James's Weekly Interview Insights

James Carrabino

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Oct 12, 2021
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Hi everyone!

I have created a weekly thread about my personal experiences with different components of the interview process but I will start by giving a bit of background about myself and my journey. After growing up in London, I attended university in the United States for my undergraduate degree. I returned to London to study for my Master of Music degree in piano performance during the 2020 - 2021 academic year, having never heard of a training contract. I knew that law was something that interested me and when a friend told me about the training contact application process I decided that I knew too little about it to be selective with my applications and so I applied to 40 law firms in that one cycle. Despite only progressing past the application stage with 3 out of the first 35 firms I applied to, I ended up securing 3 vacation schemes from those 3 applications.

I went through the emotional rollercoaster of wondering why my first 12 applications in a row were immediate PFOs and thinking that I should give up on the process, to having everyone tell me I was doing a great job with 3 vac scheme offers. Then I failed to convert the vac scheme offers...in fact, I received two post-VS rejections on the same day (I'm not superstitious but it was on July 13th) and after 24 hours of allowing myself to get down about it all, I submitted one direct TC app on July 14th and another on July 15th, both of which ended up in training contract offers! The firms I have experience with are Debevoise & Plimpton, Covington & Burling, Willkie Farr & Gallagher, White & Case and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. I am now a student on the PGDL at BPP!

I hope that my journey can give context to the interview process - it is stressful but no matter how much failure you face, it is always possible to get back up and prepare even better for the next interview. Without further ado, I will begin with the weekly interview insights:


I completed five video interviews across the 2020 - 2021 VS and direct TC application cycle.

  • 1. Firm A - The first one I did was unsuccessful, although it was combined with an online test and so I cannot be sure what exactly let me down. As I will discuss later, however, it is possible that my failure was due to being too prepared. Eh? How can you be too prepared? Well, it was my first ever video interview and *for full disclosure* I found the video interview questions somewhere online (I did not appreciate how unfair this was to candidates at the time, which is why we have a strict policy at TCLA of not disclosing VI questions) so I pretty much wrote out my answers. I was thinking that I had aced my VI for this reason and when I was rejected I assumed it was down to the online tests. With hindsight, however, I probably sounded scripted (because I was) and this can really ruin any sense of character that the person reviewing your video interview can get from you, which in some ways may be more important than the content since a lot of candidates will have great experiences. It often makes more sense for recruiters to assess the way that you convey your experiences more than your actual experiences, since beyond a certain point comparing individuals' experiences is like comparing apples with oranges!

  • 2. Firm B - The second video interview I completed was the one that I thought went worst! There was a technical glitch which meant that I did not get my full time to answer one of the questions (I realised that this was my own fault for using the wrong web browser - make sure to follow all of the instructions they give you!!!) and then two of the questions I felt quite unprepared for - but again, hindsight may indicate that the fact I had to think on my feet worked in my favour. For example, there was a question about a business I admired and my mind went blank for the first 30 seconds of preparation so I decided that I had to talk about something and I talked about the pub that I worked at during my gap year, because of how great the culture and customer service was :) At the time, I thought I had given an awful answer (I assumed that the firm was looking for candidates to talk about a much bigger commercial enterprise) but looking back, the sincerity of my answer may have shone through and I ended up progressing past VI stage!

  • 3. Firm C - For the third video interview I completed I am not quite sure what went wrong, to be honest. There were five questions, which I think was the most I had to answer in an individual VI and they were tricky! That said, I thought that I was not too rehearsed but still answered well - it just goes to show how competitive these things all are and that even if you do your best, any number of factors could still lead to a rejection. The main thing is to put yourself in the best position to get at least some successes by preparing well (but not over-rehearsing) for each VI that you do.

  • 4 and 5. Firm D - I completed two video interviews for this firm across the same application cycle, first for the firm's vac scheme (I did not progress past that VI) and secondly for the firm's direct TC (I ended up with the TC offer). I have given some deeper insight into my experience with this firm in particular below, because it was probably the one where I learnt most about what firms are looking for in VIs:

In the first VI for Firm D, I spent ages preparing for it (I went back to thinking that I needed to be well-rehearsed after my VI for Firm C was unsuccessful) and I thought I had aced it because I had managed to prepare the exact questions that came up (I did not have access to the questions this time but I rehearsed a lot of different possible questions). I got rejected and the firm provided feedback, the main point of which being that my answers sounded scripted (they were not scripted, but I did perhaps overly rehearse them).

I got to VI again in my direct TC application at Firm D and thought 'Let's just get this over with because clearly all the prep in the world got me nowhere'. I spent a maximum of an hour refreshing my memory on the firm and clicked start - I passed the VI stage.


Biggest conclusions/takeaways

There were many more 'ums' and 'ers' in my second video interview with the firm for sure, but I could tell that my answers sounded more authentic and conversational. Most importantly, I was really able to use the preparation time not trying to recall everything that I wanted to mention, but rather thinking about how I could make sure I actually answered the exact question being asked. I probably included less information in the process, but I realised that stuffing examples of your research into your answer is not the way to showing your genuine understanding of the topic or motivation for applying to the firm.

Overall, my recommendations from my own anecdotal experiences would be that you should prepare well, but set yourself a deadline for doing the video interview. Think of your preparation as a foundation of knowledge that will facilitate your confidence in answering any question they ask you, as opposed to a rehearsal of what you will actually be saying when answering.


I hope that my anecdotal experiences offer some interesting insight on how to approach video interviews :)
As someone who entered the Vacation Scheme and Training Contract application process without a vast amount of prior commercial knowledge, I could have really benefitted from someone telling me how to make up for lost time and develop my commercial awareness in the most efficient way possible.

In this post I offer my advice about what to focus on and how to excel in these interviews, short of reading dozens of books and trying to learn everything about commerce and the City in the space of a few months. To start with, I would recommend signing up to read the free Finimize daily brief and staying up to date with TCLA's newsletter! Consider paying for a membership to Watson's Daily which is meant to be excellent. If you have a specific firm in mind that you are interviewing for, then keep abreast of new developments for that firm by entering the firm's name as a Google Alert to your Google Account.

Now, these resources are all excellent starting points but they won't fully make up for years of engagement with business news and commercial developments, so how do you approach commercial interviews if you feel that you are not particularly commercially aware?

First of all, work out what kind of commercial interview you need to prepare for as there are different kinds of commercial interviews. Commercial interviews can take the form of a commercial case study, analysis of a commercial article, or simply an interview revolving at least partly around your commercial awareness and current business news stories.

  • For a commercial case study, @Jacob Miller's definitive guideto law firm case studies is truly excellent! I remember reading it the day before my first AC and making notes on all the possible issues that could arise, using his table for inspiration.
    • I separated my list into legal, commercial and reputational issues and included the following bullet points amongst other things:
      • Stakeholder interests
      • Methods of financing
      • Due diligence
      • Risks of litigation
      • Warranties + indemnities
      • Possible synergies
      • Employment issues
      • Competition/antitrust regulations
      • Tax implications
      • Client's competitors
      • Future client relationships
    • I would go into a case study interview with these in my mind and essentially check off those that were not relevant to the case study at hand. The beauty of this was that to an extent I did not even need to be good at thinking on my feet or worry about relying on my commercial instinct, because I could prepare well for the kinds of things I wanted to mention in advance, even without knowing the scenario of the case study. Thank you @Jacob Miller!

