‘I thought I’d blown it in my interview when I revealed my feelings about land law being difficult to study and then found out that the interviewer was a principal associate in the real estate team!’
An invite to a law interview or assessment centre is a clear sign that you’ve already impressed graduate recruiters with your application for a vacation scheme or training contract – take confidence from the fact that you’ve earned your place to be there.
The following advice is aimed at face-to-face interviews that take place at a firm’s offices. These may be substituted with video interviews while social distancing restrictions are in place to control the spread of coronavirus, but many of these tips will still be relevant.
Ten ways to have a successful training contract or vacation scheme interview
Follow these tips on the day:
- Read your application or CV and covering letter through the night before – you will be questioned on the content. Make sure you have some new examples to hand – months may have passed since you submitted the form.
- Dress smartly – unless you are specifically told otherwise, it’s wise to wear a suit.
- Always make sure you have planned your journey and know exactly what's required of you on the day. ‘Give yourself enough time to get to the interview or assessment centre and make sure you’re familiar with the route,’ advises Ellinor Davey, people and projects manager at RPC. ‘Have a healthy breakfast or lunch before you arrive so you have lots of energy.’
- Greet everyone with a firm, but not bone-crunching, handshake and make good eye contact. ‘Not having a firm handshake won’t lose you the job, but little things add up to how you’re perceived,’ advises Katie Makey, graduate recruitment officer at Shearman & Sterling. Equally, leave people with a lasting, positive impression by shaking hands at the end of the interview. TARGETjobs advises that you ignore this advice while social distancing. However, eye contact and a smile is always a good idea (in a video interview, make sure you look into your webcam, not always at the interviewer’s face on your screen).
- Assume that you are being tested from the moment you walk through the firm’s doors until you leave the building so be polite to everyone you meet. ‘Be confident, positive and take a professional approach to the day. At our firm you'll meet some of our partners, lawyers and trainees and get a real feel for what training with us would be like. By being polite and friendly to everyone you meet from across the firm you'll ensure that you are leaving people with a lasting good impression,’ says Ellinor. ‘But remember to think carefully about your outfit – first impressions also count!’
- Be conscious of your body language and the impression you create. Even when confronted with a challenging question, give an outward impression of calm and composure. Try not to panic if things go wrong - your answer may not be as disastrous as you think! ‘I thought I’d blown it in my interview when I revealed my feelings about land law being difficult to study and then found out that the interviewer was a principal associate in the real estate team! Law in practice is very different to law in theory, which was the point I was trying to make, but my heart was in my mouth at the time,’ remembers Ross Buckingham, who didn’t blow his interview after all and got a vacation scheme offer from Mills & Reeve LLP.
- Deliver your answers like a professional – one-word answers or rambling life stories are inappropriate, while polished and succinct is good. ‘Think, and take time, before you speak. Remember that we are interested in those who can communicate clearly and succinctly,’ says the graduate recruitment and development officer at Ashurst.
- Sit forward, look engaged and manage your facial expressions. Nervous gestures such as kicking or fiddling should be avoided. Instead, concentrate on breathing techniques and more subtle ways to calm nerves. If you’re not sure what a question means, ask for clarification.
- Prepare questions to ask interviewers at the end of the interview – taking a note of these questions into the interview gives a good impression. Think carefully of questions that you’d genuinely like to know the answer to and actively listen when the interviewer answers the question – perhaps adding a follow-up question to show you’ve been paying attention.
- Don’t forget to smile. It will help you to relax and build rapport with the interviewers.