Making Work, Work

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!



Women in Law

Why do we find it so difficult to own our ambition and drive in the same way as men?

The short answer to the idea that ambition is a dirty word for women should be no of course it isn’t, how ridiculous. However, it’s unfortunately not that simple, yet. The way we talk about female ambition compared to male ambition (and indeed, the very fact we identify them as separate things) suggests there are still some prejudices when it comes to women aiming for the top.

There are lingering negative external attitudes towards women who are ambitious; but also internal conflict about ambition. It is often presumed that women do not have the same ambitions as men – or rather, that men are presumed to be ambitious by default, while for women it is an exception. With that and looking at the fight that other women have had to put in to gain their position in male dominated industries, many feel there is still no room for overt ambition displayed by women. We talk amongst ourselves in secret or in innuendo about our drive and passion.

Attitudes amongst women themselves are starting to change. There are interesting divides between younger and older women in ambitions as laid out in a Time Inc. survey in 2015. 48% of women in their 20s said they were “very” or “extremely” ambitious, compared to only 26% of women over 60. Younger women are also less likely to say it’s okay to not be ambitious– almost 60% said it was “not so” acceptable or completely unacceptable to be unambitious, compared to 44% of women in their late 40s and 50s.

So there remains a complex relationship between women and ambition as a result of sexist undertones in our society and its institutions, but does the problem also lie in the way we view patterns of work? The idea that long hours, constant ‘switch on’, endless meetings and trips are apparently the hallmarks of a driven, ambitious individual. Why can’t someone who is looking to work in a different way, or want to find a way to continue to progress their career around other commitments not be deemed ambitious too? Kevin Roberts, former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi caused controversy in 2016 over comments about women not having the vertical ambition of their male counterparts. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition; it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy… I don’t think [the lack of women in leadership roles] is a problem. I’m just not worried about it because they are very happy, they’re very successful, and doing great work.” Many felt he seemed to be saying that the lack of women at the top wasn’t a problem because they didn’t want to be there, rather than looking at the institutional barriers that prevent them being there.

It is assumed that having different priorities in life reduces one’s level of ambition, rather than considering the ambition that someone has to create a more suitable path to achieve the things they want, across ALL aspects of their life. Even men who are seeking to work in a different way are being branded as ‘not ambitious’ in comparison to those who are never at home.

At Obelisk we think that ambition in this century means working towards your goals and recognising that at different points in your life, your focus of ambition will change according to different priorities. It is time we felt comfortable with that. This approach allows for a ‘portfolio career’ path, which is non-linear and non-traditional and reflects not only the current economic reality that we see around us, but also the fact that organisations these days don’t expect ’employees for life’. As we evolve as a business we see the different ways that men and women of all ages are creating new ways of working that reflect their desire to work and balance their life. That is ambitious!

Anna Fels, writer of Do Women Lack Ambition? in Havard Business Review says we “have confused [ambition] with narcissism, with people who simply want to promote themselves at any cost. But really, what ambition is about is getting appropriate recognition for your skills.” And that should apply whether you work part time, full time, at home, in the office, or whatever way you choose.

So in order for ambition to not be a dirty word for women, we need to change how we define it, and not associate it with success at all costs or workaholic patterns. We need to start defining all of what we want in life – balance, manageable progression, new skills, and new experiences as part and parcel of our ambition. We need to re-examine our own bias and perceptions about ambition when applied to women, and we also need to challenge it when we hear those biases voiced by others. Say it loud and clear: I am an ambitious woman!

Making Work, WorkTrending

Now that December has arrived, it’s a natural time to reflect on the past 12 months and focus on your fulfilled goals and achievements.

The year is ending, we get some time off and a change of routine, which allows us all to step outside of the day to day distractions. A bit of distance from work allows more objectivity, and indeed honesty, about what you’ve achieved this year and what more you want to do. The Christmas party season is a reminder to us to appreciate and evaluate what has gone by, and what is to come.

Lawyers in particular can sometimes be too hard on themselves and focus on what hasn’t gone to plan, seeing it as failure. It’s probably a legacy of focussing on fine detail, and looking out for potential problems that can colour their outlook.  Even more reason then to consciously celebrate the wider achievements; so a once-yearly opportunity to do that should be seized. We all have the desire to do better and be better in all aspects of our lives; we want to be happier and make others happier too. Taking stock of your achievements and progress is all about authenticity. A positive way of doing this is to embrace a ‘growth’ mind set, a name given by psychologist Carol Dweck to the idea that intelligence can develop, and that effort leads to success. It’s important to remember that the new SRA Continuing Competency framework recognises the need to reflect on what you need to do in your professional life and to build a plan to support yourself in achieving these goals.

Rather than looking backwards in a critical way, it is more helpful to look back over the cases and projects that have been completed – look at what you have achieved. You will of course recall the things that didn’t go to plan, but there will be so much more that you can appreciate. Focus on your strengths, what characteristics that are unique to you and how you can use them in all spheres of your life. Taking stock gives you that moment of confidence, to objectively focus on your performance and take those conclusions with you on the next step of your journey. Here are some steps you might like to follow when taking stock of your year…

Write your year from start to finish

Look at where you started the year, where you hoped it might lead and what happened. If you had to sum up the year in a paragraph, what would you write? What was the theme or story of your year? Is there anything you wish had not occurred or had played out differently? Would you like to maintain that, or see it change completely in 2017?