  • For an interview where you have to analyse a commercial article, you have to rely on your own analytical abilities to a large extent, but as far as commercial knowledge is required, I believe that this can be prepared here too. The eleven bullet points listed above are a good starting point for big picture implications to be thinking about when reading the article, as these are things that you are likely to get asked about by your interviewers. You can also help focus your analysis by following a very clear structure when you respond to (in writing, presentation or Q&A) the article after reading it. My suggested structure for questions you should be asking yourself is as follows:
    • What are the key facts of the article?
    • What are the main issues arising for the various parties discussed in the article?
    • What are the big picture implications for the market being discussed in the article?
    • How would the issues raised in the article relate to law firms?
    • How would the issues in the article be of interest to the law firm you are interviewing with, and which practice areas would take a particular interest in these issues?

  • For an interview more generally related to your commercial awareness and current business news, you can prepare yourself well but there is always a reasonable chance of the interviewer grilling you on a point you know little about. This means that such interviews involve a small element of faking it till you make it 🤣What do I mean by this? Well, there will possibly be those moments when you have to act as if you are calm and composed but when you actually have no idea what you were just asked! Often, it will not hurt if you ask for further clarification on the question or simply state that you are unsure of the answer, before explaining how you might approach the question if you knew more about the topic. In one of my successful vac scheme interviews, I must have said 'I don't know' at least five times, before talking about the kinds of things that I thought could be relevant to the question (without really knowing whether they were relevant or not)! I had a three-step process below for preparing for such interviews:
    • Prepare a couple of business news stories that genuinely interest you and that you can discuss cogently.
    • Prepare to be able to talk about a certain area of business or law that is of particular interest to you, especially if you are going to claim it as a key interest of yours.
    • Focus on keeping up to date with commercial news and developments relating to any firm that you are interviewing for.
    • Ask a friend to give you a mock interview in which they ask you about a topic you know nothing about (it does not even need to be related to commercial law). Rehearse what you would say and do in this scenario so that you will able to remain composed in the interview itself, and prepare which questions you would ask your interviewers in return so as to pinpoint what exactly they want from you as a response.

Finally, it is worth brushing up on some commercial terminology, either by going over common terms with friends or by using an online commercial law glossary like this one, although these can be a bit dense with the amount of terminology they include.

Overall, a week of preparation can get your commercial awareness ~85% there, in my opinion. There were one or two occasions where I realised that months of business study could have helped, but on the whole I got myself in the right shape for commercial interviews by following the tips I have provided above.

I hope that this post gives some useful pointers about how to approach commercial interviews if you do not feel like the most commercial person in the world! Please let me know if you have any further questions about any of this 😊
Competency-based interviews are the bane of many candidates' interview processes. They can be extremely challenging since they require that you think of examples from your life when you have demonstrated a wide range of skills that are relevant to the work of a solicitor.

This not only requires that you have demonstrated these skills to a high level throughout work, education, extra-curricular activities or life more generally, but it requires that you are able to recall relevant examples at the spur of the moment when asked in an interview!

Of course, it is possible to prepare for such questions so that you are not racking your brain to search through all your life experiences on the spot, and this post seeks to help you prepare in what I found to be the most effective way possible from my own anecdotal experiences.


Core Competency Questions

First of all, I discovered that in my opinion, there were essentially five types of core competency questions that I think you can almost be guaranteed to be asked about in one form or another throughout an interview process. These are questions that ask you for a time you demonstrated one of the following qualities:
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Organisation
Questions about leadership also came up a lot but I found that they somewhat combine teamwork and initiative, so it is good to have an example that crosses over these two core competencies. I always used an example where I had a leadership role in the situation, but also had to contribute to the efforts of the wider team as well. This meant that I could draw upon one of my teamwork examples and did not have to recall a completely separate set of facts for a question about leadership.

People often advised me that I should have two to three examples prepared for every competency, but there are dozens of potential competencies and it would be infeasible to prepare 50 different examples. Instead, I would recommend having two to three examples for each core competency and then considering how you can take different aspects of each example and apply it to the wording of a range of more nuanced questions.


Broader Competency Questions

TCLA has a list of interview questions, which includes a subsection devoted to competency questions. I also kept a note of competency questions I was asked after each interview and I will discuss my approach to what is seemingly a massive range of questions.

I found that all of the questions below can be broken down into one of the core competency questions I outlined above. I have listed the core competency (as I see it) in bold next to the question. Sometimes I think that the question could deal with multiple possible core competencies, so I would spend thirty seconds or so in the interview thinking about which of my examples best fit the relevant question. It is great if some of the examples you come up with cross over several competencies!

Here is the list of competency questions I have personally been asked, in no particular order, followed by what in my opinion is the core competency being looked for:
  • What is a time you have demonstrated leadership skills? - Initiative/Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your approach at short notice? - Adaptability
  • What is a time where you succeeded by being attentive to detail? - Organisation
  • What is a time that you had to resolve a dispute with a co-worker? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you have successfully innovated? - Initiative
  • What is a time when you have recovered from a setback? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have demonstrated integrity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have spearheaded a project? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to manage multiple tight deadlines? - Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to persevere in the face of adversity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have had to deal with failure? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have taken on constructive feedback? - Resilience/Teamwork/Adaptability
  • What is a time you have improved a process? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you worked together in a team that proved really rewarding? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your method of communication for the audience? - Adaptability
  • What is a time that by listening, you managed to do better on something? - Adaptability/Teamwork

Working out which core competency is being asked for and then applying your examples on the spot is not easy, but it is much better than hearing a tricky competency question and having absolutely no idea what you should talk about!

I found that when I was able to think to myself, 'Which core competency/competencies do I think is/are being asked for here?' followed by 'What is my list of examples of this/these competency/competencies?' then I was able to remain calm and come up with a reasonably good answer on the spot.


Finally, can you use the same example more than once?

Yes, if you are unable to avoid doing so and if you have a unique point to make about the example!

If you are asked a particularly nuanced competency question that you think relates exceptionally well to an example you have already drawn upon in response to a different competency question and have no other relevant examples, then I would feel comfortable using it. This is provided that the competency addressed is entirely different and you are using a different element from your example to show this subsequent competency.

If you are asked two similar competency questions, however, then I would try to use different examples. For example I was once asked in an interview the question, 'What is a time when you have recovered from a setback?' and, later in the interview, 'What is a time you have had to deal with failure?' The questions are slightly different but seeing as I would have had nothing new to add to my first example in answering the second question, I assumed that the interviewers were looking for a different example of my resilience by asking such a similar question.

On the above point, I once had interviewers ask me for an example of a time when I had demonstrated teamwork, and when I was done they asked, 'How about another example?' and, having prepared another example, I was a little over-confident and so that after telling them about the second example I was totally not expecting them to ask again, 'How about another example?'...

This was the only time I had to make something up on the spot and it was clear that the interviewers were trying to get me away from what I had prepared, so I guess they won 🤣

And finally, I would try not to use the same example more than twice, if you can avoid doing so!


I hope that this week's interview insights post was helpful and please reach out if you have any questions as always :)
Motivational interviews are oftentimes the most important interviews for firms to determine which candidates they want to hire. Competency interviews, psychometric tests, written exercises and case studies are important insofar as they are box-ticking exercises to ensure that the candidate is good enough to manage the work. There will usually be more candidates who pass these assessments than training contracts on offer, however, meaning that motivational interviews can make or break an application.


What are motivational interviews?

I am talking about any interview where questions about the interviewee's motivations arise - the classic ones being 1. Why law? 2. Why commercial law? 3. Why our firm? I will briefly cover other specific examples of motivational questions first, however, before dealing with these broader ones in depth.


Examples of specific motivational questions include the following:

  • Why did you pursue your university degree?
  • What has attracted you to X practice area that you wrote about in your application?
  • What are you most attracted to about serving professional clients?
  • Why do you want to do international work?
etc.

