as a candidate’s outside interests during an interview I was conducting, might well demonstrate an entrepreneurial flair and perhaps good drafting skills, but it’s just too ‘out there’ for most law firms.
• Towards the end of an interview, most people will ask if you have any questions for them and this can be a crucial part of the interview; never respond with a flat “no” as this can be interpreted as a lack of interest or preparation. To use this part of the interview to your full advantage, draw upon things you learnt whilst doing your preparation such as:
- I saw on your news page you’ve recently opened an office in Shanghai, what further expansion plans does the firm have?
- When I researched the firm and the department I learned that several people in the team have been here a number of years and have progressed within the firm. Could you tell me more about how they’ve been developed and supported by the firm?
• There are a few “no-go” areas that just aren’t appropriate questions at interview. These are generally things that can be answered by your recruiter and should be addressed to them in the first instance. A few of the obvious ones to avoid include:
- Never ask about salary, unless the interviewer brings it up first. Similarly avoid asking about time off, holiday entitlement or other benefits. You don’t want to be perceived as a lazy freeloader!
- Never ask for information you could have easily found with a quick internet search such as asking how many offices the firm has.
- Never ask if the job title is negotiable.
- Never ask if there would be any opportunities to transfer to another office or team at a later date. If for example, a firm is interviewing you for a particular job in Bristol, it’s because that particular job needs to be done in Bristol, not London or anywhere else. The interviewers want to be convinced that the interviewee is committed to settling in that location.