The stress of final years at law school can do strange things to people. The time and energy channelled into research essays, case summaries, all-night study sessions and exams can leave many students with little time to consider the practicalities of life, let alone a career, after graduation.
Securing a post-graduate position in the current legal job market is no mean feat and can leave many law students feeling lost and overwhelmed. What you might not know is that one of the biggest obstacles to landing a job offer is not the highly competitive market, but rather your ability to sell yourself at interview. Read more for 5 effective strategies to ace your next interview.
1. Tedious, But Necessary: Research Your Potential Employer
Remember those tutorials you managed to glide through by skimming the required reading five minutes before class? Unfortunately, the real world is not as forgiving as student life. Going into an interview with a ‘wing it’ mentality is guaranteed to secure your long-term unemployment. If you have been offered an interview, your potential employer has already invested considerable time and resources identifying you as a worthwhile candidate, before you even walk in the door. If you show up unprepared it sends a clear message to your interview panel - that you do not value their time above your own, and that you do not really want the job. A better approach is to research your prospective employer thoroughly. A Senior Associate from the Sydney office of a global firm, says: “Research the firm before your interview, including history, recent big deals and rankings in legal directories by team and partner. The firm’s website will be the best starting point as it will contain all the information the firm wants people to know, but also look for articles in the media. If you know people already working in the firm, take them out for coffee and get the low down, including firm strategy, culture and ‘buzz words.’ Dropping buzz words in interviews shows you align with the firm’s culture.” This shows your prospective employer that you are a serious contender who can exercise initiative and who has a genuine interest in the work they undertake.
2. Stalking Before Talking: Research Your Interview Panel
Understanding everything you can about your interview panel is essential as it places you in a strong position before the interview commences. The internet is your friend: use it to your advantage by researching who will be interviewing you. A simple Google search can be enlightening but also check company profiles, LinkedIn and Twitter pages. Memorise each person’s role, areas of interest, any mutual connections or recent cases they have been involved with. Remember that members of interview panels are people just like you. As anxious as you feel, they also experience feelings of nervousness with each new applicant, as well as boredom from asking the same questions (and receiving similar answers) during the recruitment process. If possible during the conversation, drop a thoughtful reference to something of interest to them personally, or a topical point of interest for the industry. These little extras set you apart as someone who is not only prepared to go the extra mile but can also see the world beyond their own personal narrative.
3. Inner Poise: Know Your Material
Preparing for an interview is a lot like studying for a law exam - you need to know your material inside out. A common preparation error made by applicants is to spend more time researching their prospective employer than revising personal skills and professional history. “Know your CV back to front and be prepared to discuss or elaborate on anything you have mentioned in it, including the dates worked in various roles and your responsibilities”. In pressure cooker scenarios, such as interviews, it is easy to draw a blank on your prior work experience or other topics you may take for granted as ‘easy knowledge’. Do not underestimate the ability of nerves to wreak havoc on your brain during an interview. Read over your cover letter and CV several times so that you feel relaxed and are confident speaking about any aspect of your experience. Extra points are easily won if you can effortlessly cross-reference your verbal responses with your written comments on selection criteria.
4. Practice Makes Perfect: Do A Dry Run
There is overwhelming evidence to support the value of practising interview responses aloud. It helps you determine exactly what you need to say, and how you need to say it. Hearing yourself answer questions smooths out lingering nerves and kick starts your mental transition from an internal to an external dialogue. “Prepare responses to common interview questions. If you know someone who has been through the process before, ask them what questions they were asked. At the summer clerk or graduate level you probably won’t be asked many technical legal questions, so focus on answers to behavioural questions and follow the STAR method of responding. There are plenty of examples on the internet of good interview responses and techniques. Once you have prepared your responses, PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE, in front of the mirror, with a friend, whatever. Just practise.”
5. Fake It Till You Make It: Project Confidence
Appearance plays a big role in winning a job. Give yourself the best chance possible by dressing immaculately and projecting an aura of self-assuredness. Manners matter more than you think. Remember to smile and firmly shake hands when introducing yourself to every member of the panel, including the scribe. Above all else, behave as though you are the person for the job. “Act confident, even if you’re not. Confidence inspires trust and every partner wants a junior they can trust.” Get into the habit of taking several copies of your CV and cover letter with you. If one of your interviewers has misplaced their copy, you can quickly produce a replacement. It is a quick and easy way to show your interviewers that you are organised and efficient and take the job seriously.
In Conclusion Winning a job takes time, dedication and perseverance. To give yourself the best chance possible, do not assume that your interviewer knows the true value you can bring to their organisation. If you have been offered an interview, they have read your application and can see your potential: now it is up to you to convince them that this potential can be realised.
This week's guest post is by Sarah Lynch. Sarah is a Barrister & Solicitor and founder of Bucket Orange Magazine - a Sydney-based law and life hacks publication inspiring young Australians to live smart. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.