Dealing with training contract interview questions

Neeta Halai, owner of New Heights Training, is an experienced solicitor and trainer who works with lawyers and law students on legal and communication skills. She shares her tips on how to deal with those tricky questions and secure your position within the very competitive legal profession.

Congratulations! Your hard work has paid off and you have secured an interview. Now what? How do you deal with those tricky questions to ensure you secure the training contract?

Interviews can be a nervous experience for most people. However, remember – those interviewing you are human too and may be equally nervous!

Confidence is the main reason candidates fail to get the training contract. How they present themselves and how they answer questions has a massive impact too. Some common feedback about unsuccessful candidates has been that their answers were: “long winded,” “came across too scripted” or “answered too literally.”

Open- ended questions

Why law?’ or ‘Tell me about yourself?’

Open ended questions are challenging because they are so wide ranging and the scope of what to say and how much to say, is overwhelming for most candidates.

Candidates either waffle or speak about so many things quickly which mean the interviewer will retain very little of the information.

The key is to think about these types of questions beforehand. You should be able to think of three key points you would like them to remember and interweave them into your answer – clearly and concisely. Speak with energy and enthusiasm, as these types of questions tell the interviewer about you and your personality. Your response needs to be aligned with your body language – for it to be believable.

Competency questions

Give me an example of when you have had to persuade someone to your way of thinking, how did you do it and what was the result?”

Competency questions tend to be longer questions and the best way to answer multi-layered questions is to structure your answer.

Ask yourself: ‘What is it actually asking?’ and ‘How many parts are there to the question?’ Interviewers are looking for a concise and structured response, with authenticity – testing your verbal skills.

If there are a number of parts within the question – frame the response at the start and then deal with each part in turn. For example, there are three parts to the question above:

Give me an example of when you have had to persuade someone to your way of thinking (1), how did you do it (2) and what was the result (3)?”

The best way to deal with a question like this is start by identifying how many parts need to be addressed, and logically answer each part, letting the interviewer know when you have moved onto the next part.

Tricky questions

What are your weaknesses?’ or ‘Why haven’t you got a training contract yet?’

How you answer these types of questions could end up with you talking yourself out of the job. You could come across as arrogant and egotistical – even though you may not recognise it or mean it!

A good way to deal with a question about weaknesses is to think of an area where you recognise there is a need for you to improve. For example, if you feel your presentation skills are weak – say you recognise this and would like to improve this skill further.

Questions around why you have not secured a training contract yet is one to answer carefully – the implication of this question, is questioning whether you are good enough. Do not get drawn into the speculation.

Remember, each firm is different and so is its culture. Try and be diplomatic – one approach is to suggest your applications are selective, relating to firms specialising in specific practice areas. Alternatively, you could say you are waiting to hear back from some applications made, however, your preference would be to progress with this firm and secure a training contract. They may challenge you to test your ‘loyalty’ – you will need to convince them, that their firm, is the only one for you.

Being challenged

Often, interviews are about seeing how you would deal with often demanding and challenging clients.

When challenged in an interview about something you say – the interviewer is seeing how you would handle the situation with a potential client. Would you confidently answer any questions and justify your reasoning or crumble and be cornered into giving in – in effect lose control of the situation?

Remember, it is absolutely fine to stand by your belief, opinion or comment by being firm but empathetic, so as not to offend the client/interviewer. If it becomes a ‘dead lock’ situation, you could always try a different approach and suggest looking into their suggestion in more detail and get back to them.

Ultimately, the key to succeed in any interview is to shine! Remember, it is not just about what you say, but how you say it. More important than that, is your body language – which speaks volumes – before you have even opened your mouth!