How to: give good answers in legal job interviews
Legal Career Tips
Legal job interviews can be incredibly intimidating. Let’s not sugarcoat it - the pressure to answer every question well when your nerves are wracked and tensions are running high is difficult. If you’re not prepared, legal interview questions can quickly become a daunting challenge that no legal studies can get you ready for.
Fortunately for you, there’s a bit of an unwritten code on how to answer questions well in legal job interviews. Extra fortunately for you, that unwritten code is unwritten no more. We’ve broken our interviewer vows, potentially dooming us to the legal interviewer’s curse for all time, and written a simple guide to smashing those pesky legal interview questions.
How to prepare for legal job interviewsJob interviews, by their very nature, are designed to surprise you. The innate nature of how they function places you under pressure and sees how you respond. Every job interview ever will feature questions you can’t possibly anticipate or prepare for. Instead, prepare by planning your answers for the questions you know for certain you’re going to be asked.
Since records began, every single job interview has featured some variation of the “why do you want to work here?’ question. Have a think well before the interview about your answer to this, and make sure you’ve got some solid bullet points to fall back on. For the record, an ideal answer to this question should concisely explain why the role you’re interviewing for suits your existing experience, how you can uniquely compliment their work or culture, and how the company / firm aligns with your long-term ambitions.
Next up, if there’s anything you drew explicit attention to in your CV or Cover Letter, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked about it in the interview. Again, prepare bullet points on how you’re going to answer each of those unique selling points about yourself. Whether it’s professional, educational, or voluntary experience you’ve highlighted, be ready to discuss it at length.
Finally, the best part of any job interview is the inevitable “have you got any questions you’d like to ask us?” question. This is your chance to flip the interview on its head, and really drive home a good impression. Have at least a couple of good questions prepared, and make sure they aren’t generic questions every candidate will ask. Interviewers are almost certainly interviewing multiple candidates for each position, and if the best table-flipping barn-stormer you can muster is “What is your work life balance like here?” then you won’t leave a lasting impression.
How to do research for a legal job interviewNow, one piece of advice you’ll always hear for interviews is “do your research”. This is good advice, but it’s tragically vague. Every single candidate you’re competing with has “done their research”, so you have to stand out by doing thorough research, and demonstrating that you’ve done thorough research.
For starters, it’s not enough to read the “About Us” page on a company or firm’s website. You need to dig deeper, and find out what the company’s history and long term goals are. Better yet, you should further and look into how they’re achieving those goals, as well as what’s happening in the wider market that might affect their goals. A great way to do this is by searching the organisation online, and filtering for “news”. You can look for interviews online with high-ranking members of the team, or even do some good old fashioned LinkedIn stalking of key employees. Why not see if they’ve published any whitepapers or reports? Checking their online blog is always a great place to look for these things.
Secondly, you need to effectively demonstrate that you’ve done your research. This is hard to squeeze into responses without sounding a little forced, so make sure you practice ahead of time. If you’re mentioning something you read online, it should be highly relevant to the point you’re trying to make. If there’s a particular initiative you want to address, you could always ask about it at the end of the interview.
How to answer questions using the STAR frameworkAnother thing to consider during your preparation is how to actually structure your answers. It’s all well and good to have done your research and prepared some talking points, but conveying those points cleanly and succinctly is another thing altogether.
For what it’s worth, we’re big fans of the STAR framework. In essence, it’s a loose guide to conveying information in a coherent order that anyone can understand. It’s quite widely used and sometimes over-adhered to, but it does make for a great approximate guide on structuring your answer. Let’s say your interviewer has asked you to tell them about a time you performed under pressure. Here’s how to answer that using the STAR framework:
- SITUATION: you want to begin by really briefly explaining the situation you were in giving the interviewer some context. Tell them the situation you were in, be that in a previous job or in an educational setting. Keep this part as succinct as possible - no more than a sentence or two.
- TASK: Next, simply explain the objective you were trying to accomplish. For instance, this could be a specific task you were assigned by a manager, or a routine job you had to perform with additional constraints. Remember, this task has to have a specific or unique quality. It’s not enough to infer, say, that you were always under pressure at a specific job.
- ACTIONS: After that, it’s time to break down the exact actions you took to accomplish that specific task. This is the meat of your answer, so don’t be afraid to offer all the juicy details here. Discuss what decisions you took and why, how you performed the task around others, and how you went about achieving the task in a way that demonstrates your skill and competency.
- RESULTS: Finally, finish by explaining what the benefits were of you completing that task in the way you determined was best. What was the actual positive outcome of your actions? The more you can quantify the outcome - the better. If you got feedback from a manager or client, nows the time to mention it.