How to handle your law firm phone interview
If you impress a small or mid-sized firm with your application, you will likely to be invited to a face-to-face interview at the office. Larger firms, however, receive so many applications that the number of face-to-face interviews would be completely impractical if they operated in the same manner as smaller firms. A phone interview is a way of screening out candidates, so that a shortlist can be created for face-to-face interviews.
How long should it last?
Phone interviews are designed for time efficiency, so don’t be concerned if your interview lasts only 10 to 15 minutes or so—your interviewer may have dozens of interviews to conduct that day. If your interview lasts only two or three minutes, however, it’s probably because you’ve been screened out. Prepare thoroughly—a lot can happen in 15 minutes.
Where should I take the call?
Unless you’re taking the call on Skype or some other video application, simply use common sense. You should select somewhere that is quiet where there will be no distractions or interruptions. If your interviewer will be able to see you during the call, treat it just like a face-to-face interview, because that is essentially what it is. In other words, dress for an interview, take the call in a private room and most of all, relax!
How should I prepare for a phone interview?
To prepare well for your phone interview, thoroughly review your experience and achievements, and come to conclusions about how these translate into general skills and qualities that will be useful to the firm in the long run. Consider everything you’ve done—even running a marathon says something positive about you.
Do not neglect researching the firm itself—its areas of concentration (intellectual property, for example), its major clients and its company culture. Learn the names of prominent solicitors and what they are known for. Why would you rather work for this firm rather than another firm? Why are you a good fit for this firm? This is also an opportunity for you to prepare to demonstrate commercial awareness.
What questions will I be asked?
There are too many possible questions to ask for you to be able to memorise and rehearse all possible answers. The most difficult questions will be open-ended and will require you to think on your feet, as lawyers are often required to do in practice. Following are some examples of the kinds of questions you may be asked:
- Give an example of how you have worked effectively on a team.
- Give a detailed example of how you have successfully solved a difficult or complex problem.
- Why do you want to become a solicitor?
- Provide a brief description of your primary strengths and weaknesses.
- You may be presented with a hypothetical scenario and asked how you would deal with it.
Phone interview dos and don’ts
Do practise phone interviews in advance if you can find a partner who knows what they are doing. Someone at your university’s career services office might be willing to help. Tell them not to take it easy on you—your practice interviews should be difficult. Make sure to get feedback on how you come across over the phone.
Do ask for clarification if you don’t quite understand what the interviewer is asking for. It’s better to ask for clarification than to answer a question that the interviewer never intended to ask in the first place.
Do stay calm, speak in measured tones, be professional, and don’t be afraid of short pauses if you need time to think. This will help you demonstrate confidence, poise and thoughtfulness. Taking a bit of time to think is also likely to improve the quality of your answers.
Don’t bring up the topic of salary expectations, start dates etc at this stage—it’s far too early in the process for that. Focus on what you can do for the firm, not what they can do for you.
If asked about your weaknesses, don’t select something a law firm might classify as a desirable quality and present it as a weakness instead of a strength (“I work too hard” for example). Choose a real weakness (nothing too serious, of course) and describe how you are well on your way to overcoming it.
Don’t relax too much. Even if your interview is audio only, sit up straight or even stand up during the interview. This posture will give you energy and help you think faster, which will come across over the phone even if your interviewer can’t see you.
The best attitude to take is to prepare thoroughly, but don’t obsess about it. Even if you flub the interview, you may very well get several more chances with other firms.
Selection & Assessment