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Character versus credentials – what’s more important at interview stage?

One thing I’ve noticed - recruiting for top-tier law firms (that dominate in their respective markets) - is the interview process doesn’t differ that much law firm to law firm; more often than not, the difference between securing an offer and being unsuccessful has less to do with your skill-set than it does your character.

The importance of character at the interview stage

Interviews can be daunting and interviewees tend to focus much of their attention on the technical aspects of their legal work history. Of course, technical skills are important to a prospective employer, but in my experience, the reason you’ve been invited to attend an interview is that you’ve already ticked this box. 

Lawyer candidates are so focused on ensuring their technical skills are well demonstrated that sometimes, more inadvertently than not, they forget to let their personality shine through! Save the jokes for another time (ideally for your welcome drinks!), but during the interview let your interviewers see who they’re dealing with: a professional yet personable individual. By all means, impress them with your technical prowess, but also let them see you’re someone who’ll be an asset to the firm - on all levels.

Why your character's a potential asset

An infectious and enthusiastic personality goes a lot further than you think. It’s likely you’ll be working in an environment where you’ll be encouraged to build your own client relations, and for that, you'll need to convince the interviewers that you won’t shy away from the social responsibility to drive the firm forward.

Personality and life experience

A person's character isn’t something one can learn from a textbook. Some of it’s down to personality and the rest from life experience. The latter is something interviewers are always keen to hear about during an interview. 

However, don’t go off on a tangent. It’s easier said than done, because nerves can take over, but aim for one or two sentences to every question asked. For example (hypothetical situation):

Q: "You love travelling, we can see from your CV you went to South America for six weeks after university. Tell us why you love travelling. How was South America?"

A:  "South America was amazing. I love to travel because it broadens your horizons. Life is about experiences, knowledge and understanding. I’m a curious person and love meeting people from different backgrounds; I like to think it makes me a more rounded person."

In the above hypothetical, the lawyer candidate reveals an open-minded, bold and adventurous type of character and they’ve stated this in relation to the job/interview.

There’s no need to go into great detail about your life experiences. Broad statements that relate to the job in question are enough to reveal your character. In saying this, there's definite scope to talk more casually (and less job-related) if you think it's right to do so: usually when the interviewer steers this. This usually occurs 'before' the interview or once the interview is 'over' as you're walking out the door. It's a matter of gaging the interviewer's stance. For example (using the above hypothetical), they might say, "I love South America too, my favourite country was Argentina. What was yours?" At this point, you're finding common ground with an individual; an individual that has an influence on whether you get the job or not. It's absolutely acceptable to answer this in a casual and genuine manner. Once again though, don't go off on a tangent. 

Lastly, there’s no wrong or right when it comes to character. Be true to yourself. If you’re not the type of character they’re looking for, then it’s not the right job or workplace for you!

For interview tips, click here.

If you require any assistance with interview preparation or you’d like a private and confidential chat about job opportunities please contact BCL Legal or call 0845 241 0933.

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