When responding to such questions, I would structure my answer by explaining firstly where my interest first arose, then how my life experiences further informed my interest and finally how I believe that I will fulfil my interest by pursuing what I am apply for.

In my opinion, answering motivational questions is about telling a compelling story.


Classic motivational questions

I have mentioned 1. Why law? 2. Why commercial law? 3. Why our firm?

These come up frequently in application questions and I have many tips on answering motivational questions in application forms as part of my Application Pitfalls thread.

In motivational interviews, however, I have found that these three questions are often wrapped into one very broad and vague question, such as 'Tell us about yourself' or 'How have your life experiences culminated in you being here applying for this role?' These are both questions that I had in interviews and it is important to identify that they are, in essence, motivational questions!

For broad questions like these which are often the first things you get asked in an interview, I think that telling a story is key! It is a great skill to be able to convey your life as if it is a carefully crafted novel, with your application to the firm in question serving as a logical conclusion. Doing this effectively can really get your interviewers on your side from the outset!

I will offer a brief outline of the story I told in interviews where a broad question like this came up:

  • I would start by talking about my interest in languages and humanities during school and how I realised that I wanted to enter a cerebral profession where reading, paying attention to detail and being exacting about language were an integral component.
  • I mentioned how I was personally involved in a lawsuit which made me realise not just how interesting questions of law could be, but how much influence the law could have on people's lives.
  • I would mention how my additional passion for playing piano (this also gave me an option to mention that I needed time management skills to balance both academics and music) meant that I did not know what I wanted to study at university and so went to a US university where I could combine both.
  • I discussed how I explored a new course of study (International Relations) as part of my liberal arts curriculum and became passionate about broad issues of global affairs.
  • I tied all of this together to explain how I was particularly attracted to an international career, dealing especially with a regulatory, policy-focused area of law, at a firm where I could also significantly help people through pro bono work.
  • Finally, I would relate any interesting pieces of work or practice areas where the firm excelled to my own experiences or educational background.

Now this is a very brief overview of the kind of structure I would use to tie my 'story' together, and there are many details left out which I would bring in depending on the firm I was applying to at the time and the kind of work they do. For example, I would perhaps mention relevant work experience I had, or languages that I had developed proficiency in, or my undergraduate thesis if any of it related to work of the firm that I was interviewing for at the time.

Nevertheless, this was broadly a method of using my life story to explain why I was there interviewing for that firm at that time, and I think that other motivational questions require a similar approach to a greater or lesser extent. Instead of giving random, disconnected reasons why you want to be a lawyer, for example, see if you can combine all of your reasons and illustrate how they compounded over time to make you know that your calling is to be a lawyer.


I hope that all of this helps when thinking about how to approach motivational interviews :)
This week's weekly interview insight is not about a certain type of interview per se, but rather what to do in those moments during an interview (be it a video interview, competency interview, commercial interview etc.) where you are faced with a question that you simply don't know how to answer. This could be because the question is on a commercial topic you are unfamiliar with, or because it is a competency question you are unprepared for. There may be a complex situational judgment question where you are really unsure what the interviewers are getting at, or there could be a question designed to throw you off guard altogether.

I will give you an example of how I dealt with each of these situations in turn:


Commercial question on a topic I did not know well enough

I was asked to outline the exact mechanics of shorting a stock. I knew that the concept of shorting was 'betting against the stock' but I also knew that this was hardly a technical answer. At the same time, I figured that whilst there were definitely some candidates who would be able to give this answer, not every candidate would be able to do so and that I should at least give my simple answer to show that I knew the concept, before positing some ideas of how the mechanics may work.

In my answer, I suggested that there may need to be some element of borrowing stock from a broker in order to do this, but I did not quite reach the conclusion that I needed to sell the stock and buy it back until they prompted me on how I might ensure that I make money from a loss in value of the stock.

Ultimately, I do not think this hurt me at all because I showed the interviewers my thought process and they were able to see that I worked with the information they gave to me and could reach an answer in the end.


Competency question I was unprepared for

I was asked how I had managed a dispute or a challenging team dynamic and honestly, I should have been prepared for this question but my go-to examples for teamwork focused on the ways I positively went about facilitating teamwork and did not really consider the times that teamwork had broken down. This was a mistake in my preparation but regardless, I had to answer the question!

I was not ready to think up an entirely new example in order to address this question, but I was lucky to have a few teamwork examples to choose from, even if none of them fit the question perfectly. I then thought about each of these examples and considered where the team rapport was weakest and I proceeded to reflect on what made the team dynamic less successful than in my other examples.

From here I was able to identify the underlying tension in the team environment and could pinpoint several disputes that had occurred within the team, but I also recalled the fact that I had considered this to be one of my examples of successful teamwork...

Consequently, I was able to put two and two together and explain to my interviewers how I believed that I had helped to resolve difficulties and disputes within the team. It was not my most compelling answer ever, but it was certainly a respectable and genuine answer and I encourage you to take a similar approach when faced with a question you are not prepared for. Instead of kicking yourself for being unprepared and awkwardly coming up with something random, take a logical step-by-step approach to reaching an answer by drawing upon material that you do know.

Finally, I made sure to always have an answer in mind for this question in interviews thereafter!


Tricky Situational Judgement Question

I was asked what I would do if I had committed to preparing some work for a senior associate by the next day, but a partner told me last minute that I had to get a different piece of work done by the same deadline, and I was not able to do both well.

In the moment, it was really hard to know what my interviewers were looking for in this question. I figured that they could be looking to see whether I honoured my commitments and treated everyone equally with respect, which would lend itself towards focusing on the associate's work and letting the partner know that I had previously committed to another task. On the other hand, a partner's decision to give me work directly would suggest an element of urgency that there may not be on a previously delegated piece of work for an associate and it would be important to ascertain which deadline was most important.

The benefit of a live interview is that you can walk your interviewers through your thought processes, so it is not paramount that you actually arrive at the perfect answer to the same extent that it is in a situational judgement test, for example.

I explained my reasoning by first addressing both points of view. This was a way of covering all possible bases and hedging my bets in a way that I also could not have done in a situational judgement test. At the same time, I knew that I needed to come down on one side, so I explained that whilst I would need more information about the situation and the two tasks, I would lean towards the side of prioritising the partner's work and politely informing the associate.

I figured that the fact the partner was going directly to me as a trainee would mean that the work was a client matter which needed to be completed immediately, whereas the senior associate could have been delegating a matter that they were assigned to me. I would probably have let the partner know about my other commitment and see whether they instead preferred to ask another trainee to complete their assignment, or whether they told me to prioritise their assignment over that of the senior associate. Usually a partner would have no reason to undermine the request of a senior associate unless the circumstances were urgent. In such a case, I would make sure that I then went to the senior associate to fully explain the situation!

The thing I have learnt about these kinds of questions is that good answers tend to identify where more information about the context is required. To say with confidence which piece of work I would prioritise would likely not have been the best approach, in my opinion!


Stress Interview Question

Sometimes interviewers will deliberately try to throw you off guard altogether with a bizarre question, so that they can see how you react. The trick is to stay calm and think for a moment about what the question is really getting at, because it is never purely for the sake of antagonising you (although they will be interested to see if you become easily antagonised)!

My example here was when I was told by my interviewers that they knew I was not committed to commercial law because my resume demonstrated that I had too many other interests. They said that it was obvious I would leave to do something else within a few years.

I was really stumped by this statement, which was not delivered in a friendly way at all, but I could not help myself from laughing. I actually think that my reaction was good for the situation because one of the interviewers was subsequently unable to conceal a smirk and I felt more relaxed knowing that they were doing this deliberately, slightly tongue in cheek.

