The pages below offer advice to assist you in skilfully negotiating the entire interview process, from preparation leading up to the interview right through to accepting your offer and resigning your current position. It is recommended you read the entire guide before beginning to prepare for your interview. This guide is divided into the following 6 sections;
• Before the interview
• During the interview
• After the interview
• Your job offer
• Typical interview questions
Before the interview
Preparation is key. By trying to predict the questions you will be asked and preparing for them, you will greatly improve your chances of excelling at interview.
• Know the names of the individuals you will be meeting and research their background and the recent matters they have worked on.
• Research the firm generally. Prior to your interview you should know how many partners and assistants there are globally and in London, key practice areas, key clients and deals/cases, competitors, recent press and recent partner hires and departures. The firm’s own website and The Lawyer and Legal Week websites (archive search) are excellent starting points. If you know of anyone who already works at a firm you are interested in, they can also be an invaluable resource. Don’t be shy – most lawyers are more than happy to help out a friend (or even a quite remote acquaintance) to help you get an insider’s view of what it is like to work at a particular firm.
• Write down likely questions and your model answers. In the case of potentially difficult questions such as, for example, why you were made redundant, this is particularly important. This does not mean that in the interview you will be repeating back verbatim what you have prepared.
However, by writing out full answers to every predicted question and practicing them out loud (to us/your partner/a friend), you should end up covering all the points you might want to raise in relation to each question if asked at interview. If you are a skilled presenter or naturally good at interviews, you may prefer to use bullet points. What is important is that you get across each point you want to highlight in relation to a particular question, even under the pressure of the real interview setting.
• Tailor your answers. Your answers should always be tailored to the firm you are interviewing with and to your background. Before doing this, it is useful to look at typical questions which have arisen at previous interviews
attended by our candidates in recent years. You can view these questions in the final section of this guide.
• Know your own CV. Make sure you have read your CV and have a ready anecdote on every deal, case and hobby mentioned. Don’t be caught out by being asked about something on your CV for which you cannot remember the full details.
• Know the format of the interview. Some interviews may start with a written test or have different people interviewing you at staggered times.
• Make sure you know the exact time and location of your interview and allow time to get there (a ten minute margin for error is good).
• Dress smartly. Always wear a suit, polish your shoes and ensure you are generally well dressed. First impressions count and if you are immaculately presented this will go a long way towards impressing the interviewers.
• Arrive too early and announce yourself to reception more than 5 minutes prior to your interview start time. If you have got to the building 20 minutes early, find a nearby coffee shop and announce yourself to reception 5 minutes prior to your interview start time. However, do allow extra time for buildings that have lengthy security or queues at reception. Your recruitment consultant should always let you know as part of your interview briefing if a particular venue has stringent security and may advise, for example, arriving at downstairs security 10 minutes prior to your interview start time.
• Show up unprepared with little or no knowledge on the firm you are interviewing with.
• Be late. Sometimes trains are delayed or there is unexpected traffic. You need to plan for this and aim to arrive in good time.
During the interview
• Start with a firm handshake and an engaging smile.
• Do not waffle. The single biggest mistake candidates make at interview is speaking for too long and going off on irrelevant tangents. This is a classic indication of nerves or, if in relation to one particular question, a sign that you are uneasy about the topic. One of the advantages of preparing and practicing your answers is that you do not give verbose replies. Be complete in your answers but don’t go into excessive detail.
• Don’t be too brief. Monosyllabic ‘yes/no’ answers will not impress.
• Maintain eye contact throughout. Looking around the room and avoiding eye contact gives a bad impression.
• Do not fidget. Maintain an upright, calm and poised posture and be aware of your physical communication throughout the interview.
• Monitor your interviewer’s body language. If they look bored or restless then perhaps you are digressing too much!
• Respect the interviewer, even if they are a relatively junior HR specialist. First interviews may be entirely with HR, or they may begin with a brief meeting with them. Often even junior staff will have the power to say no, so be respectful to everyone that you meet.
• Be yourself. There is no point pretending to be someone you are not. If the role is the right one for you then an offer will be forthcoming without you having to act.
• Imagine you are on a pitch. For US firms in particular, client-facing skills are often important. If the interviewer forms an impression that you would be good in front of their clients, this will stand you in good stead.
