8 ways to prepare for a legal job interview
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re an experienced lawyer with many successful years behind you, having strong interview skills is essential to making the right moves in your career.
We asked our legal industry experts for their insight to help you in your next interview…
Highlight your successes
“A candidate’s resume is their chance to sell themselves to their potential employer so it’s important they make the most of it,” says Martin Fox, Managing Director at Robert Walters’ Toronto office.
“If you’re a senior candidate with years of experience you should include a couple of career success stories in your resume with some key points about each one,” he says. “Not only will this highlight your work experience and qualifications, but it will also help build your personal brand and show hiring managers that you are someone they want to work with.”
Be knowledgeable about what you’ve done
"Less is more when it comes to your resume", he advises. “Don’t put every matter you’ve ever worked on down on your resume, even if they’re high profile matters,” he says. “You should only mention those jobs you’ve actually had a significant input in, the ones that you’re willing to talk about in detail. Hiring managers won’t want to hear about a matter you only took the meeting minutes for.”
Even if you’ve only mentioned them briefly on your resume, Martin suggests preparing a clear and concise description of each of your previous roles before an interview. “Once you’ve explained these roles, ask the hiring manager if they want you to go into further detail. It’s likely they won’t, but it shows that you’re articulate and well prepared.”
Frame your experience for the role
When going for a new position, it’s essential that candidates frame any experience they have in a positive way that’s tailored to the role, says Martin.
“You should always refrain from talking about current or former employers in a negative way,” he says. “It looks unprofessional and won’t show hiring managers why you want to work for them.”
“Instead, if your current role at a bigger firm doesn’t offer much in the way of responsibility or mentoring possibilities, frame that experience as a reason why you are now looking to take on more duties in an entrepreneurial role with a smaller firm.”
Know what’s going on
Before heading into an interview, Martin advises her candidates to research all the latest market developments within the legal industry that might be relevant to the prospective employer.
“Join as many online forums and conversations as possible to make sure your knowledge stays topical and up-to-date,” he suggests. “This will help demonstrate your expertise to potential employers and widen your professional network, which could open up doors to further opportunities in the future too.”
Sell your soft skills
“It’s extremely important for candidates to strike the right balance between hard and soft skills,” explains Martin. “It’s not all about technical skills and knowledge these days — legal candidates need to demonstrate their ability to handle different stakeholders.”
This is particularly important for in-house legal counsel roles, he adds: “Effective legal counsels will not only need to demonstrate their legal expertise, but also strong commercial acumen and an ability to partner with multiple teams across the company to help the business develop.”
Prepare your questions — and your answers
Asking the right questions in an interview can be the most effective way for a candidate to demonstrate their ambition for the role but, as Martin advises, candidates should also prepare the right answers.
“If you ask something to make yourself sound clever, then you should also have an answer prepared for your own question just in case the interviewer turns it around and asks you for your opinion. Never ask a question you’re not prepared to answer yourself.”
Dress to impress
“When you’re going to an interview for a legal position, the first impression always matters,” says Martin, who advises his candidates to dress professionally and appropriately to let hiring managers know they are serious about the position.
He adds, “even if you know that the company has a dress-down policy, it’s always best to ask your recruiter beforehand or err on the side of caution if you’re unsure and opt for suitable business attire.”
Relax and be yourself
When helping candidates prepare for interviews, Martin always reminds them to remain level-headed. “Don’t get too intimidated if you’re being interviewed by a senior partner in a law firm — just remember that they were once in your shoes,” he says.
“The success or failure of the interview will largely depend on the rapport you build with the interviewer, so don’t be too mechanical and don’t let the interviewer feel like they are pulling information out of you. Be open and conversational.”
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