I probably made a bit of a mistake with my initial response, which was to ask whether this was simply a statement or a question 🤣 Because I had been so thrown by the question, I came out with that to awkwardly buy time whilst I thought up my answer. Anyway, it ended up not mattering and I felt that I was able to deliver a calm and composed answer about why I was incredibly committed to commercial law and how I saw my other interests fitting into my life.

At the end of the interview, the partner who asked this question told me that he really enjoyed talking to me and was impressed with my composure. I knew going forward that if I faced a similar question again, I would not have to worry about whether the interviewers had already ruled me out as a candidate but could just focus on answering the question as best I could!



Overall, the trick to answering questions that take you by surprise, no matter what they are, is to remain calm and feel free to use extra time to prepare your answer. You do not want to dive into an answer instinctively and end up getting flustered, which can show that you are either irritated by the question or unprepared for it. As long as you take time to think about how you will answer, it is not the end of the world if you do not have a particularly good answer because you can always show that you are willing to think and learn by asking for more information from the partners, or being honest about the topics you are unfamiliar with.

Ultimately, as long as you are well prepared for your interview, you should not worry about these situations. You will almost certainly face them and so will everyone else, so it will not scupper your interview if you are not 100% prepared for everyone question that you receive. The way that you compose yourself and respond to such questions is what your interviewers will be looking for :)

As ever, please let me know if you have any further questions about my experiences!
For the final instalment of my thread on 'Weekly Interview Insights' I thought it was important to discuss how I took lessons that I learnt from interviews and applied them to my preparation going forward, so that I could improve before the next interview. Being self-reflective is incredibly important during the interview process, because it enables you to rapidly discover what works and what does not.

First of all, I am going to focus this post primarily on interviews, but many of the same principles apply to video interviews, case studies, group exercises and written exercises as well. In relation to video interviews specifically, I would invite you to review my first post in this thread. I explain that I was unsuccessful with a video interview for a firm and was offered the opportunity for feedback, which I duly took on board and was successful in my next VI with the firm. In relation to case studies and/or group exercises, reflect on how well you were able to address your key points and make concise conclusions from them, and with written exercises, just continue to practise writing and making arguments in as clear a way as possible. Think about the kind of issues you addressed in your previous written exercises and be prepared to possibly address similar issues in subsequent ones.


For actual interviews, you should take as much time for self-reflection as you need after each one. I found that the majority of the time (but not always), I was able to successfully predict how my interview had gone. I had a sense for whether I had built rapport with my interviewers and whether they had given positive reactions to the comments I made, or whether they acted as if I had not quite answered their questions or they were not particularly interested in my answers.

Usually, this is as good as you are going to get in terms of insight as to how you did in an interview - it will come down to that intangible self-reflection of your performance that gives you an inkling of whether you will pass to the next stage. Think about the times where you felt that an answer had not gone down as well as you would have hoped, or where perhaps you wished you had mentioned something that you did not, and make note of them.


Indeed, there are some tangible things that you can do after an interview which will help you get yourself ready for the next one. I have compiled a list of steps you should take in the aftermath of an interview, starting with those which you should do within the hours directly after the interview and moving onto those that you can think about closer to your next interview:
  • Make a note of every question you got asked right after your interview
    • I always made sure to do this, especially for any questions that were tricky or caught me off guard. It is great to use resources like TCLA's training contract interview questions but I also found it really helpful to build up my own list of questions that I had actually been asked, because then I was able to make note of what I actually answered!

  • Make a note of your answers and how you thought your answers were taken by the interviewers
    • The benefit of noting down all the questions that you were asked is not only so that you can prepare for the same questions arising in future interviews. By doing this, you are also able to reflect on how comfortable you felt giving your answer (did it come naturally, or did it feel like you were searching for an answer in a panic on the spot?) and how well this answer was received. I would note down all the questions asked and the answers I gave, with a note next to each one as to whether or not I thought my answer was good enough to use again. Obviously this is not fool-proof as I may have thought some answers were great which the interviewers didn't, but on the whole I think that we tend to have a fairly good sense for these things.

  • Note down where rapport was good
    • This is another area where you can assess what 'worked' in your interview. This is more general and comes down to which topic of conversation made things very natural for you and your interviewers, and which aspects of your background did the interviewers take particular interest in? Having an idea of these things can help you to direct the conversation towards such topics in future, where it is natural to do so.

  • Give yourself general feedback
    • Bearing in mind the above points, jot down some notes with overall feedback for your own performance in the interview. After doing this, begin considering which areas of your commercial knowledge you need to brush up on, or which aspects of your motivations you think you need to express more clearly. Perhaps spend more time thinking about good competency examples from your past, if you think that that is the area where you need to improve. This exercise can be really helpful to consolidate your interview preparation and build on it for the next one!

  • Get feedback if you can, whether from grad rec or anyone else you interacted with
    • Finally, this is the best way to find out how you actually did in the interview. Even if you are successful in a vac scheme interview, then I would recommend asking for feedback so that you can apply it in advance of your final TC interview - many firms will oblige you. Not all feedback will be incredibly insightful, but it will usually point you towards the general things you need to work on and this can be incredibly helpful if you did not identify some of these areas in your self-reflection.

Finally, gain confidence from the past interviews you have done, whether or not they were successful. Practice makes perfect and once you know that you are at least able to hold your own in an interview environment, you will be able to loosen up for future interviews and start thinking about how to refine the answers you have given and make them more eloquent. Experience will help you stay relaxed, which will allow you to think more clearly on the spot and build up a dialogue with your interviewers.


I hope that this is helpful along with the rest of my posts in this thread! I really enjoy being able to provide my insights from a very difficult application process of my own, and in concluding this thread I hope that I have addressed many of your concerns about interviews.

Please reach out if you have any queries, and look out for a new thread of mine in the future 😊
 
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James Carrabino

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Week 1 - Video Interviews

I completed five video interviews across the 2020 - 2021 VS and direct TC application cycle.

  • 1. Firm A - The first one I did was unsuccessful, although it was combined with an online test and so I cannot be sure what exactly let me down. As I will discuss later, however, it is possible that my failure was due to being too prepared. Eh? How can you be too prepared? Well, it was my first ever video interview and *for full disclosure* I found the video interview questions somewhere online (I did not appreciate how unfair this was to candidates at the time, which is why we have a strict policy at TCLA of not disclosing VI questions) so I pretty much wrote out my answers. I was thinking that I had aced my VI for this reason and when I was rejected I assumed it was down to the online tests. With hindsight, however, I probably sounded scripted (because I was) and this can really ruin any sense of character that the person reviewing your video interview can get from you, which in some ways may be more important than the content since a lot of candidates will have great experiences. It often makes more sense for recruiters to assess the way that you convey your experiences more than your actual experiences, since beyond a certain point comparing individuals' experiences is like comparing apples with oranges!

  • 2. Firm B - The second video interview I completed was the one that I thought went worst! There was a technical glitch which meant that I did not get my full time to answer one of the questions (I realised that this was my own fault for using the wrong web browser - make sure to follow all of the instructions they give you!!!) and then two of the questions I felt quite unprepared for - but again, hindsight may indicate that the fact I had to think on my feet worked in my favour. For example, there was a question about a business I admired and my mind went blank for the first 30 seconds of preparation so I decided that I had to talk about something and I talked about the pub that I worked at during my gap year, because of how great the culture and customer service was :) At the time, I thought I had given an awful answer (I assumed that the firm was looking for candidates to talk about a much bigger commercial enterprise) but looking back, the sincerity of my answer may have shone through and I ended up progressing past VI stage!

