Training Contract Interview Tips – An Essential Guide

So you’ve landed yourself an interview for a training contract or vacation scheme – well done!

However, you may have found that the initial elation has now turned to panic. How on earth can you be sure to answer all those tough training contract interview questions?

Trust me, you are not alone.

The important thing to remember, however, is that it’s completely normal to be feeling like a bundle of nerves as the big day approaches.

One of the key things that will help breed success at training contract interviews is the preparation you do for them.

It will also help you control your nerves (and everyone has them no matter what they say!)

Don’t Prepare To Fail

In the fiercely competitive market for training contracts you would be wise to paste the following phrase in large letters on their wall:

Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail!”

Cheesy I know but it’s never been more applicable than to wannabe trainee solicitors.

Below is a quick guide to ensure you stay calm enough before, and during, the interview so that you land the job.

Before the interview

Remember the positives…

Before you start preparing, give yourself a pat on the back.

You’ve beaten off many other applicants to be in this position.

Mentally prepare

Don’t lose focus of your goal.

You need to prove to the firm that you are their perfect trainee – and you only have a short time to do so.

  • Do a thorough review of your application form or CV and covering letter (you did keep a copy didn’t you?).
  • Consider what key skills the firm is looking for in a trainee by reading over the job description and doing thorough research of their website and their listings on all the law career websites.
  • Be thinking of examples of how you have demonstrated the key skills your research has unearthed.
  • Think about the key questions the firm will be interested in such as:
    • Why law?
    • Why a solicitor?
    • Why this firm?
    • Why you?
  • Brainstorm what you can say to these questions so as to be as convincing as possible.
  • Do NOT script your answers – instead, come up with bullet points that can provide guidance to your answers or help if a conversation develops around these subjects. Scripted answers rarely impress a recruiter sufficiently.
  • Predict questions specific to you: if your CV is lacking in a certain area or your grades aren’t consistent be prepared for the interviewer to pick up on this.

Your aim as an interviewee should always be to project a positive image of yourself over to your interviewers.

Therefore, the more you have thought through and built up this positive image in your own mind before the interview, and the more of this you can get across during the interview, the better.

Research the firm

Thoroughly researching the firm you are having an interview with is a must. You will know this already but you may not appreciate just how important this is or know how to do it properly.

A cursory read through the firms marketing materials, however, is never enough. For more advice about the importance of research and the resources you should be using to conduct your research see this blog post: How To Research Law Firms More Effectively

This is also vital if you are to successfully convince firm why you want to work for them.

  • Look at their website: particularly pay attention to any news or latest updates and what competencies they are looking for in their trainees.
  • Legal directories: search websites and publications such as Legal500 and Chambers & Partners to gain an insight into the work of the firm.
  • Legal research tools: use a tool such as LexisNexis to run a search across the firm’s name and find some of their key cases.
  • Research law career websites such as Lawcareers.net, Chambers Student and Lex100 to find out about the firm’s training contract and what it’s like to train there.

Consider Questions & Answers

Spending some time considering your answers to some common questions is also an essential part of good interview preparation as it will clearly help you answer them if they are specifically asked in your interview.

However, the benefit of thinking through these questions goes further. It will also help you prepare some vital information about yourself, together with your decisions, reasons and motivations, that you will want to ensure you tell the interviewers when given the opportunity.

By thinking through common questions and preparing skeleton answers you will be effectively preparing your own personal pitch. This will ultimately be one of the main things that sets you apart from other candidates and lands you the job.

During an interview you can utilise these answers (or parts of them) when answering a wide variety of questions, and not just those you have specifically prepared them for.

There are some common interview questions you MUST be able to answer – find out more here: Training Contract Interview Questions

Rehearse

Try to go through a practice interview with someone to get an idea of what to expect.

  • Ums/Ahs: it’s very easy to slip these in when trying to think of an answer. Try taking a sip of water or a deep breath instead.
  • Eye contact and body language: maintain eye contact to keep the interviewer engaged and be conscious of posture and fiddly hands.
  • Check your speed – there is a tendency to speak quickly when nervous. Be conscious of this and try to slow down – it will make you appear more confident.

Plan your journey

Don’t stress about turning up late.

  • Check your journey: make sure you know exactly how you are going to get to the venue. Do a trial run at the same time on another day if you can.
  • Print a map: as a back up to that navigation app on your smartphone, in case you lose network.

Physically prepare

Remember first impressions count – you have to show them you can look like a lawyer.

  • Never leave it until the last minute to prepare your outfit.
  • Make sure your clothes are cleaned, ironed and ready the night before.
  • Dress smartly and appropriately: keep it smart, conservative and comfortable. Casual shoes, sky-high heels and mini-skirts are a no-no.

Relax

Just before you sleep, try the following.

  • Hot drink and relaxing bath: proven to relax your muscles and will help you to sleep better. Avoid alcohol or, at the most, have only one drink.
  • Distract yourself: read a few pages of a book or listen to some calming music. You won’t be able to sleep with thoughts of the interview running through your head. Avoid using your laptop or mobile phone before bed, as these are known to affect your sleep.

At the interview

If you’ve prepared well you will arrive at the office looking smart and prepared, with a few minutes to spare.

These minutes are crucial – don’t get yourself worked up. Make sure you use the bathroom if you need to and stay calm.

  • Smile: this shows that you are confident and will help you to ease yourself into the questions.
  • Don’t be scared: most interviewers want you to do well and are not trying to trip you up.
  • Deep breaths and water: remember to take your time when speaking. If you get stuck or feel your mouth going dry, take a minute to have a sip of water or a deep breath and compose yourself.
  • Questions for them: do ask questions that you genuinely want to know the answers to but make sure the answers to these questions are not already available on the firm’s website or elsewhere. Avoid asking about the salary.
  • At the end of the interview shake hands, make eye contact, say thank you, and smile.

After the interview

It’s all over and whatever happened you will have survived.

Remember, you have done your best – now it is up to the interviewer to make up their mind.

Do not dwell on your answers and what you could have done better.

Write some notes on the questions asked, your answers and where you thought you did well or you struggled.

You can refer to these in future if you need to.

If you do not get offered the training contract, always request feedback and think of how you can improve next time.

Good luck!

Matt Oliver

Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one to one coaching to those struggling with training contract, vacation scheme or paralegal applications and interviews. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>

Learn How to Master the Watson Glaser Test

The Watson Glaser Test is a critical piece of the training contract puzzle.

Each year, more law firms use the Watson Glaser Test to filter our candidates from their recruitment processes.

It's simple, if you don't know how to pass it you won't get a job offer from them.

We teach you the nuts and bolts of this test and how best to practice it to get to the required pass level.