What are your key tangible achievements?

This can range from wins and awards, to client satisfaction, securing repeat work, solving a particular problem in your life, or making something right. It’s much easier to remember what went wrong, so compiling a list of both small and large achievements will provide balance and remind you what you managed to resolve and do better.

Note personal milestones and progress

Other positives may not feel like achievements as such (maybe not yet) but are steps in the right direction, or important milestones to be marked. It can include things you do better now than the previous year, and things you hope to do better going forward. Look at where you might have stumbled, you carried on and didn’t give up, that is an achievement in itself – you just need to do the things to ensure that won’t happen again.

Highlight opportunities that now present themselves

Even if certain things haven’t taken off as you would have hoped, the way things have played out may present a clearer or even different path to follow into 2017. You may find that you have learned more about yourself and you may have a new perspective on success, career goals and priorities in your life that you are now going to focus on.

Tackle unfinished business

Call them resolutions if you like. Assess your immediate and long term aims: pick up on things that you wanted to do this year but didn’t get to, what you want to take further and overall what sort of year you want the next to be compared to this one. Keep the list as a fairly broad set of goals and don’t give yourself unnecessarily restrictive deadlines to avoid them becoming an extra point of stress in 2017.

Give thanks

The best way to end the year on a high note is to share the joy and good feeling with those who have played a role. Take time to send wishes to those who have been pivotal in your life and show how much you appreciate them and look forward to spending more time with in the future.

Obelisk In ActionWomen in Law

Resilience and confidence are key qualities that can sometimes be hard to keep hold of – particularly as a lawyer facing increasing levels of stress. Lawyer, life and career coach Janine Esbrand of LightBOX, spoke to us at Obelisk’s Friday Live event about the effect of stress on our productivity and self-esteem.

Janine Esbrand has a background in corporate law and works as an in-house legal counsel. During her time in corporate law she always wanted to help on more personal level. So, in addition to her consultant work, she now also helps other women with work transitions after motherhood as a certified life and career coach through her consultancy, LightBOX. Time and time again she has seen the issue of low confidence and resilience crop up, and she had plenty of insights to share on the subject.

Starting with stress management

Janine presented a shocking statistic that more than 95% of lawyers felt that their stress levels were extreme or severe. The pace of modern legal work is getting faster, with internet and technology advances meaning immediate round the clock responses are expected, and it can be difficult to manage client expectations in an overwhelming results driven environment.

Speaking about our responses to stress and how different types of people respond to high levels of stress and pressure, she referred to well-known study by Pennsylvania State University identifying people as Velcro and Teflon. People who suffered and persisted with unresolved emotions are Velcro people, whose negative emotions continue to stick long after the event, without good resolution.  People categorised as Teflon people managed to either resolve the stressful situation or just let it go and move on.  The study found that Velcro individuals had higher rates of chronic health issues a decade after the phone interviews, compared to the Teflon group.

The key message here though, is that we do have control over what type of person we are. We can become more Teflon by focusing on positive thoughts to increase our resilience and become more productive in stressful situations.

Learning to let it go

Discussing some stress management tips with the group, a number of techniques were put forward. The important thing is to find what works best for you as an individual. For some it can be taking a step outside gain some distance and allowing time to think clearly. Just five minutes can make a difference to the way you approach a problem. Some people start by asking: what is the worst that can happen? Then it is easier to focus on what has to happen now. It is vital to keep perspective and don’t ‘catastrophise’ the problem. Allowing yourself a daily lunch break – no matter how busy you are – can make all the difference, as without it your productivity is lower and the quality of work in afternoon suffers, increasing levels of stress.

Self-care is at the heart of stress management: Regular exercise, a switch off day during the week where you concentrate solely on doing something pleasant, and not relying on stimulants to get through all contribute to better resilience. One thing that was agreed on was the tendency for lawyers and their clients to expect almost robotic levels of work and efficiency – so it is important to set boundaries for clients and don’t set unrealistic deadlines for yourself. We all have the tendency to be ‘people pleasers’. Being more honest with yourself and with clients, and seeing yourself and them as human, creates a better working relationship.

With better stress management we can become more resilient. The more resilient we are the more naturally inclined we are to focus on positives and effective behaviour. With that, our confidence in our own abilities increases.

Characteristics of resilient peoplewonder-woman-power-pose

Purpose, flexibility, confidence and support are the four key characteristics of resilient people. Janine believes that little confidence boosts before daily tasks can help build towards overall confidence. One thing in particular she advocates is putting your body in a power pose for an instant confidence boost.

Confidence built to last

Lasting confidence is about looking within ourselves rather than relying on external factors. Identifying, reviewing, and using strengths in different ways each day increases positivity, vitality and self-esteem. Our strengths are not just our skillset; we also need to pay attention to our character strengths. Wisdom, curiosity, bravery, social intelligence, the love of learning new things – by identifying our top strengths we realise our sense of meaning and can start to see our career as a calling again, a feeling that can get lost in the day to day pressures we face. Using our top strengths each day leads to increased satisfaction and helps our confidence and resilience to grow.