  • 3. Firm C - For the third video interview I completed I am not quite sure what went wrong, to be honest. There were five questions, which I think was the most I had to answer in an individual VI and they were tricky! That said, I thought that I was not too rehearsed but still answered well - it just goes to show how competitive these things all are and that even if you do your best, any number of factors could still lead to a rejection. The main thing is to put yourself in the best position to get at least some successes by preparing well (but not over-rehearsing) for each VI that you do.

  • 4 and 5. Firm D - I completed two video interviews for this firm across the same application cycle, first for the firm's vac scheme (I did not progress past that VI) and secondly for the firm's direct TC (I ended up with the TC offer). I have given some deeper insight into my experience with this firm in particular below, because it was probably the one where I learnt most about what firms are looking for in VIs:

In the first VI for Firm D, I spent ages preparing for it (I went back to thinking that I needed to be well-rehearsed after my VI for Firm C was unsuccessful) and I thought I had aced it because I had managed to prepare the exact questions that came up (I did not have access to the questions this time but I rehearsed a lot of different possible questions). I got rejected and the firm provided feedback, the main point of which being that my answers sounded scripted (they were not scripted, but I did perhaps overly rehearse them).

I got to VI again in my direct TC application at Firm D and thought 'Let's just get this over with because clearly all the prep in the world got me nowhere'. I spent a maximum of an hour refreshing my memory on the firm and clicked start - I passed the VI stage.


Biggest conclusions/takeaways

There were many more 'ums' and 'ers' in my second video interview with the firm for sure, but I could tell that my answers sounded more authentic and conversational. Most importantly, I was really able to use the preparation time not trying to recall everything that I wanted to mention, but rather thinking about how I could make sure I actually answered the exact question being asked. I probably included less information in the process, but I realised that stuffing examples of your research into your answer is not the way to showing your genuine understanding of the topic or motivation for applying to the firm.

Overall, my recommendations from my own anecdotal experiences would be that you should prepare well, but set yourself a deadline for doing the video interview. Think of your preparation as a foundation of knowledge that will facilitate your confidence in answering any question they ask you, as opposed to a rehearsal of what you will actually be saying when answering.


I hope that my anecdotal experiences offer some interesting insight on how to approach video interviews :)
 
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James Carrabino

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Week 2 - Commercial Interviews

As someone who entered the Vacation Scheme and Training Contract application process without a vast amount of prior commercial knowledge, I could have really benefitted from someone telling me how to make up for lost time and develop my commercial awareness in the most efficient way possible.

In this post I offer my advice about what to focus on and how to excel in these interviews, short of reading dozens of books and trying to learn everything about commerce and the City in the space of a few months. To start with, I would recommend signing up to read the free Finimize daily brief and staying up to date with TCLA's newsletter! Consider paying for a membership to Watson's Daily which is meant to be excellent. If you have a specific firm in mind that you are interviewing for, then keep abreast of new developments for that firm by entering the firm's name as a Google Alert to your Google Account.

Now, these resources are all excellent starting points but they won't fully make up for years of engagement with business news and commercial developments, so how do you approach commercial interviews if you feel that you are not particularly commercially aware?

First of all, work out what kind of commercial interview you need to prepare for as there are different kinds of commercial interviews. Commercial interviews can take the form of a commercial case study, analysis of a commercial article, or simply an interview revolving at least partly around your commercial awareness and current business news stories.

  • For a commercial case study, @Jacob Miller's definitive guide to law firm case studies is truly excellent! I remember reading it the day before my first AC and making notes on all the possible issues that could arise, using his table for inspiration.
    • I separated my list into legal, commercial and reputational issues and included the following bullet points amongst other things:
      • Stakeholder interests
      • Methods of financing
      • Due diligence
      • Risks of litigation
      • Warranties + indemnities
      • Possible synergies
      • Employment issues
      • Competition/antitrust regulations
      • Tax implications
      • Client's competitors
      • Future client relationships
    • I would go into a case study interview with these in my mind and essentially check off those that were not relevant to the case study at hand. The beauty of this was that to an extent I did not even need to be good at thinking on my feet or worry about relying on my commercial instinct, because I could prepare well for the kinds of things I wanted to mention in advance, even without knowing the scenario of the case study. Thank you @Jacob Miller!

  • For an interview where you have to analyse a commercial article, you have to rely on your own analytical abilities to a large extent, but as far as commercial knowledge is required, I believe that this can be prepared here too. The eleven bullet points listed above are a good starting point for big picture implications to be thinking about when reading the article, as these are things that you are likely to get asked about by your interviewers. You can also help focus your analysis by following a very clear structure when you respond to (in writing, presentation or Q&A) the article after reading it. My suggested structure for questions you should be asking yourself is as follows:
    • What are the key facts of the article?
    • What are the main issues arising for the various parties discussed in the article?
    • What are the big picture implications for the market being discussed in the article?
    • How would the issues raised in the article relate to law firms?
    • How would the issues in the article be of interest to the law firm you are interviewing with, and which practice areas would take a particular interest in these issues?

  • For an interview more generally related to your commercial awareness and current business news, you can prepare yourself well but there is always a reasonable chance of the interviewer grilling you on a point you know little about. This means that such interviews involve a small element of faking it till you make it 🤣 What do I mean by this? Well, there will possibly be those moments when you have to act as if you are calm and composed but when you actually have no idea what you were just asked! Often, it will not hurt if you ask for further clarification on the question or simply state that you are unsure of the answer, before explaining how you might approach the question if you knew more about the topic. In one of my successful vac scheme interviews, I must have said 'I don't know' at least five times, before talking about the kinds of things that I thought could be relevant to the question (without really knowing whether they were relevant or not)! I had a three-step process below for preparing for such interviews:
    • Prepare a couple of business news stories that genuinely interest you and that you can discuss cogently.
    • Prepare to be able to talk about a certain area of business or law that is of particular interest to you, especially if you are going to claim it as a key interest of yours.
    • Focus on keeping up to date with commercial news and developments relating to any firm that you are interviewing for.
    • Ask a friend to give you a mock interview in which they ask you about a topic you know nothing about (it does not even need to be related to commercial law). Rehearse what you would say and do in this scenario so that you will able to remain composed in the interview itself, and prepare which questions you would ask your interviewers in return so as to pinpoint what exactly they want from you as a response.

Finally, it is worth brushing up on some commercial terminology, either by going over common terms with friends or by using an online commercial law glossary like this one, although these can be a bit dense with the amount of terminology they include.

Overall, a week of preparation can get your commercial awareness ~85% there, in my opinion. There were one or two occasions where I realised that months of business study could have helped, but on the whole I got myself in the right shape for commercial interviews by following the tips I have provided above.

I hope that this post gives some useful pointers about how to approach commercial interviews if you do not feel like the most commercial person in the world! Please let me know if you have any further questions about any of this 😊
 

S30

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Week 2 - Commercial Interviews

As someone who entered the Vacation Scheme and Training Contract application process without a vast amount of prior commercial knowledge, I could have really benefitted from someone telling me how to make up for lost time and develop my commercial awareness in the most efficient way possible.

In this post I offer my advice about what to focus on and how to excel in these interviews, short of reading dozens of books and trying to learn everything about commerce and the City in the space of a few months. To start with, I would recommend signing up to read the free Finimize daily brief and staying up to date with TCLA's newsletter! Consider paying for a membership to Watson's Daily which is meant to be excellent. If you have a specific firm in mind that you are interviewing for, then keep abreast of new developments for that firm by entering the firm's name as a Google Alert to your Google Account.

Now, these resources are all excellent starting points but they won't fully make up for years of engagement with business news and commercial developments, so how do you approach commercial interviews if you feel that you are not particularly commercially aware?

