How to tackle training contract interviews

The work of a trainee can be varied and at times unpredictable. Recently, I was called upon to give an interview for an online publication about the training contract experience at Michelmores.

I found myself feeling slightly apprehensive before the interview, due to an odd sense of responsibility I felt towards prospective trainees to provide useful information about the firm. After all, it was not long ago that I was in the same position and would visit similar websites when researching law firms.

Despite my initial nerves, the interview was relatively painless and I felt I gave a candid impression of the firm. However, it did remind me of how difficult the interview process can be, and how easy it is to give answers which may not reflect your usual articulate self when put under pressure. For example, when asked about the perks of working at Michelmores, I responded that the café's coronation chicken was, in my view, "the best in the west" - an answer which, on reflection, could have been more insightful.

I thought it would be helpful to consider how I could have done better. I frequently get asked for advice on training contract interviews, and I have set out my thoughts below.

Visit Michelmores' website

Michelmores posts a large variety of content online including comment on recent cases, updates on done deals and more informal pieces. These all give a flavour of the firm.  Use this to your advantage – key clients, personnel, sector focusses and the general ethos of the firm are all things you can discover quite easily. This will not only be useful for answering questions but also will help you to think of questions to ask. This will evidence your interest in the firm and demonstrate you are serious about your desire to work at Michelmores.

Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness can often seem like quite a nebulous concept, and it can feel as though this can be difficult to reveal in an interview. As a lawyer in a modern law firm, you will need to understand the markets in which your clients operate to provide a high standard of service. Industry specific knowledge can be built up over time, but interviewers will be looking at whether you are able to show a general understanding of business and the legal sector.

To demonstrate this, you should keep up to date with current affairs and be able to give a balanced opinion on the 'big issues' (think Brexit, but make sure not to totally neglect other international and domestic news) and have a broad understanding of the markets that the law firm serves. My own experience is that little and often is far more effective than a manic cram the night before.

Remember that you are the product

It is a common mantra that 'people buy people' when it comes to professional services. That means the firm needs to be confident you can be presented to clients. When you enter the office ensure you are dressed smartly, be polite and make sure that nothing is too much trouble.

These may seem like trivial points but, when taken together, the small details contribute to creating an impression of yourself as a marketable candidate.

The tricky questions

At some point in the interview you might find yourself struggling to think of an answer. Remember there is no rush - you can take your time to consider how you respond and even ask for a moment to think. It's better to calmly reflect on the question and give an answer that accurately reflects your knowledge and experience rather than to react at breakneck speed, pouring out words you think the interviewer might like to hear. Exhibit A - the 'best coronation chicken in the west'.

Know what you have to offer

This is not to say you should go "full Oscar Wilde" and stand proudly at training contract customs control stating you have nothing to declare except your genius. However, you should be aware of what your strengths are. Self-promotion isn't something that comes naturally to everyone but your interview is the time for it.  Your interviewer is looking for candidates who fit the firm and will be interested in you personally as well as professionally. Do share what sets you apart from the other candidates.

Finally

Don't lose faith. Rejection is part of the process for most of us – make sure that you ask for feedback following every interview and use that constructively to improve your approach for the next interview. The advice you receive might just make the difference.

Best of luck!

If you have any other questions on being a trainee please tweet us @MMTrainees.