How to Land Your Dream Law Internship - Part 1: Converting Your Application into Interview Success

Derek Bayley

The Nygh Internship is one of the most prestigious legal internships in the Australia. It provides the opportunity for an Australian law graduate to work with some of the leading private international law practitioners in the world at the Hague Conference on Private International Law. Presented by The Australian Institute of International Affairs and the Australian Branch of the International Law Association, the Nygh Internship closes 30 September each year, and was showcased on Beyond Law. We were fortunate enough to interview this year’s internship recipient, Derek Bayley.

This is the first part in a two-part interview with Derek Bayley – the 2015 Nygh Intern at the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

Derek Bayley is a First Class Honours law graduate from the Australian National University. He is fluent in German, Arabic and French and has previously undertaken internships in Dubai and London. He’s also an excellent entertainer, having directed the ANU Law Revue (trust us, it was one of the finest productions at ANU). Beyond Law caught up with Derek for a quiet drink before he flew out to the Netherlands. Derek had plenty of advice to offer so we have spliced the interview into two parts: what to do when the chips are up and when the chips are down.

This week’s advice is for when the chips are up – how to best prepare yourself to converting your application into interview success. We asked Derek how he approaches the application process and his top tips to set yourself apart.

How should I approach a job application?

DB: The challenge is to look at the process from the perspective of the other side (employers) in any application process. If you are looking to land a particular position, you need to really appreciate what they are looking for, how you represent that, understand the process itself, and why the employer would give it to you, over anyone else. What sets you apart?

What sets someone apart in a job application?

DB: Be memorable. In a job application you are essentially judged on your ability to engage in storytelling.  You are asked questions in which you need to bring together a convincing narrative, in a limited amount of time, of who you are, why you are interested in the organisation, and how your credentials make you valuable- whilst acknowledging any weaknesses the interviewers focus on and demonstrating how to address them.  If you can do this in a clear and unique way, you will land the job.

To be effective, you must know what your story/narrative is (and how it fits into that organisation’s narrative).  Sit down and work out what the building blocks of your narrative are. And be unique! Look for that differentiating factor to make your narrative stand out, and emphasise it. Say ‘yes, I have the same basic credentials that everyone else has (average grades, a sport, a part-time job), but this is why I am different; this is what I am passionate about, and this is how it aligns with what you do.  This could be anything, but the art is finding a convincing link.  Your ability to align your story with theirs is the key part of your application.  And, again, can I emphasise, your application doesn’t just stand out by itself, you need to differentiate it yourself!

It sounds grim, but the nub of the advice is this: It is harder for employers to forget somebody who makes a point of offering an interesting story of who they are, and why they want to work there.  Employers will likely consider many applications, and if you’re anonymous, they will have no trouble discarding your application.  Don’t let that happen!

Why are job application/interview processes so daunting?

DB: A job application process is daunting, that is a fact.  But the process should feel both nerve-wracking and natural at the same time. You should feel nervous because you really want it, but equally, it should feel natural because you will, ideally, be comfortable with your application, the organisation, and confident in the skills you offer.

Interviews are an artificial environment. They straddle the line between formal and informal. It is easy to forget your formality and, perhaps even let your guard down in wanting to be more likeable and casual, but equally, but, if you are overly formal and rigid, it is easy to come off as cold and detached, if you can’t demonstrate personality and warmth. Like all things, it is a balancing act, and knowing your interviewers, at least on paper (and you should always know this before going to any interview!), preparing a couple of interesting talking points/questions, knowing your application, and above all, showing enthusiasm for the particular opportunity is the best way of ensuring that you won’t offside your interviewer; it is that fear which makes interviews so daunting. 

How do you prepare for an interview?

DB: Interviews are won and lost on information.  So do your research! The more you know about them, the more likely you are to understand what they are looking for.  Research also means exploring both formal and informal channels. Sure, there are websites, publications and brochures out there about particular organisations, but that is material available to everyone else.  You’re looking for an ace up the sleeve to set yourself apart, so think about sleuthing for some informal information. If you’ve heard somebody’s name who has been through the same process, don’t be shy. Send out an email, or ask them out for a coffee, and find out what the job and process is like.  Be resourceful. I’m not suggesting you camp outside someone’s house with a trench coat and a Dictaphone, but, as a general rule, people are usually happy to talk about their own experiences with interviews – in a way, it can actually be quite cathartic for that person too, so give it a go.

How do you overcome nerves?

DB: This sounds simple, but practice is the antidote to nerves.  The aim is to have the key points of your answers committed to your memory by repetition and reinforcement.  Nerves, stage fright, and garbled answers can be beaten by diligent practice.  You might like to think of it as if you are an actor learning lines (law revue reference anyone?).  Some people will need more practice than others to overcome nerves. 

Also, practice means different things to different people.  Make sure you practice in various ways. By all means, read over your notes, but in my view, there is no substitute for literally speaking the questions out loud. Have somebody listen to you and pull you up when you ramble or don’t speak to the question. Good preparation is your best defence against nerves.

Is there a difference for international internships/career opportunities?

DB: All the basic application and interview skills apply, with, in international positions, the added desire for employers to know that you are not somebody who is insular in their thinking. They need to know that you will be able to act as a cultural go-between, and will not cause cultural friction. They will want to know you have demonstrated that by doing something in the past. This doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas and doing something, it just means having a thoughtful example of foreign, international or even interpersonal involvement in your everyday life. That could be something like being a mentor for international students, or studying a subject with an international focus. Boost the things you know your employer will want to hear!

What is the toughest question you have ever had in an interview?

DB: We’ve all had some tricky ones. But without delving into the specifics of particular interviews, I would say, as a rule, the first question is always the toughest. The first question sets the tone of the interview. The first question is always a probing question, one which tests the waters, and is the one where you will make a first (formal) impression. So in order of magnitude of importance, getting the first question right is your big one. But equally, they are all tough, and you can win or lose the interview at any moment, so the perhaps the toughest question is actually whichever question is before you at any given moment!

You can read the second half our interview with Derek Bayley on what do when the chips are down – how you deal with disappointment, the slow burn at university, and most importantly – how to get back up when you hit the ground.