First of all, work out what kind of commercial interview you need to prepare for as there are different kinds of commercial interviews. Commercial interviews can take the form of a commercial case study, analysis of a commercial article, or simply an interview revolving at least partly around your commercial awareness and current business news stories.

  • For a commercial case study, @Jacob Miller's definitive guideto law firm case studies is truly excellent! I remember reading it the day before my first AC and making notes on all the possible issues that could arise, using his table for inspiration.
    • I separated my list into legal, commercial and reputational issues and included the following bullet points amongst other things:
      • Stakeholder interests
      • Methods of financing
      • Due diligence
      • Risks of litigation
      • Warranties + indemnities
      • Possible synergies
      • Employment issues
      • Competition/antitrust regulations
      • Tax implications
      • Client's competitors
      • Future client relationships
    • I would go into a case study interview with these in my mind and essentially check off those that were not relevant to the case study at hand. The beauty of this was that to an extent I did not even need to be good at thinking on my feet or worry about relying on my commercial instinct, because I could prepare well for the kinds of things I wanted to mention in advance, even without knowing the scenario of the case study. Thank you @Jacob Miller!

  • For an interview where you have to analyse a commercial article, you have to rely on your own analytical abilities to a large extent, but as far as commercial knowledge is required, I believe that this can be prepared here too. The eleven bullet points listed above are a good starting point for big picture implications to be thinking about when reading the article, as these are things that you are likely to get asked about by your interviewers. You can also help focus your analysis by following a very clear structure when you respond to (in writing, presentation or Q&A) the article after reading it. My suggested structure for questions you should be asking yourself is as follows:
    • What are the key facts of the article?
    • What are the main issues arising for the various parties discussed in the article?
    • What are the big picture implications for the market being discussed in the article?
    • How would the issues raised in the article relate to law firms?
    • How would the issues in the article be of interest to the law firm you are interviewing with, and which practice areas would take a particular interest in these issues?

  • For an interview more generally related to your commercial awareness and current business news, you can prepare yourself well but there is always a reasonable chance of the interviewer grilling you on a point you know little about. This means that such interviews involve a small element of faking it till you make it 🤣What do I mean by this? Well, there will possibly be those moments when you have to act as if you are calm and composed but when you actually have no idea what you were just asked! Often, it will not hurt if you ask for further clarification on the question or simply state that you are unsure of the answer, before explaining how you might approach the question if you knew more about the topic. In one of my successful vac scheme interviews, I must have said 'I don't know' at least five times, before talking about the kinds of things that I thought could be relevant to the question (without really knowing whether they were relevant or not)! I had a three-step process below for preparing for such interviews:
    • Prepare a couple of business news stories that genuinely interest you and that you can discuss cogently.
    • Prepare to be able to talk about a certain area of business or law that is of particular interest to you, especially if you are going to claim it as a key interest of yours.
    • Focus on keeping up to date with commercial news and developments relating to any firm that you are interviewing for.
    • Ask a friend to give you a mock interview in which they ask you about a topic you know nothing about (it does not even need to be related to commercial law). Rehearse what you would say and do in this scenario so that you will able to remain composed in the interview itself, and prepare which questions you would ask your interviewers in return so as to pinpoint what exactly they want from you as a response.

Finally, it is worth brushing up on some commercial terminology, either by going over common terms with friends or by using an online commercial law glossary like this one, although these can be a bit dense with the amount of terminology they include.

Overall, a week of preparation can get your commercial awareness ~85% there, in my opinion. There were one or two occasions where I realised that months of business study could have helped, but on the whole I got myself in the right shape for commercial interviews by following the tips I have provided above.

I hope that this post gives some useful pointers about how to approach commercial interviews if you do not feel like the most commercial person in the world! Please let me know if you have any further questions about any of this 😊
A very insightful post, thank you @James Carrabino 😊!!
 

James Carrabino

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Week 3 - Competency-Based Interviews

Competency-based interviews are the bane of many candidates' interview processes. They can be extremely challenging since they require that you think of examples from your life when you have demonstrated a wide range of skills that are relevant to the work of a solicitor.

This not only requires that you have demonstrated these skills to a high level throughout work, education, extra-curricular activities or life more generally, but it requires that you are able to recall relevant examples at the spur of the moment when asked in an interview!

Of course, it is possible to prepare for such questions so that you are not racking your brain to search through all your life experiences on the spot, and this post seeks to help you prepare in what I found to be the most effective way possible from my own anecdotal experiences.


Core Competency Questions

First of all, I discovered that in my opinion, there were essentially five types of core competency questions that I think you can almost be guaranteed to be asked about in one form or another throughout an interview process. These are questions that ask you for a time you demonstrated one of the following qualities:
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Organisation
Questions about leadership also came up a lot but I found that they somewhat combine teamwork and initiative, so it is good to have an example that crosses over these two core competencies. I always used an example where I had a leadership role in the situation, but also had to contribute to the efforts of the wider team as well. This meant that I could draw upon one of my teamwork examples and did not have to recall a completely separate set of facts for a question about leadership.

People often advised me that I should have two to three examples prepared for every competency, but there are dozens of potential competencies and it would be infeasible to prepare 50 different examples. Instead, I would recommend having two to three examples for each core competency and then considering how you can take different aspects of each example and apply it to the wording of a range of more nuanced questions.


Broader Competency Questions

TCLA has a list of interview questions, which includes a subsection devoted to competency questions. I also kept a note of competency questions I was asked after each interview and I will discuss my approach to what is seemingly a massive range of questions.

I found that all of the questions below can be broken down into one of the core competency questions I outlined above. I have listed the core competency (as I see it) in bold next to the question. Sometimes I think that the question could deal with multiple possible core competencies, so I would spend thirty seconds or so in the interview thinking about which of my examples best fit the relevant question. It is great if some of the examples you come up with cross over several competencies!

Here is the list of competency questions I have personally been asked, in no particular order, followed by what in my opinion is the core competency being looked for:
  • What is a time you have demonstrated leadership skills? - Initiative/Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your approach at short notice? - Adaptability
  • What is a time where you succeeded by being attentive to detail? - Organisation
  • What is a time that you had to resolve a dispute with a co-worker? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you have successfully innovated? - Initiative
  • What is a time when you have recovered from a setback? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have demonstrated integrity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have spearheaded a project? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to manage multiple tight deadlines? - Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to persevere in the face of adversity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have had to deal with failure? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have taken on constructive feedback? - Resilience/Teamwork/Adaptability
  • What is a time you have improved a process? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you worked together in a team that proved really rewarding? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your method of communication for the audience? - Adaptability
  • What is a time that by listening, you managed to do better on something? - Adaptability/Teamwork

Working out which core competency is being asked for and then applying your examples on the spot is not easy, but it is much better than hearing a tricky competency question and having absolutely no idea what you should talk about!

I found that when I was able to think to myself, 'Which core competency/competencies do I think is/are being asked for here?' followed by 'What is my list of examples of this/these competency/competencies?' then I was able to remain calm and come up with a reasonably good answer on the spot.


Finally, can you use the same example more than once?

Yes, if you are unable to avoid doing so and if you have a unique point to make about the example!

If you are asked a particularly nuanced competency question that you think relates exceptionally well to an example you have already drawn upon in response to a different competency question and have no other relevant examples, then I would feel comfortable using it. This is provided that the competency addressed is entirely different and you are using a different element from your example to show this subsequent competency.

If you are asked two similar competency questions, however, then I would try to use different examples. For example I was once asked in an interview the question, 'What is a time when you have recovered from a setback?' and, later in the interview, 'What is a time you have had to deal with failure?' The questions are slightly different but seeing as I would have had nothing new to add to my first example in answering the second question, I assumed that the interviewers were looking for a different example of my resilience by asking such a similar question.

