Top tips for success at your NQ interviews

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This year's mad scramble to fill the last of Autumn NQ vacancies is in full swing. The market is significantly busier than this time last year but there is still a very real threat of several NQs being left without a position in a month’s time. Here’s how to make sure you are not one of them.

To perform as best as you can at interview we have to accept the flaws of the standard interview model. Comprehensively illustrating all your experience and potential whilst finding out all about the firm’s employment proposition in an hour is not realistic.

Added to this, an interview is an unusual interaction. In what other scenario do you have an in depth conversation about your competence with someone you have never met?

Here are a few tips to making sure that you secure the role you really want, or at least as close to it as possible; the 9 steps to guide job seeking autumn qualifiers through the turmoil.

1. Be Flexible

I am consistently baffled by the number of candidates at the end of their training contract who confine their search to only one area. Most commonly this is Commercial Litigation or Corporate.

In London, NQ vacancies in these two areas are, in the vast majority of firms, filled by their own trainees as they are the two most popular destination specialisms. On the rare occasions that roles in these areas do come into the open market they are extremely competitive.

Corporate Funds and Corporate Finance give you strong skills for transferring into mainstream Corporate later in your career. Specialist areas of litigation are always less competitive that General Commercial Litigation, particular FS litigation or any Regulatory Litigation area. Also, Corporate, Real Estate, Banking and Commercial Litigation NQ positions are far more plentiful in other UK legal hubs. 

Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh all offer excellent work at high calibre firms. More broadly, consider your second choice (both in terms of location and specialism), would a role in your second choice be preferable to not finding a job?

2. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail - Part I

Make sure you do all possible research into the firm, the role and the people you will meet. I have never known anyone to secure a job coming across as apathetic.

Being undercooked as a first interview will leave you with no opportunity to rectify the situation in a second interview. One of the most common reasons for candidates failing at first interview is that they didn't seem interested enough in the firm or the role

3. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail - Part II

Have a mock interview. If you have applied through for the role through a recruiter, that recruiter should offer you a comprehensive mock interview.

If you have applied directly, can someone in your current firm (ideally someone who conducts interviews fairly regularly) assist with this?

Pro-Legal offers interview preparation/mock interviews even for candidates who have not secured their interviews through us. Contact us for further details.

4. Know your CV

This sounds obvious but be mindful that you may be asked about things that happened several years ago all that you had limited involvement in. Be prepared to talk about anything that is on your CV.

5. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes.

What do all interviewers want to be reassured about any interviewee? They want someone who will do the job competently and enthusiastically with the minimum of fuss and ideally be a nice person to have around; someone who will contribute but will take a minimum of management time.

The skills that they look for are intelligence, diligence, competence, resourcefulness and affability. Make sure you emphasise these skills first and foremost.

6. Structure your answers

When asked for examples of pieces of work you have done it is imperative that you structure your answers clearly. Many people fall into the trap of launching straight into the narrative without setting the context and fail to comply to satisfactorily concluding the narrative.

The best way to avoid this is to prepare three or four examples of work that you have done and structure your answers using the STAR (Situation, Target, Action, Result) technique.

-Situation - Give them an overview of the matter and the relevant factors when you were first engaged on the project

-Target - Articulate what the agreed objectives for the matter were

-Action - Quite simply: what did you do? What happened? How did you deal with unexpected obstacles?

-Result - What was the conclusion?

Needless to say, where possible chose projects which finish with a positive outcome and a satisfied client!

7 a. It's all about me...

The interviewer wants to know what you did, what your role was; not what the team achieved. Focus on the aspects of the projects that you took responsibility for.

What will really impress them are the times where you took responsibility and initiative beyond your level.

7 b. ...but it's not all about me.

To paraphrase JFK: it is not what your firm can do for you, but what you can do for your firm. Too much emphasis on how the firm plans to facilitate your career enhancement is a rapport killer.

8. Be ready to talk about things unrelated to the law

The tangential questions fall into two categories: your life outside of work (interests, hobbies) and the more random questions such as: How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge? How many holes does a trumpet have? Etc.

These are to test: a. your ability to think on your feet, b. the quality and insight of your clarifying questions and, c. find out a more about you. In all instances you need to be effusive and expansive in your answer. Going into your shell at this point will be terminal.

9. Ask the right questions

We all know that questions show that you are interested but ask ones that will give you the information you want and will precipitate expansive answers that engage the interviewer. Ask them questions that focus on their opinions and experience not the firm’s corporate line.

- What do you like most about working here?

- If you could change one thing about this firm what would it be?

- How does this compare to other places you have worked?

- What piece of work did you most enjoy working on in the last 12 months?

- What are your plans for the development of your practice? What types of people do you think you need on your team to make this happen?

Follow these 9 steps and it will really help you stand out from the crowd.

Now that you are prepared for your interviews, click here to search for your perfect NQ job.

Conor Dilworth is Managing Director of Pro-Legal. 

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