As a first year trainee at Gateley, it wasn‘t long ago that I was filling out the lengthy vacation scheme/training contract applications for law firms and attending the assessment days and interviews and so I know that it can be a daunting (and sometimes disheartening) process.
I’ve put together some of my top tips for making a good impression at interviews and assessment days that I wish I’d have known and ones that I found useful before starting the process.
As soon as I stopped trying to be the person that I thought law firms wanted me to be at interviews, I started to see more success and I felt much more positive about the whole process. It can be difficult to do this and obviously you still have to be professional, but it is good to show your interviewer/assessor that you have a personality.
Being yourself at interviews and assessment days also means you’re much more likely to end up at a firm where the culture matches your personality – this is invaluable once you’re at the firm.
As the saying goes, ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail'
Once you know why law is the career for you, I think the biggest focus of your preparation should be deciding who to apply for - it is important to know why that particular firm would be a good fit for you. This can be difficult at first as a lot of firms’ websites can seem very similar. However, at an interview you need to be able to answer ‘why’ the particular firm is where you want to work.
The firm should do the type of work you want to do, it should be the right size for you (i.e. think about types of clients, opportunities and work/life balance) and the culture should be right for you.
A good way of working out if a firm is a good fit is to meet people from the firm and gain an understanding of the culture and the opportunities available. This will go a long way in answering the 'why this firm' question.
Everyone hears this when preparing for interviews and assessment days and it can be difficult to find a way to stand out from everyone else applying for the same role but it is so important to do. Most applicants will have very good grades and a similar level of experience and so whether it is through an unusual hobby, an interesting job or some extra-curricular activities, it is good to be able to demonstrate your skill set by talking about something unique that sets you apart.
It is so easy to panic during an interview or assessment day, especially during tricky questions or tasks but if this happens just take a step back and keep calm.
If you don't know the answer then be honest but give it a go - it's always good to try and answer the question but make sure you back it up with good reasoning and logic. Showing that you've thought about it and coming up with a reasoned answer will go in your favour.
As for group tasks, it can be overwhelming at times, especially when there are strong personalities in your group but, again, it is so much better to keep calm, contribute and try to keep the strong personalities at bay. Don't take it personally if it feels like someone is trying to undermine you - this happens at assessment days as people's competitive nature kicks in. But my top tip would be not to get frustrated with them and instead try to pacify them to make the impression that you're level headed and a good team player.
Don’t give up
If you don’t succeed at one assessment day or interview then try not to get too disheartened. It's a tough process - keep practicing, find the right firm for you and you will get there!
When you get to your vacation scheme/training contract:
Once you’ve nailed the interviews and assessment days, you’ll have hopefully made it onto a vacation scheme or bagged yourself a training contract. Then you’ll be hit with the pressure of making a good impression all over again.
You need to be really enthusiastic about the department you’re in. Go into the department with an open mind and make sure the team know you're keen to get involved in as much as possible.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions - it can be scary asking lots of questions when the team are busy but it will show that you're curious and eager to learn. Plus you're much more likely to do a good piece of work if you understand what you're doing. That said it's always good to try and figure out the answer first by doing some research before asking the question to show you've given it a go and used your initiative.
Finally, enjoy it! You will have worked hard to get the vacation scheme or training contract (hopefully both) and so make sure you enjoy the experience and get stuck into the opportunities on offer.