Tricky training contract interview questions

Unusual questions are par for the course at training contract interviews and it’s easy to be caught off guard. We asked trainees who have been through the process and come out the other side about the toughest questions they faced.

Matthew Ross, Brabners“Tell us about a time when you took a risk and it paid off”

This question took me off guard as a solicitor is supposed to carefully advise clients on risks and are notoriously risk adverse. I didn’t want to give an example that could be perceived as a ‘lucky gamble’ as opposed to a considered assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of a decision.

I said that holding down a part-time job, volunteering, engaging in pro bono and playing sport during the GDL and LPC could have been detrimental to my grades and therefore a risk. I said that my achievement on these courses show that it paid off, as I was able to maintain the appropriate work life balance.

Matthew Ross, Brabners


Katherine Keenan, Wedlake Bell

“What would you do if you were extremely busy at work but you received a call to say your burglar alarm at home was going off?”

I suggested asking a neighbour or friend to help. This didn’t seem to be the answer they were looking for as they continued to quiz me! I think the answer they were looking for was to ask your secretary to deal with it!

Katherine Keenan, Wedlake Bell


Matthew Fisher, Cleary Gottlieb“If you’re living in France, doing your degree in France and interning at a law firm in France, why don’t you just stay there?”

This was a difficult one because I was considering that option too. I kept that quiet and instead answered that I was very interested in Russian work – for which London is the frontrunner – and that I preferred the method of training under the UK system.

Matthew Fisher, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton


Joe Bennett, Nabarro

“If you were a pencil stuck in a blender, how would you get out?”

I would text all of my Crayola and Biro friends and ask them to hide in nooks and crannies around the house. When somebody needed a pen, they would search high and low, see me in a blender and fish me out.

Joe Bennett, Nabarro


Lucy Tavener, Latham & Watkins

“Why didn’t you take a gap year?”

That question really threw me, but I tried to make it relevant to my decision to become a solicitor by stressing that I had law in mind as a potential career when deciding what to study at university, and that taking a gap year would have meant being another year behind my peers who had studied law.

Lucy Tavener, Latham & Watkins


Michelle Mitchell

“When have you used your networks before and what did you achieve out of it?”

I was caught off guard and had to think for a moment. I answered truthfully and said that I had contacted my high school alumni network when I moved to the UK to meet other people.

Michelle Falcucci, Reed Smith


Gareth Malna, Burges Salmon

“What would you say or do if you were asked to represent a company that you had ethical objections to?”

I definitely bumbled my way through this one. I said I would put my opinions to the back of my mind and take each matter at face value. For every story there is another side and sometimes you have to admit that your prejudices are wrong.

Gareth Malna, Burges Salmon


Natasza Slater

“Do you feel that you have over-prepared for this interview?”

I had a few seconds to hazard a guess as to whether this was a trick question (can you ever prepare too well for an interview?) or a hint that I was coming across as robotic rather than personable. I went for the former and told the interviewer my mantra, ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’. Turns out it was the latter! Luckily, I was half-way through the assessment day and found the opportunity to demonstrate my personality when delivering a presentation to the partners.

Natasza Slater, Howard Kennedy


Seif Borin, King & SpaldingManaging Partner: So please explain why you have an Irish accent?

Me: Uhm… I’m not sure (and I’m not Irish).

Managing Partner: I see.

I didn’t get the job. Moral of the story: always pretend to be Irish. Unless your supervising partner actually is Irish, like mine. In which case, just pretend your granddad was Irish.

Seif Borin, King & Spalding


Alex Critchley“Why read English at university when you could have read law?”

I essentially responded that any non-vocational degree could be questioned in the same way, and that in my opinion university was about studying something in depth that you had already developed a passion for.

Alexander Critchley, Macfarlanes


Sarah Wright, Addleshaw Goddard“I don’t believe what you’ve said on you application is true, are you lying?”

Answer – “No” – I then went on to explain why not. Thankfully the partner was suitably convinced!

Sarah Wright, Addleshaw Goddard


Kamakshi“Describe a time when you broke a strict rule or law and how you dealt with it.”

This one was tough, because I haven’t really broken the law! Also, in an interview situation, you want to appear largely straight-laced and professional. I spoke about partaking in my University’s “jailbreak” excursion for charity, where the task was to try and travel as far as possible without using any money.

Kamakshi Venkataramanan, Covington & Burling


Annika Bell, Mundays

“Why have you not got a training contract?” 

Sometimes interviewers ask a negative question to see how you react and whether you respond positively. I explained how my focus had changed as to the type of firms I was applying to and it was probably apparent to the recruiters reading my application that I was not the right candidate for them. After completing the LPC and gaining further work experience, I knew what I was looking for in my career and as a result of stronger, more targeted applications, I saw an increase in interviews.

Annika Bell, Mundays


To see more awkward questions and answers, check out our 60-second interview series.

Are you a trainee who’s faced a tougher interview question, or would you like to do a 60-second interview yourself? Email richard.simmons@thelawyer.com