Training Contract Interview Questions – An Essential Guide

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There are plenty of lists of training contract interview questions available online – some contain hundreds of potential questions you could be asked.

However, I don’t recommend you spend time reviewing all of these and preparing scripted answers to them.

Instead, you can browse through a selection to get a flavour of some of the recurring themes of the questions in order to direct the preparation work you do.

Time is much better spent doing research into the firm, doing self-analysis around your experiences and competencies, thinking how you might talk around the “why you?” and “why them?” questions, and how you might demonstrate key competencies and other skills using the evidence from your experiences.

DO NOT Script Your Training Contract Interview Answers

When preparing for interviews, the temptation can be to try to write out a series of answers to certain interview questions that might be asked and to rehearse and learn these word for word like a script.

This isn’t advisable.

Interviewers can spot fully scripted answers a mile off and they often don’t achieve what the candidate is aiming for anyway. The risk with scripted answers is that they don’t fully fit the question asked – this will therefore lose you points with the interviewer.

Instead of scripting your answers in long form I would recommend you treat your interview a bit like a presentation about yourself. Its just that this presentation is one you will have to give in re-ordered bite sized chunks as dictated by the questions that are asked. Much of the foundation content will be the same, its just that you will deliver it slightly differently each time.

The best way to make a presentation is to plan each section and structure each of these sections around a basic skeleton. You can then rehearse delivering each section around that skeleton but without a full script. You just need to learn the bullet points of the skeleton and the key facts you want to include but the wording you use around that skeleton will differ each time.

It’s also similar to when you are revising for an exam. You will not learn all of your essays off by heart so that you can regurgitate them when you are asked questions on similar subjects.

Instead you will revise the key points made in those essays and then draw upon those as required by the specific questions asked in the exam. The wording you use will be different but you will re-use some or all of the main points around a similar structure.

As well as not scripting in long form, you should always ensure that you use your own words. As tempting as it may seem to use the phrases used on a firm’s website and within their corporate/recruitment literature, the chances are the firm will pick up on this and not be impressed.

Key Training Contract Interview Questions to Consider

Knowing common types of questions asked at a training contract interview will help you prepare in the most effective way and impress the interviewers.

The types of questions that are worth considering are:

  • Why do you want to be a solicitor? (Or, why do you want to pursue a career in law?)
  • Why do you want to have a career in [commercial/private client/etc] law?
  • Why do you want to work for XYZ LLP? (Or, why have you applied to do a training contract with us?
  • What do you know about the work this firm does and its clients?
  • Which other firms have you applied to and why?
  • Which business/news story are you most enjoying following at the moment?
  • Give me an example of when things didn’t go to plan.
  • What is your proudest achievement and why?
  • Describe a time when you had to resolve a difficult problem as part of a team
  • What role do you usually play within teams?
  • What are your three key strengths/weaknesses?
  • Why should we offer you a training contract ahead of other applicants?
  • What do you do in your spare time? (Or, what are your main interests and activities?)
  • What business challenges does this firm face?
  • What business opportunities are available to this firm?

In my experience of interview coaching TC candidates over the years the questions above come up time and time again in some form or another.

Why Preparing For Training Contract Interview Questions Is So Important

Taking the time to prepare solid answers to these sorts of questions is often the difference between success and failure at interview.

Preparing for these questions also increases your self-awareness, improves your communication and helps to calm your nerves.

Increases Self-Awareness

Solid preparation for these specific questions will increase your self-awareness around the most critical areas interviewers will be wanting to assess.

With the focus of your core preparation on these critical areas this will also help you provide strong answers to a host of other potential questions. For example, by spending time preparing for the question “What are your 3 key strengths?” you will be able to adapt this for any competency style questions which give you the opportunity to discuss one or more of those key strengths.

Investing the time in your preparation to increase your self-awareness around these critical areas is how you will begin to set yourself apart from others candidates.

Clearly, to receive the job offer, this is what you are going to have to do.

Improves Communication

The better prepared you are for these specific questions, and more broadly around these critical areas, the less likely your interview answers will come across as jumbled and confused.

This is a common problem for unsuccessful candidates.

Good preparation will help you to structure this key information in your mind and to be able to recall it more easily for your answers.

It’s noticeable when candidates have done this preparation well because their answers come across as clear, concise, fluent and convincing. These are exactly the kind of communication skills any good lawyer needs to have so demonstrating them will score you points with the interviewers.

Helps Calm Nerves

It’s a fact that everybody has nerves when they attend an interview (no matter what they might say).

It might not feel like it but they are actually a good thing as that shot of nervous adrenalin makes you sharp and focused.

However, it’s those who let nerves get the better of them who struggle at interview.

Knowing you have prepared solid answers to the most common types of questions will help to calm your nerves. Similarly, being prepared to talk around these critical areas in response to a variety of potential questions will give you much more confidence and keep your nerves even more under control.

Prepare for Probing Follow Up Training Contract Interview Questions

When you are preparing how you might present and expand on your various pieces of experience you should also pre-empt the probing questions that interviewers might ask after you give them your first answer to a question. These might include:

  • Why did you do that?
  • How did that feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • Why is that?
  • Why do you think that is relevant here?

Tackling Difficult Training Contract Interview Questions

If you are asked a particularly difficult question it may have been asked for a couple of reasons:

  1. They would like to explore the level of your technical knowledge on a particular topic.
  2. They would like to see how you cope under pressure.

These questions are not necessarily asked to be cruel, it’s just that the way you answer them will help the interviewer assess you in a particular way. Often with difficult questions, there is no right or wrong answer. The interviewer is just wanting to see how you cope under pressure and assess your thought processes.

The best advice is to make your best effort at answering the question and explaining your thinking along the way.

It is fine to admit to finding it a challenging question and not necessarily knowing the exact answer but then you must go on to explain how you might seek to arrive at the answer.

Failing to Prepare is Preparing To Fail

So, it’s over to you now….

Will you do some unfocused interview preparation and seek to prepare surface-level answers to a long list of questions? Will you then limp through your interview as if each question you haven’t specifically scripted an answer for is completely new to you?

Or will you consider in advance what the interviewers are going to be most interested in, prepare accordingly and therefore be confident answering most questions thrown at you?

You’d be surprised how many interviewees fall into the first camp….

And I know which interviewee I would offer the training contract to!

Read more: Training Contract Interview Tips – An Essential Guide

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matt oliver law career coach

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 and vacation scheme applications, interviews and assessment centres. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>