Acing the interview: tips for vacation scheme and training contract interviews

Acing the interview: tips for vacation scheme and training contract interviews

As a future trainee solicitor, I have undertaken the dreaded law firm interview on a number of occasions. Yet they were the parts of the training contract application process that I enjoyed the most! I found it much easier to show my personality when speaking rather than on a written application form and they are a great experience to learn more about life at the firm. 

I have been spending some time looking back over my journey to training contract and the feedback I have received from the interviews I’ve had over the years. Here I have compiled some of my tips for making a great impression at your interview.

It’s your time to shine!

Interviews are an inevitable part of the process for securing a vacation scheme placement or a training contract. By this point you’ve already proven yourself to be a worthy candidate and the firm is interested in you, so treat your interview as your chance to shine. The firm wants you to perform well so take the opportunity to be yourself, be confident and make a solid first impression. 

Tell your story

Many firms will ask a number of competency questions during the interview. They want to see you demonstrate key skills in your answers, so ensure that you have examples of your experience to hand. They can be work or non-work related but should be specific. I have found that relaying my experience as a narrative can highlight how I identified the problem, how I dealt with it and what I learned as a result. 

Answering questions through a short story ensures your response is concise, clear and shows you have the ability to be a successful lawyer. Make sure to listen to the questions asked and take a few seconds to think if you need to. I’ve learned that an interviewer would rather you asked them to rephrase the question, rather than you give a poor answer because you didn’t understand the question.

Be prepared…

You can find details about assessment centres and interviews of many firms online, published by those who have already been through them. These can give you a great insight into the structure of the day, the tasks you will be required to complete and the types of questions you could be asked in your interview. I used these to prepare for some upcoming assessment centres and found I was much calmer because I had a general overview of what was happening.

While these resources should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the assessment process could change significantly from one year to the next, it can help to avoid being blindsided and allow you to get a feel for the interviewer’s expectations. Similarly, if you meet trainees or graduate recruitment representatives at open days or law fairs, they are usually willing to give you some insight into the process so don’t be afraid to ask.

…but not too prepared!

Avoid memorising answers like a script because this can make your delivery robotic and impersonal. You might also run into a problem if your prepared answer is in the same general area as what you’ve been asked but doesn’t quite answer the question you’ve been asked. I have found that it is better to have some general experiences lined up which can be adapted to cover an array of points. 

For example, you could prepare to discuss a situation you encountered at work which covers a number of transferrable skills, then apply it to the specific question. I often used a scenario from when I worked in retail which could be quickly adapted to demonstrate my communication, teamwork or leadership skills. This method ensures that your answers are genuine, thoughtful and fully answer the question.

Take the opportunity to learn

Interviews can undoubtedly be an intimidating experience, but they are also an opportunity to learn more about the firm. Do your research and prepare a couple of questions to ask the panel. This could be about a major recent change to the firm such as a merger, a question about day-to-day life at the firm or a question about your interviewer’s specialism. A good question indicates to the interviewer that you’re passionate about the firm, its work and your future working life there as a trainee. Given that this happens at the end of your interview, it leaves the panel with a great final impression of you. I really enjoyed this part because the right question will often evolve into a conversation where you can show some of your own interesting perspectives. Remember that the interview is also a time for you to decide if the firm is right for you, so choose your question wisely!

The interview is a two-way process for you and the firm, and they will be trying to make a good impression as much as you are. Take this opportunity to learn more about what your future there could be like and decide whether the firm is the right fit for you.


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About the author:
Tom is a future trainee solicitor at CMS due to start training in February 2021. He worked as a Student Associate for LexisNexis at the University of Bristol alongside studying an LLM in Banking and Finance Law.