On the above point, I once had interviewers ask me for an example of a time when I had demonstrated teamwork, and when I was done they asked, 'How about another example?' and, having prepared another example, I was a little over-confident and so that after telling them about the second example I was totally not expecting them to ask again, 'How about another example?'...

This was the only time I had to make something up on the spot and it was clear that the interviewers were trying to get me away from what I had prepared, so I guess they won 🤣

And finally, I would try not to use the same example more than twice, if you can avoid doing so!


I hope that this week's interview insights post was helpful and please reach out if you have any questions as always :)
 
Last edited:

George Maxwell

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Week 3 - Competency-Based Interviews

Competency-based interviews are the bane of many candidates' interview processes. They can be extremely challenging since they require that you think of examples from your life when you have demonstrated a wide range of skills that are relevant to the work of a solicitor.

This not only requires that you have demonstrated these skills to a high level throughout work, education, extra-curricular activities or life more generally, but it requires that you are able to recall relevant examples at the spur of the moment when asked in an interview!

Of course, it is possible to prepare for such questions so that you are not racking your brain to search through all your life experiences on the spot, and this post seeks to help you prepare in what I found to be the most effective way possible from my own anecdotal experiences.


Core Competency Questions

First of all, I discovered that in my opinion, there were essentially five types of core competency questions that I think you can almost be guaranteed to be asked about in one form or another throughout an interview process. These are questions that ask you for a time you demonstrated one of the following qualities:
  • Teamwork
  • Initiative
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Organisation
Questions about leadership also came up a lot but I found that they somewhat combine teamwork and initiative, so it is good to have an example that crosses over these two core competencies. I always used an example where I had a leadership role in the situation, but also had to contribute to the efforts of the wider team as well. This meant that I could draw upon one of my teamwork examples and did not have to recall a completely separate set of facts for a question about leadership.

People often advised me that I should have two to three examples prepared for every competency, but there are dozens of potential competencies and it would be infeasible to prepare 50 different examples. Instead, I would recommend having two to three examples for each core competency and then considering how you can take different aspects of each example and apply it to the wording of a range of more nuanced questions.


Broader Competency Questions

TCLA has a list of interview questions, which includes a subsection devoted to competency questions. I also kept a note of competency questions I was asked after each interview and I will discuss my approach to what is seemingly a massive range of questions.

I found that all of the questions below can be broken down into one of the core competency questions I outlined above. I have listed the core competency (as I see it) in bold next to the question. Sometimes I think that the question could deal with multiple possible core competencies, so I would spend thirty seconds or so in the interview thinking about which of my examples best fit the relevant question. It is great if some of the examples you come up with cross over several competencies!

Here is the list of competency questions I have personally been asked, in no particular order, followed by what in my opinion is the core competency being looked for:
  • What is a time you have demonstrated leadership skills? - Initiative/Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your approach at short notice? - Adaptability
  • What is a time where you succeeded by being attentive to detail? - Organisation
  • What is a time that you had to resolve a dispute with a co-worker? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you have successfully innovated? - Initiative
  • What is a time when you have recovered from a setback? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have demonstrated integrity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have spearheaded a project? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to manage multiple tight deadlines? - Organisation
  • What is a time you have had to persevere in the face of adversity? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have had to deal with failure? - Resilience
  • What is a time you have taken on constructive feedback? - Resilience/Teamwork/Adaptability
  • What is a time you have improved a process? - Initiative/Organisation
  • What is a time you worked together in a team that proved really rewarding? - Teamwork
  • What is a time you had to change your method of communication for the audience? - Adaptability
  • What is a time that by listening, you managed to do better on something? - Adaptability/Teamwork

Working out which core competency is being asked for and then applying your examples on the spot is not easy, but it is much better than hearing a tricky competency question and having absolutely no idea what you should talk about!

I found that when I was able to think to myself, 'Which core competency/competencies do I think is/are being asked for here?' followed by 'What is my list of examples of this/these competency/competencies?' then I was able to remain calm and come up with a reasonably good answer on the spot.


Finally, can you use the same example more than once?

Yes, if you are unable to avoid doing so and if you have a unique point to make about the example!

If you are asked a particularly nuanced competency question that you think relates exceptionally well to an example you have already drawn upon in response to a different competency question and have no other relevant examples, then I would feel comfortable using it. This is provided that the competency addressed is entirely different and you are using a different element from your example to show this subsequent competency.

If you are asked two similar competency questions, however, then I would try to use different examples. For example I was once asked in an interview the question, 'What is a time when you have recovered from a setback?' and, later in the interview, 'What is a time you have had to deal with failure?' The questions are slightly different but seeing as I would have had nothing new to add to my first example in answering the second question, I assumed that the interviewers were looking for a different example of my resilience by asking such a similar question.

On the above point, I once had interviewers ask me for an example of a time when I had demonstrated teamwork, and when I was done they asked, 'How about another example?' and, having prepared another example, I was a little over-confident and so that after telling them about the second example I was totally not expecting them to ask again, 'How about another example?'...

This was the only time I had to make something up on the spot and it was clear that the interviewers were trying to get me away from what I had prepared, so I guess they won 🤣

And finally, I would try not to use the same example more than twice, if you can avoid doing so!


I hope that this week's interview insights post was helpful and please reach out if you have any questions as always :)
Great stuff @James Carrabino!
 

James Carrabino

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Week 4 - Motivational Interviews

Motivational interviews are oftentimes the most important interviews for firms to determine which candidates they want to hire. Competency interviews, psychometric tests, written exercises and case studies are important insofar as they are box-ticking exercises to ensure that the candidate is good enough to manage the work. There will usually be more candidates who pass these assessments than training contracts on offer, however, meaning that motivational interviews can make or break an application.


What are motivational interviews?

I am talking about any interview where questions about the interviewee's motivations arise - the classic ones being 1. Why law? 2. Why commercial law? 3. Why our firm? I will briefly cover other specific examples of motivational questions first, however, before dealing with these broader ones in depth.


Examples of specific motivational questions include the following:

  • Why did you pursue your university degree?
  • What has attracted you to X practice area that you wrote about in your application?
  • What are you most attracted to about serving professional clients?
  • Why do you want to do international work?
etc.

When responding to such questions, I would structure my answer by explaining firstly where my interest first arose, then how my life experiences further informed my interest and finally how I believe that I will fulfil my interest by pursuing what I am apply for.

In my opinion, answering motivational questions is about telling a compelling story.


Classic motivational questions

I have mentioned 1. Why law? 2. Why commercial law? 3. Why our firm?

These come up frequently in application questions and I have many tips on answering motivational questions in application forms as part of my Application Pitfalls thread.

In motivational interviews, however, I have found that these three questions are often wrapped into one very broad and vague question, such as 'Tell us about yourself' or 'How have your life experiences culminated in you being here applying for this role?' These are both questions that I had in interviews and it is important to identify that they are, in essence, motivational questions!

For broad questions like these which are often the first things you get asked in an interview, I think that telling a story is key! It is a great skill to be able to convey your life as if it is a carefully crafted novel, with your application to the firm in question serving as a logical conclusion. Doing this effectively can really get your interviewers on your side from the outset!

