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Tricky Legal interview questions

It’s all going well and suddenly your interviewer asks you the question that brings you out in a cold sweat! How to tackle those tricky questions with confidence.

It’s impossible to know exactly what questions you will be asked at an interview but with careful preparation it is possible to at least reduce the number of tricky questions.

Potential pitfalls and bear traps

Know your own CV

There are few areas of an interview that will damage an interviewer’s confidence in you than not knowing your own CV! You should take extra copies with you to the interview in any event, just in case your interviewer doesn’t have their copy with them. Before your interview re-read your CV and ensure that you are completely familiar with the contents. If the interviewer asks you about any aspect of your CV (directly or indirectly) any confusion or hesitation will give the impression that you may have been less than honest in your CV.

“Closed” questions

Not all interviewers are great interviewers and you may need to work hard to get the most out of the interview. An example of this is interviewers who repeatedly ask “closed” questions, i.e. questions which only require a yes or no answer making it hard for you to sell yourself. The key here is to expand on the area in question. For example, the interviewer may say “I see you worked at XYZ firm?” to which you may only be able to say “yes”. If it seems that this is the way the interviewer works, then without interrupting your interviewer you may want to expand on some questions, so adding “yes, and when I was at XYZ firm I …..” will give you an opportunity to set out your experience.

Your reasons for seeking a new job

No matter how much you may hate your current job, never answer any question about your reasons or wanting to leave in negative terms, always reply in a positive manner. You may have little opportunity for client contact in your current role and a boss who takes credit for your hard work. Don’t say this! Instead focus on the positive opportunities which may be offered to you in a new job, for example, “I have gained valuable experience in my current role and have enjoyed it very much. I have expanded my current role as far as possible and have actively taken on new responsibilities but there is limited further scope within the current team structure. I am therefore seeking a fresh challenge and I am very keen to take on more responsibility”. If you highlight problems at your current firm, your interviewer will find it difficult to judge whether you or them are the problem.

What is your biggest weakness?

This is an example of the sort of question you can prepare an answer for in advance. If you don’t, and try to think of a reply on the spot, it may well backfire on you. In many ways it’s hard to understand why this question comes up so often because the interviewer doesn’t really want to hear about a weakness! Try to turn a weakness into a positive, or rather take a quality which is actually a strength and present it as a “weakness”, for example “I tend to be a perfectionist in my work” – a good quality in a lawyer!

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This question can also backfire on you if you don’t prepare and do your research. Do you know enough about your potential employer and its career structure? If you give an unrealistic answer, such as “I see myself as managing partner of this firm” when you have just qualified, then you will come across as unrealistic and a bit of a fantasist! If you are aware that you might realistically hope to be an associate at the firm in 5 years then a more appropriate answer may be “I would seek to build on my experience and skills over the next 5 years and reach the level of associate solicitor within that timescale”.

How do you get on with your current manager?

As with the question about your reasons for wishing to leave your current job, you need to focus on the positive rather than the negative. You may not personally like your current manager. In fact they may be the reason why you are seeking a new job. But do not say this! Even if you are not keen on your manager’s personality you probably have some professional respect for them, so keep it brief and simply say something along the lines of “I have a great deal of respect for his/her ability and professionalism”.

Remember, don’t panic! It would be a rare interview that doesn’t contain the odd tricky question. If you can remain calm and confident, you will be well on your way to impressing your potential employer.

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