If you're a second-year law student in the UK, you should know that it's time to start applying for training contracts to complete your qualification as a solicitor. For any student planning to do that, learning how to negotiate the interview process is essential. It's the phase of the application process where a candidate can demonstrate their competence beyond what their CV conveys. It's also when the recruiter tries to get a feel for whether the candidate would be a good fit.
If you've never been through the process, it can be nerve-wracking. After all, while it's possible to prepare by seeking out exhaustive lists of questions the interviewer might ask, there's no way to know for certain whether you’ve studied the right ones. Instead, to get ready for a training contract interview, it's often helpful to arm yourself with answers and personal examples that demonstrate the qualities the recruiter is likely to be looking for.
Although every firm will have a different set of priorities, they will all share a similar list of coveted employee skills and experience. Here are three skills that you might not have thought of before.
Motivation and initiative
No matter the tasks that the candidate will eventually be assigned, any successful law firm will prefer self-motivated candidates who can show initiative. To that end, they're likely to ask questions meant to draw out revealing responses. The wording they use may vary, but what they're looking for is almost always the same. To be prepared to answer questions about your motivation, consider the following:
- What kinds of tasks have you previously enjoyed, both in prior positions and in your private life?
- What specific work areas are you good at?
- What kind of environments allow you to thrive?
Once you have answered these questions, try to relate them to the firm you're applying for. If you can provide an example that relates to matters the firm is known to handle, that's a plus. Most importantly, show enthusiasm in your answers; it will reflect well on you and demonstrate your drive to succeed.
The ability to influence others
When it comes down to it, the legal profession is about two things: the facts at hand and the persuasiveness of the argument. The facts are beyond a firm's control, but the lawyers constructing the argument are not.
For that reason, law firms are looking for candidates with natural charm and an innate ability to influence others. Thus, it wouldn’t hurt to have some added accreditation, such as a CIPD certificate, to really stand out. An accreditation will also demonstrate that you have invested in obtaining knowledge around people management—especially if you’re interested in corporate law.
Those with the right experience won't have trouble coming up with an example of their influencing skills, but they may have trouble providing the best details about it. To formulate an answer, follow this pattern:
- A description of the situation or problem at hand,
- The specific goal that had to be met,
- How you did it and got others to follow you (don't be afraid to take credit, that's the point),
- The results of your actions.
Throughout your response, don't shy away from placing yourself at the centre of the action. Try to cite specific facts and statistics wherever possible, and own the results (eg, “I managed to convince…”).
Solid analytical skills
Most law firms operate under the assumption that anyone capable of getting a law degree has a firm grasp of the technical side of the law. That's what law students spend their time committing to memory, after all. What they don't always have are solid analytical skills that will allow them to apply their knowledge to real-world situations. This is one of the hardest things for a training-contract recruiter to ascertain in a candidate, especially since the training contract interview process can take place years before a candidate completes their degree and fully develops their skills.
To figure out if the candidate has what it takes, the recruiter may introduce some simple hypotheticals. Their intention won't be to trick the candidate, but rather to analyse their thought process when they’re put on the spot. Alternatively, according to Patrick Algrim—an experienced recruiter and coach who writes at Algrim.co—they may ask a specific question related to your analytical skills such as: "Can you give me an example of a time you had to organise and analyse data that had to be used within a tight deadline?"
The specifics of the response aren't the point; it's the logic behind it that the recruiter is looking for. Either way, the key to demonstrating analytical skills in a training-contract interview is to give a response that reflects your ability to synthesize information and find contradictions, if they exist.
Getting the training contract
If everything else is in order and you're able to demonstrate the above qualities to the recruiter, there's a chance your interview process will lead to a training contract offer. This will depend on how the recruiter sizes you up in the interview.