As we draw to the close of the first month of 2019, it may be that you have also secured your first interviews in your search for a new job. Well done! You’ve broken through the first barrier and impressed with your CV and perhaps your online presence too. Now comes the tricky part: translating that initial interest into a job offer.

So here are our tips for succeeding at interview. Follow them all and you may have more than one job offer on the table to choose from…

Preparation and practice

 

It doesn’t matter how good you are at thinking on your feet, you won’t come across at your best if you don’t invest lots of time in pre-interview preparation and practice.

  • Research the firm. Where does it rank in terms of size, sector and expertise? Is it operating internationally and, if so, where? What is its market reputation and do recent press releases reveal anything about the firm’s recent successes or expansion? Who are its leading lawyers? Who heads up each business services function (not just the one you’re interviewing for) and have you checked out their LinkedIn profiles? Particularly pay attention to profiles of those who will be interviewing you. Have they written any articles of interest? What is their background? Your knowledge here won’t just impress the firm, it’ll give you more confidence in the interview too.
  • Practice your answers. Yes, you don’t know what specific questions will come up, but you can be pretty sure that your CV will be the basis for a few – so know it inside out and be prepared to provide examples around your experience. If your CV says, for example, that you are a great team player, think of at least two examples in which you have worked successfully in a team and be prepared to talk in detail on them.
  • Be ready to describe your current role in terms of team structure, who you report into, what areas of the business you’re responsible for, who you manage (if you have line management responsibilities) and which key stakeholders you work with. If you're from outside the legal sector, you should start by briefly describing the organisation you work at in terms of size, products, clients etc. If you already work in a professional services environment outline the number of partners and fee earners you work with, and explain the structure of your function in that firm – for example, do you sit centrally or within a practice area? At this stage you should also mention if you have international responsibility. Practice this scene-setting out loud beforehand so that by the time you get to interview, it's a slick, short, clear description.

On the day

 

  • Tell stories to bring your experiences to life – this approach is far more memorable. For example, if you're a BD professional being asked about your pitching experience, you could describe your recent work on a really challenging panel pitch or one that you had to recover from the jaws of disaster. Not only does this showcase your experience in pitching but demonstrates your ability to cope in difficult situations.
  • Consider your body language – offer a firm handshake, sit straight, make eye contact and smile. Look like you are pleased to be there, even if you feel terrified, and be enthusiastic without talking ten to the dozen and grinning manically.  
  • Be honest. The temptation to impress can send many an interviewee into labyrinths of fabrication. But avoid the pain, and just say if you don’t know the answer to a question or do not have a specific skill or experience they are looking for. You can always ask an interviewer to repeat or clarify a question that isn’t clear, and if you’re not quite skilled up in all the areas they need, they might well be willing to give you training. The most important thing at this point is that you give them enough to convince them they could work well with you.
  • Ask questions. Your research will help you with this. Have a good number of questions ready but be careful not to ask one that has already been answered in the interview! This is the point where you know the interview is coming to an end, so it’s easy to rush or go blank. Practice your questions in advance, take a deep breath and enjoy being in control. Good general questions might be:
     
    • Describe your firm’s culture. How do staff and lawyers work with each other?
    • I have seen your firm’s values. How do these translate to the way the firm operates day to day?
    • What specific career development support can I expect in this role?
    • How do you ensure your employees are engaged and happy?
    • What are your goals for the firm for the next five years?
    • How is the function that I am joining going to change in that time?

Don’t be afraid to also use your recruiter to help guide you through the process. Totum helps many candidates with insights into the interviewing firm, the key people/interviewers, and provides tips for success with that particular firm. We are more than happy to share our insights to help candidates succeed.

If you’ve been selected for interview, you’ve already impressed with your skills and experience. Now you have to tell your story in an honest and compelling way, staying true to who you really are. Have faith in the value you can offer – and if you hate the feeling of being put on the spot, remember, you are there to find out about the firm every bit as much as they are there to find out about you.

If you’ve done all your preparation and the match is a good one, the chances are you’ll feel at ease very quickly. You might even enjoy the process. Good luck!

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