Working as a freelance lawyer means continually being on the lookout for new clients and new projects, and this means that you are likely to be frequently asked to interview for a job or gig. At Obelisk Support, we provide preparation tips for our legal consultants before they head to client interviews and decided to share the most common questions below. Some of these meetings or phone and Skype calls can be more formal than others, so it’s often more difficult to navigate expectations and put yourself and your experience across in the way you want to. With the help of some video tutorials from career experts, here are our top interview tips to help you bag your dream role.
Common Curveball Questions
No matter how many interviews we experience, there are always those dreaded questions that leave us stumped for an authentic and effective response. These are some of the most common curveballs you are likely to face, and ways to tackle them:
- “Tell me about yourself…”
This question is so open-ended, it’s hard to know what interviewers are looking for. Of course, you should summarise your experience and achievements, but the interviewer doesn’t want to hear just a rundown of your CV, which they will have in front of them. You need to tell the story of your career – what has led you on your chosen career path and what brings you to the interview today. They want to get a sense of the kind of person you are and how you would fit into the organisation. If you come across as insincere, inauthentic and too scripted here, that will work against you. That said, you should also avoid going into too much detail about your personal life.
Career strategist Linda Raynier tells us more in her video:
- “How did you handle a difficult situation?” (also phrased as ‘how did you meet/overcome a challenge?’ or similar)
Generally speaking, every behavioural question like this asked in an interview should be answered with an example from previous experience or specific reasoning illustrating the approach you take.
But how do you choose the right example and explain in a way that presents you at your best? Again, your storytelling skills come into play. You need to tell a tale of resilience, of listening, adapting and managing to produce a successful outcome, with you at the centre of it all.
For the best answer, use the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) as demonstrated here:
- “What is your greatest weakness?”
This question aims to decipher how much self awareness you have, and give an indication of how you handle constructive criticism.
In spite of what you may have heard, recruitment experts advise against taking a known strength and making it sound like a weakness!
The Scharff Tank advises the best way to approach this question is to make it specific to the job you are applying for. For example, you might have no industry experience as you are looking to branch out into a different area, but you can use the opportunity to remind the interviewer of the different transferable skills and knowledge you can bring to the table. Or, identify an area you would like to improve that is connected to the role (but is not a critical aspect of it).
- “Do you have an questions for us?”
Why does an interviewer ask this? It’s not just to round off the interview. It’s a chance to cement your genuine interest in the job in the interviewer’s mind, and an opportunity for you to gain real personal insight into the company and role — beyond the job description and website. Candidates who don’t have any questions can leave the interviewer puzzled. Does the candidate have enough curiosity or self-initiative to succeed in this position? If the candidate finds herself/himself in a situation where they’re missing information, will they proactively ask for it?
You should always prepare questions for the interviewer, showing that you’ve done your homework and researched not only the position but the company culture or people on the team. Of course, you could stick to the safe answer of asking about next steps in process, but here are some suggestions from Work It Daily to help you find out if the job is really the right fit for you:
– ‘How did you come to work here?’
– ‘What do you like most about working here?’
– ‘How is performance measured within the company?’ (variation: ‘How do you measure success in this job?’)
– ‘Anything you wish I had mentioned about my skills that would make me a better fit for the role?’
– ‘How do you work with your colleagues?’
Remember to ask open-ended questions and not questions with yes/no answers.
Key Approaches in a Legal Interview
Most legal interviews are a mix of competency and technical questions, reaching into your commercial and business knowledge relevant to the company and industry.
#1 Do Your Homework
It’s important to show you are always thinking and updating your knowledge, particularly if you have been out of the industry for a career break. So. As well as researching the company, you will want to spend a good amount of time reading trade press and getting up to speed with current goings on in that particular area of work. Don’t forget to have a good read-through of your CV too and prepare for specific questions that might be asked about particular areas of experience you have listed!
Interviewers like to see that candidates have prepared diligently in advance, beyond the official website of the company. That is simply not enough.
- Go on social media, research the company culture and members of the legal team to get a feel for who they are.
- Use company review websites such as GlassDoor to find internal feedback by current employees.
- Make use of any contacts connected with the company to help you prepare.
#2 Be Yourself
Being knowledgeable and professional is vital but they don’t want a robot either, so don’t be shy about putting your personality on show. Be ready to discuss your hobbies and activities outside of work to build a more complete picture of what motivates and inspires you.
#3 Be Confident
Another characteristic that legal recruiters look for is assertiveness and the ability to own your career and achievements, so make sure you claim your experience when talking. Say ‘I did this’ – don’t speak with passive voice or say ‘we’ (except when demonstrating your ability to work in a team of course!). Also, look your interviewers in the eye during conversation and don’t get distracted by mobile phones or outside people. This is your time to shine, make the best use of it.
For more, here is some useful guidance from Herbert Smith Freehills for interviewing for an international city law firm training contract:
Confidence, Presentation and Body Language
If you have the ability but find your belief and confidence can let you down, there are ways to build yourself up before an interview.
First, there’s no such thing as over preparing – going in knowing you have worked to research the company, prepare stories and answers for as many possible question as you can helps build confidence.
Nerves can lead to rambling and mind blanks, so be sure to concentrate on taking a breath before questions and try not to rush towards the main point or the end of your sentence. Bear in mind the interviewer will give you space to speak and you are not going to be interrupted or spoken over, so take your time.
Remember that they invited you to the interview. They will have seen something in you already. They want to know more about you, and aren’t trying to catch you out. The interviewer wants you to do well as they want to find a good candidate– no one wants a bad interview!
Smart, clean clothing for presentation go without saying, but comfort is also key. Comfortable dressing makes for better posture and makes you feel more confident. Many people have a go to dress or suit for presentation or big meetings, so stick with the clothing you feel at your best in and is connected with other successful moments in your life.
Of course, it’s not just about what you wear. Your body language plays a big part in making an impression. Remember to sit up, use your hands while speaking, make eye contact, and smile and nod gently when being spoken to.
See more below:
Phone Interview Tips
The phone interview is a commonplace occurrence for freelance lawyers, particularly if the majority of your work is remote. This lends a particular challenge to the interview as you do not have the benefit of observing body language and facial expressions to easily gauge tone and reaction. For starters, read these tips on how to interview on the phone.
Beyond that, try not to let that worry you, just concentrate on the questions being asked and answer them as you would in person.
As you would in person, take your time. Don’t feel you have to fill every moment of silence – it’s better to listen right through to the end of the questions and take a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts.
Keep answers clear and to the point – the interviewer will ask you for more details if required.
Finally, make sure you take the call in a place with no distractions – close down everything on your computer except for what you need for the interview, and turn off all notifications/call waiting functions. Don’t forget to thank the interviewer for their time and follow up with an email immediately afterwards.
Good luck in your next interview. You can do it!