Surviving the Training Contract Interview: The Student’s Perspective

  • Last updated 11-Aug-2016 16:58:45
  • By Rob McKeller

My perspective on interviews is that they are very much akin to a first date. People get way too nervous about them, sweat too much and end up giving a completely false impression of what they are actually like.

At the heart of the problem is the perception of the interview as this intimidating, horrifying experience. It isn’t.

Putting the interview process into perspective

You have been invited in to talk to someone about yourself and maybe a bit about the firm and the business world. This person already thinks you must be quite good (or at the very least that you have an impressive CV), otherwise you would not have been invited to interview.

This person is likely to be very bored doing interviews all day and will relish anyone with whom they feel they can have a genuine conversation.

If you think about an interview in that way, then many of your initial trepidations should (at least to an extent) be subdued.

What are interviewers looking for?

As I mentioned earlier, the interviewer is looking for someone who can actually hold a conversation with them. The number of candidates who cannot even manage this is larger than you might think. Many attempt to be so straightforward and business-like, that they come across as wooden and robotic.

Keep in mind that whilst the employer wants to ensure you know your stuff, they also want to see if you would fit in at the office. More importantly, they also want to make sure you are able to engage with their clients and customers when the time arises.

How to behave at a training contract interview

Don’t be too dry or overly serious. Obviously, don’t treat the interview as an evening out with your mates, but there is a reasonably clear line as to what you should and shouldn’t say. There is a phrase which works called “Grandad acceptability”; if you think the topic of conversation would be suitable for a chat with your Grandad (sports, politics, current affairs, your studies etc.) then it’s probably alright for an interview too.

One of the most common regrets from an interview is not getting the chance to mention something which you are particularly proud of because it never came up. Rather than waiting for the interviewer to ask you about it, either direct the conversation that way or wait until they ask you if you have any questions and mention it then.

For example, when I was on one of my vacation schemes, I went and actively sought out Exeter graduates to talk to; showing initiative and getting my name known. In the follow-up interview, I was keen to mention this fact; so when I was asked if I had any questions, I asked whether the interviewer felt ‘the City’ was now a meritocracy. When he replied that he thought it was, I mentioned that his opinion was shared by the Exeter graduates I had met during my time there. Mission accomplished!

Final preparation

Finally, ask other people to quiz you before your interview. Parents are usually a good route and can actually be invaluable help if you butter them up correctly. If your parents aren’t from a managerial background, or any job in which they would have interviewed someone, then your fellow students are another good bet. It’s also best to ask someone in the year above who has already been through the process. Asking someone who is in direct competition with you might not be as helpful as you first think. Exhibit A: “So you’re saying they conduct part of the interview in French?! Really!?”

All in all, with good preparation, confidence and a positive attitude, any interview should seem a lot less daunting than on first inspection.

If you're currently on the hunt for a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme, head over to our Law Jobs section.

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