Preparing for an Interview - Part 1
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS – WHAT DO THEY REALLY MEAN?
Part 1 – The introductory questions.
TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF
This part of the interview is just a warm up - the chance to get the conversational ball rolling.
When an interviewer says “Tell me about yourself” it is an invitation to discuss your relevant work history in a few short sentences - not to talk about your astrological sign or your pets. The interviewer will have your CV in front of them. So the purpose of the question is to identify:
- If you have you been economical with the truth in your CV and whether what you say aligns with what you wrote.
- If you can you summarise, prioritise and present information clearly and succinctly in plain, straightforward language.
- Your relevant work history. For instance, if you are applying for a role as a solicitor, 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 relevant elements of each firm you have worked for: Legal 100 global megastar or teensy-weensy sole practitioner; your department; how many in your team; whom you reported to and your specific job responsibilities. This is a brief summary only.
One you've arrived at the last role, stop here. You have given the interviewer lots to think about, and now they can come back with more in-depth questions.
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER GOALS? WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS' TIME?
You may be asked to elaborate and offer your perspective of previous roles and organisations and your ambitions. For instance, if you worked in a boutique practice, discuss the good points about it and what it taught you about your aspirations and priorities.
It is important to answer these questions with an eye to the job you are applying for.
The purpose behind these questions is to determine: -
- If you have you researched this organisation and whether you are committed to a career there.
- How ambitious you are and if hired, the return on investment.
There is a fairly standard reply to this - that you will stay on in the role and take on an increasing level of responsibility.
The trick is to do your research and be specific:
- Identify a role in the business you aspire to. Work out how you would get there; the training you would need and relevant courses. Or an area of specialisation they may be missing?
- Demonstrate you are ambitious, proactive and aim to add value to the organisation.
Here are some example responses:
- "Looking at your website, you don't seem to have anyone dealing with [THIS], which is something I am hoping to develop a specialisation in."
- "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 …"
Again, answer the question just enough and prepare for follow-up questions.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS?
Interviewers are seeking to understand if you are self-aware and self-critical, or over-confident and boastful.
You must prepare carefully for these questions. Here is how:
- Identify at least one and preferably two specific strengths. Ensure these are not abstract concepts such as "management" or "interpersonal skills". You should be able to explain and provide examples.
- Be humble and self-deprecating and let the interviewer draw the appropriate conclusions.
Here are some example responses:
- "I would describe myself as a problem-solver. I seem to have quite a knack at 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 four D's method on my outlook email (delete, delegate, do, delay) and manage to get through a very substantial caseload every day.”
Explore other interview questions:
Part 2: Describing your weaknesses and challenges you have faced
Part 3: Exploring your maturity and how you apply yourself
Part 4: Are you right for this position?