• Try to strike a balance between selling your strengths without coming across as too self-confident or too shy. Show your passion for what you do and enthusiasm for the role, the company and the opportunity.
• Be positive about your current employer. Stress the plus points about your current job, the excellent quality of work for example, or the training, people etc. Phrase your reasons for seeking a move in terms of the added value of your new role, it is best not to dwell on what is wrong with your current position. Talking excessively about problems with your current role might lead interviewers to wonder whether it is you rather than your firm that is the problem.
• Be positive about the role for which you are being interviewed. If you have concerns, discuss the best way to broach the topic with your recruitment consultant.
• Do not mention salary in the first interview unless expressly asked. Ask your recruitment consultant about salary and if there is any room for negotiation. Many firms have a fixed associate “lockstep” salary scale, in which case your salary will be determined by your PQE and nothing else. If there is some flexibility, try and leave salary discussions until later interviews.
• Ask questions. Research the firm and make sure you have memorised 2-3 questions to ask at the end of your interview.
• Practice how you will wind up the interview as last impressions also count. Thank the interviewer for their time and convey a keen interest in the position if appropriate. If they ask you if you are interested don’t hesitate.
After the Interview
• Make a note of any questions you have and ask your recruitment consultant to raise these with the firm if appropriate.
• Call your recruitment consultant with your feedback on the day of your interview or at most within 24 hours of the interview.
• Give honest feedback. Don’t be polite! All your discussions with us are confidential and we will not pass on any information you don’t want us to. If you are up front with us about your true thoughts and motivations we can advise you more accurately on the right move for you.
• Follow-up appropriately. If you said you would provide additional materials during the interview, provide these to your recruitment consultant as soon as possible.
Your Job Offer
Congratulations! All your hard work and preparation has paid off and you have received an offer you wish to accept.
What happens next?
It is quite common for a firm to ask for your acceptance orally before producing a written offer. Ask your recruitment consultant to convey oral acceptance and a written offer will normally be produced within 24 hours.
However, some US firms require a “rubber stamp” from a recruitment committee, sometimes in the US, in which case a delay of up to a week is not unknown, though typically this is about 48–72 hours.
Send back your written acceptance and ensure that it has been received before the next step….resignation.
The golden rule with resignation is, as much as possible, to keep your current employer “on side”. Write a resignation letter which stipulates the date you would like your notice period to begin. We do not recommend at this stage raising issues such as a reduced notice period. Let the partners get over the fact you have resigned and they are more likely to be amenable to you leaving earlier than contractually stipulated if that is what you want or need. It is also a good idea to include in your letter a sentence or two about how sorry you are to be leaving and thanking the firm for your time there. This costs nothing and may smooth the reception your resignation receives.
If you are leaving under adverse circumstances and relationships are strained, just give the date you wish to start your notice period and leave it at that.
What to expect….
• Be aware that your boss’ initial reaction may be to take your resignation personally. This is quite common so be prepared for questions on why you are leaving and formulate and practice your answers.
• All firms have retention strategies. It is very common to be told “you were on track for partnership” or “you are a key member of our team, we will miss you!”. Offers of more money, greater range of work, exciting new projects and a promotion/new title are now pretty standard too. Remember your reasons for leaving, and the opportunities that your new role will give you, and remain polite but firm.
• They will ask which firm you are moving to. Ideally, you will not mention the firm by name at this stage as the legal community is small. If you do mention the firm, also be prepared for subtle (or not so subtle!) criticism of that practice in particular. “They are a good firm but I hear the hours are prohibitive…” or “X recently left there as he did not like the culture…” are example of strategies used to make you question your decision.
• It is quite natural to feel you “owe” your current employer and that they will suffer unfairly if you depart. However, making the decision that is right for you is of key importance and all you can do is commit to doing your best during your notice period to handover your work to your team members. Once your employer has got over the initial shock, they will appreciate that they themselves have at one time or another made a decision to move on and, if you have followed the above guidelines, it is invariably the case that your departure will remain amicable.
If you would like further guidance on interview technique please contact one of our consultants. We are also more than happy to give you a full mock interview if you would like some practice in advance of the real thing.