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Top tips for success at your NQ interviews

Published on: 16 Jan 2018

Whether you’re due to qualify this coming Autumn or you’ve already started your job hunt, make sure you’re ready for your NQ interviews with our top tips for success.

Here’s our 9 step guide for your NQ interviews to help you secure the role you really want.

1. Be Flexible

The two most popular specialisms continue to be Commercial Litigation and Corporate.

In London, NQ vacancies that arise in these two areas are often filled by the firm’s own trainees. On the rare occasion that roles in these areas do come into the open market they are extremely competitive.

Look outside these competitive areas and consider Corporate Funds and Corporate Finance. You’ll gain strong skills which can transfer into the mainstream Corporate area later in your career. Specialist areas of litigation are always less competitive that General Commercial Litigation; especially Financial Services litigation or any Regulatory Litigation area. 

The legal sector is no longer solely focused on London, 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. 

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. Being unprepared at 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, ask someone in your current firm (ideally someone that conducts interviews on a regular basis) if they can help you with this.

4. Know your CV

This sounds obvious but be mindful that you may be asked about things that happened several years ago or 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.

Think about what the interviewer wants from an NQ. They want someone who will do the job competently and enthusiastically and ideally be a nice person to have around. They’re looking for someone who will contribute, but will take a minimum of management time.

The skills 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.

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?

It goes without saying, 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 and what your role was, not what the team achieved. Make sure you 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? Or How many holes does a trumpet have?

These are to test:

  1. Your ability to think on your feet 
  2. The quality and insight of your clarifying questions
  3. Find out a more about you 

Whatever question gets thrown at you, you need to be effusive and expansive in your answer. These questions are designed to catch you off guard so 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.