How to answer interview questions

Ok, so you slaved away on your written applications, and got an interview with the employer of your dreams. Fantastic, now what?  Success in an interview is 90% down to preparation. Antonia George from Vinson & Elkins shares some more advice on questions which regularly crop up in interviews and her top tips on how to answer them. Here are her thoughts – with a few interjections from me!

Why this firm?

“The hard part is already over for this question since you should have researched the firm while preparing your written application. Spend some time familiarising yourself with the points you made, so that you are confident with them in an interview”

ouch300(A graduate recruiter told me once about a time when a candidate at interview had asked to see  the application s/he’d made to check what s/he’d said.  Ouch! Game over!)

“Supplement your knowledge too. Look beyond the firms’ ‘About Us’ pages to other sources of information such as a LawCareers.Net, Chambers Student, or a personal account from someone who you know in the firm. The marketing material from most law firms is so generic that its content could be applicable to any number of law firms. Demonstrate your enthusiasm by championing what’s unique about the firm that you’re interviewing for.

What would your alternative career be?

different careers300This question can feel a bit like a loaded gun: It can lead interviewees to worrying whether their answer will demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm for a career in law or, conversely, their short sightedness in not considering a Plan B option. What’s key to remember is that the title ‘lawyer’ covers many areas of activity. What law firms want to see, is that you have an enthusiasm for the subject matter and the skills required of a trainee of that law firm. Any answer to the above question should ideally be based on the alternative role’s ability to offer you similar challenges. For example, if you’re interested in a city firm, then perhaps a career in the financial sector which would also allow you to work on international matters and develop long standing relationships with clients might be an appropriate choice. Consider the key elements of the job that you’re applying for and then present these as reasons for why another career might suit you. Remember though, law firms want to see a personality so don’t just reel off an alternative career that you think they’ll want to hear about.

Tell us about a situation where you have demonstrated [insert skill].

This competency based question is a favourite of many law firms, but trying to recall an instance where you have overcome a problem, demonstrated leadership skills, or things didn’t go your way is a frightful task when you’re put on the spot. Before your interview, run through each of the skills you think are relevant to the role and prepare examples of where you’ve demonstrated each one so that you can answer confidently and avoid a silent stare-down.”

star300(Remember that a really good way to structure the answer to a competency question is to use the CAR or STAR . (Context / Action / Result or Situation / Task / Action / Result. Most of the answer should focus on your actions and remember that the firm wants to hear about what you did. It won’t be employing a whole team so “we” probably isn’t the best way to frame your answer.)

Tell us about an area of law that you find interesting.

“This may sound obvious, but make sure that the area you discuss is relevant to the firm. It will not look good if you present a delightful argument on why Intellectual Property law is so fascinating to a group of Litigation lawyers. Beyond relevance, the area of law that you choose to discuss is not crucial. This question simply provides an opportunity for the firm to appraise your ability to form an argument, justify it, and present it coherently and clearly. All lawyers, no matter what role, need the ability to present ideas well, whether this is to other lawyers, clients, or a judge.

Do you have any questions for us?

any questions300Rule of thumb – always say ‘Yes! If you truly have no questions about the firm after your hours of research and interviewing time with them, then it’s likely that you aren’t really that interested in the firm! You certainly won’t look like the most switched on candidate. Use these questions to demonstrate your interest and to show that you have thoughtfully considered the activities of the firm. Prepare a list of questions that you could ask the interviewers at this point. They’re bound to answer some of your possible questions during the interview.”

Don’t forget to look at our YouTube channel for more advice on interviews. We have advice from students successful in getting training contracts and from Veronica Roberts, a Warwick almuna and partner in HSF and from Alison Peyton who looks after grad recruitment at Hogan Lovells.  All these resources have been created to help you succeed!


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