Gap Year – Interview Advice
Congratulations to those of you who have received an invitation for an interview! This means that your application form must have impressed the Graduate Recruitment team and they think you have a realistic chance of being offered a place on the programme, so well done!
Depending on how much experience you have, it may be tempting to worry a little about what the interview will actually be like; will there be a strange test of your mettle at the beginning; will you be faced with a partner who doesn’t really want to be there?
We want to dispel some of your worries and give you some tips before your interview so you can walk into the room confident that your research has put you in the best possible place to succeed in your interview.
- Make sure you’ve researched the firm and its competitors – this is crucial. On a general level, you should know: who are Pinsent Masons’ main competitors? How does PM differentiate itself in the legal services market? Who are some notable/interesting clients that PM has represented? (It may also be useful to have some knowledge of the cases these clients have been involved in.)
- In addition, it is a good idea to keep up to date with current news stories and legal developments, as your interviewers may want to talk about a recent story. Try and look at stories from a legal perspective – why not start with Out-Law, our legal news site? Reading a quality newspaper is also a great help. Take particular interest in business stories and if you can find news on the firm’s clients or the areas the firm works in this would be a great talking point in the interview. It doesn’t require huge knowledge of business to know what’s going on so make an effort to understand the articles and use what knowledge you do have to your advantage. If you can bring in knowledge from your A levels and relate it to the firm or law and business in general, this shows you can make links with your existing knowledge and are keen to learn – just what the interviewers want to see from you!
- There should be a current Gap Year student or Trainee Solicitor there at some point during the day, either before or after your interview, and you should take the opportunity to ask any questions that you may be concerned, or simply curious, about! Is there anything you’d really like to know about life as a Gap Year student? What events are held, what sports clubs can you get involved with, or what’s the hardest task they’ve been entrusted with? Remember, we’ve been in your position before and we know what it’s like to be unsure about what you might be letting yourself in for, so ask away!
- We have all heard the lawyer clichés about partners who don’t have time for anyone, work experience students whose title is just a front for tea-making and photocopying, and the fact that you will be at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. However, if there’s one thing you must have realised by now through reading our blog posts, it’s that everyone at Pinsent Masons is friendly and they are all happy to help, so don’t try and act a part. In my interview, I was surprised by how welcoming my interviewers were and how they tried to make me feel at ease through finding common ground. They are not trying to trip you up, or trick you into saying something stupid.
- Following on from that, be human! Interviewers aren’t looking for a robot or someone who is just a working machine; they could potentially be working with you in their department, so they want someone who will be enjoyable to work with and someone they can trust with work. Therefore, it’s always better to be yourself and be open, friendly and thoughtful in the interview so they can see what working you will be like if you were successful.
- Be able to analyse yourself – be aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are. Think about this before your interview: when do you perform at your best, when do you find things more difficult? It may seem obvious to list your strengths, but if you are asked what you find difficult it is important to show you know areas that you can improve. This in itself is a strength. Part of the Gap Year scheme is a monthly appraisal to help you develop and improve over the 8 months. If you can show that you are open to trying to improve yourself this will be seen as a positive. At the same time, though it is important to recognise these areas you could work on, try to be confident in your abilities and yourself – you have only been invited for interview because your application form impressed the recruitment team! So try and have a think of things like are you a team player? Do you like to work under pressure? Examples of when you have worked in these situations are also a great way to back this up.
- Re-read your application form before your interview to remind yourself of what you wrote – you may even identify areas you’d like to develop more in your interview, or possible areas which may be picked up on by your interviewers. This is absolutely key – your application form was the only document you submitted to the recruitment team and thus it is likely your interviewer will bring a copy to the interview. So if you don’t know what you wrote on it, it’s not going to make the best impression!
- If you’re asked to give an example of a time when you showed a particular skill, remember not to ramble on about the background to the example, and to get to the heart of the example quickly. The interviewers want to hear the situation and what you gained from it. In the heat of the interview, it’s easy to tell a story; however your interviewers really want the situation, what you did, and what you learnt from the experience.
- If you are given a task for the interview, spend enough time preparing it! Some people may be able to bluff their way through, but most of the time, hard work and consideration will pay off. You can try and google some of the terms needed, but often all that is required – similar to the application form – is a well thought-out, articulate response, which shows off some of your commercial awareness skills. Don’t worry about making your answer “correct”: there are no right and wrong answers, the idea is to provoke debate in your interview.
- Stay calm and try and control your nerves. Some nerves do make it easier to think and come up with ideas quickly, but if you’re too nervous, you’ll lose the edge and instead come across as someone who doesn’t perform well under pressure – not a desirable attribute when you’re working towards a deadline! That’s why it’s imperative that you research thoroughly: the behavioural interview will be about you, and you will be able to talk about yourself and your experiences. However, when it comes to the business interview, it gets harder. One tip we would give is just to admit you don’t know something; it means there will be no awkward silences as you frantically try to think of ideas, and eliminates the risk of you blurting out answer which give the impression that you have not bothered to research at all.
- Don’t forget that if you’re panicking, and the question needs a well thought-out answer, it’s fine to ask for more time to think. Usually, the interviewers will be more than happy to direct their focus away and give you a couple of minutes to collect your thoughts. Obviously, the less time you can spend thinking the better – and we would advise you not to ask for more time more than once or twice. Don’t worry; we doubt you’ll need to ask at all!
- Have a question to ask at the end. It’s fine to ask this question at both interviews, expecting different responses. We know it’s difficult to know what to ask, especially if you’ve researched thoroughly and have found answers to most of your queries online. All we can advise is to think about a particular subject – for example, your duties, or an area of law (but make sure your interviewers will be able to answer it!) and any other things you’d like to know about it. If in doubt ask them a question about their favorite subject – themselves!
In addition to all of these tips, we would just say: remember to be confident! Most candidates are not invited to interview, so the recruitment team evidently think you have a chance at the job (they wouldn’t spend time or money interviewing you otherwise!). Don’t be over-confident, but at the same time feel secure in the knowledge that you have as a good a chance as anyone else being interviewed to get a place on the scheme.
Rachel & Emily
[Note from the Graduate Team – although this was written from a Gap Year student’s perspective, these tips will serve you equally well when preparing for a vacation placement or training contract interview.]