Preparing for an Interview - Part 1
THOSE TRICKY INTERVIEW QUESTIONS – WHAT DO THEY REALLY MEAN?
TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF
When the interviewer says “Tell me about yourself” it's not an invitation to talk about your astrological sign or your cat. It means, tell me about your relevant work history in a few short sentences. But the interviewer already has your CV in front of them. So the purpose of the question is something else ....
The real purpose of the question:-
- Have you been economical with the truth in respect of your CV - does what you say align with what you wrote? Can you summarise, prioritise and present information clearly and succinctly in plain, straightforward language?
- Where you start on your CV depends on your age and how long you have been working. For instance, if you are applying for a role as a solicitor, you might want to start with your training contract firm and work forwards from there. If you are newly-qualified, start in the same place - your training contract firm - and work backwards.
- Briefly describe each firm you have worked for - Legal 100 global megastar or teensy-weensy sole practitioner? What department did you work in? How many people in your team? Who did you report to? What were your specific job responsibilities? SUMMARISE them - no-one needs a blow by blow account of how you made the tea or the route you took to get to Court.
This part of the interview is just a warm up - the chance to get the
conversational ball rolling. One you've arrived at the last job, stop -
...so I left XYZ in February to join the private client team at ABC,
which is where I am now."
You've given the interviewer lots to think about, and now he or she can come back with some more in-depth questions.
Now is the time to elaborate on previous jobs. For instance, if you
worked in a teensy-weensy boutique practice, what were the good points
about it? What did it teach you about your own ambitions and priorities?
Answer these questions with an eye to the job you are applying for. If you say, "I worked for a soulless American legal machine where lawyers were burned out after five years” it may not go down too well if you are applying for a job in the same sort of firm.
The real purpose of this question: -
- Have you researched this firm, are you committed to a career here? Are you ambitious? If we hire you, what return will we get on our investment?
- There is pretty much a standard reply to this one, which is that you want to still be in the same firm and taking on more responsibility (because otherwise why would they hire you?)
- The trick is to do your research and then be specific.
- Identify a role in the firm that you aspire to. Work out how you would get there. Would you need to do some more training? (If so, find out about the training course). Is there an area of specialisation that the firm is missing?
- Show that you are ambitious, proactive and aiming to add value to the organisation. Again, answer the question "just enough" and be prepared for the follow-up question.
- "Looking at your website, you don't seem to have anyone dealing with blahblahblah, which is something I am hoping to develop a specialisation in."
- “Oh really? Tell me more.”
- "One of the partners in my current firm is dealing with an instruction in this at the moment and I have done some background research and found a CPD course …"
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS?
The real purpose of this question: -
- Are you self-aware and self-critical, or are you over-confident and boastful?
This is a toughie. You must, must, must prepare for this one (and its evil twin, 'what do you consider your weaknesses?')
- Identify at least one and preferably two SPECIFIC things. NOT abstract, throwaway concepts such as "management" or "interpersonal skills". Whatever you say you will have to explain it with a specific answer, so be ready! Avoid a boasting attitude. Be humble and self-deprecating and let the interview draw the appropriate conclusion. Show, don't tell!
- "I would describe myself as a problem-solver. I seem to have quite a knack of identifying tricky issues in a case and thinking of creative solutions. For instance, we had a situation where ..... and it struck me that .... "
- "I’m organised - I make a list of things to do and follow that list. I use the 4 D's method on my outlook email (delete, delegate, do, delay) and manage to get through a very substantial caseload every day.”