I will offer a brief outline of the story I told in interviews where a broad question like this came up:

  • I would start by talking about my interest in languages and humanities during school and how I realised that I wanted to enter a cerebral profession where reading, paying attention to detail and being exacting about language were an integral component.
  • I mentioned how I was personally involved in a lawsuit which made me realise not just how interesting questions of law could be, but how much influence the law could have on people's lives.
  • I would mention how my additional passion for playing piano (this also gave me an option to mention that I needed time management skills to balance both academics and music) meant that I did not know what I wanted to study at university and so went to a US university where I could combine both.
  • I discussed how I explored a new course of study (International Relations) as part of my liberal arts curriculum and became passionate about broad issues of global affairs.
  • I tied all of this together to explain how I was particularly attracted to an international career, dealing especially with a regulatory, policy-focused area of law, at a firm where I could also significantly help people through pro bono work.
  • Finally, I would relate any interesting pieces of work or practice areas where the firm excelled to my own experiences or educational background.

Now this is a very brief overview of the kind of structure I would use to tie my 'story' together, and there are many details left out which I would bring in depending on the firm I was applying to at the time and the kind of work they do. For example, I would perhaps mention relevant work experience I had, or languages that I had developed proficiency in, or my undergraduate thesis if any of it related to work of the firm that I was interviewing for at the time.

Nevertheless, this was broadly a method of using my life story to explain why I was there interviewing for that firm at that time, and I think that other motivational questions require a similar approach to a greater or lesser extent. Instead of giving random, disconnected reasons why you want to be a lawyer, for example, see if you can combine all of your reasons and illustrate how they compounded over time to make you know that your calling is to be a lawyer.


I hope that all of this helps when thinking about how to approach motivational interviews :)
 
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James Carrabino

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Week 5 - Difficult Moments in Interviews

This week's weekly interview insight is not about a certain type of interview per se, but rather what to do in those moments during an interview (be it a video interview, competency interview, commercial interview etc.) where you are faced with a question that you simply don't know how to answer. This could be because the question is on a commercial topic you are unfamiliar with, or because it is a competency question you are unprepared for. There may be a complex situational judgment question where you are really unsure what the interviewers are getting at, or there could be a question designed to throw you off guard altogether.

I will give you an example of how I dealt with each of these situations in turn:


Commercial question on a topic I did not know well enough

I was asked to outline the exact mechanics of shorting a stock. I knew that the concept of shorting was 'betting against the stock' but I also knew that this was hardly a technical answer. At the same time, I figured that whilst there were definitely some candidates who would be able to give this answer, not every candidate would be able to do so and that I should at least give my simple answer to show that I knew the concept, before positing some ideas of how the mechanics may work.

In my answer, I suggested that there may need to be some element of borrowing stock from a broker in order to do this, but I did not quite reach the conclusion that I needed to sell the stock and buy it back until they prompted me on how I might ensure that I make money from a loss in value of the stock.

Ultimately, I do not think this hurt me at all because I showed the interviewers my thought process and they were able to see that I worked with the information they gave to me and could reach an answer in the end.


Competency question I was unprepared for

I was asked how I had managed a dispute or a challenging team dynamic and honestly, I should have been prepared for this question but my go-to examples for teamwork focused on the ways I positively went about facilitating teamwork and did not really consider the times that teamwork had broken down. This was a mistake in my preparation but regardless, I had to answer the question!

I was not ready to think up an entirely new example in order to address this question, but I was lucky to have a few teamwork examples to choose from, even if none of them fit the question perfectly. I then thought about each of these examples and considered where the team rapport was weakest and I proceeded to reflect on what made the team dynamic less successful than in my other examples.

From here I was able to identify the underlying tension in the team environment and could pinpoint several disputes that had occurred within the team, but I also recalled the fact that I had considered this to be one of my examples of successful teamwork...

Consequently, I was able to put two and two together and explain to my interviewers how I believed that I had helped to resolve difficulties and disputes within the team. It was not my most compelling answer ever, but it was certainly a respectable and genuine answer and I encourage you to take a similar approach when faced with a question you are not prepared for. Instead of kicking yourself for being unprepared and awkwardly coming up with something random, take a logical step-by-step approach to reaching an answer by drawing upon material that you do know.

Finally, I made sure to always have an answer in mind for this question in interviews thereafter!


Tricky Situational Judgement Question

I was asked what I would do if I had committed to preparing some work for a senior associate by the next day, but a partner told me last minute that I had to get a different piece of work done by the same deadline, and I was not able to do both well.

In the moment, it was really hard to know what my interviewers were looking for in this question. I figured that they could be looking to see whether I honoured my commitments and treated everyone equally with respect, which would lend itself towards focusing on the associate's work and letting the partner know that I had previously committed to another task. On the other hand, a partner's decision to give me work directly would suggest an element of urgency that there may not be on a previously delegated piece of work for an associate and it would be important to ascertain which deadline was most important.

The benefit of a live interview is that you can walk your interviewers through your thought processes, so it is not paramount that you actually arrive at the perfect answer to the same extent that it is in a situational judgement test, for example.

I explained my reasoning by first addressing both points of view. This was a way of covering all possible bases and hedging my bets in a way that I also could not have done in a situational judgement test. At the same time, I knew that I needed to come down on one side, so I explained that whilst I would need more information about the situation and the two tasks, I would lean towards the side of prioritising the partner's work and politely informing the associate.

I figured that the fact the partner was going directly to me as a trainee would mean that the work was a client matter which needed to be completed immediately, whereas the senior associate could have been delegating a matter that they were assigned to me. I would probably have let the partner know about my other commitment and see whether they instead preferred to ask another trainee to complete their assignment, or whether they told me to prioritise their assignment over that of the senior associate. Usually a partner would have no reason to undermine the request of a senior associate unless the circumstances were urgent. In such a case, I would make sure that I then went to the senior associate to fully explain the situation!

The thing I have learnt about these kinds of questions is that good answers tend to identify where more information about the context is required. To say with confidence which piece of work I would prioritise would likely not have been the best approach, in my opinion!


Stress Interview Question

Sometimes interviewers will deliberately try to throw you off guard altogether with a bizarre question, so that they can see how you react. The trick is to stay calm and think for a moment about what the question is really getting at, because it is never purely for the sake of antagonising you (although they will be interested to see if you become easily antagonised)!

My example here was when I was told by my interviewers that they knew I was not committed to commercial law because my resume demonstrated that I had too many other interests. They said that it was obvious I would leave to do something else within a few years.

I was really stumped by this statement, which was not delivered in a friendly way at all, but I could not help myself from laughing. I actually think that my reaction was good for the situation because one of the interviewers was subsequently unable to conceal a smirk and I felt more relaxed knowing that they were doing this deliberately, slightly tongue in cheek.

I probably made a bit of a mistake with my initial response, which was to ask whether this was simply a statement or a question 🤣 Because I had been so thrown by the question, I came out with that to awkwardly buy time whilst I thought up my answer. Anyway, it ended up not mattering and I felt that I was able to deliver a calm and composed answer about why I was incredibly committed to commercial law and how I saw my other interests fitting into my life.

At the end of the interview, the partner who asked this question told me that he really enjoyed talking to me and was impressed with my composure. I knew going forward that if I faced a similar question again, I would not have to worry about whether the interviewers had already ruled me out as a candidate but could just focus on answering the question as best I could!



Overall, the trick to answering questions that take you by surprise, no matter what they are, is to remain calm and feel free to use extra time to prepare your answer. You do not want to dive into an answer instinctively and end up getting flustered, which can show that you are either irritated by the question or unprepared for it. As long as you take time to think about how you will answer, it is not the end of the world if you do not have a particularly good answer because you can always show that you are willing to think and learn by asking for more information from the partners, or being honest about the topics you are unfamiliar with.

Ultimately, as long as you are well prepared for your interview, you should not worry about these situations. You will almost certainly face them and so will everyone else, so it will not scupper your interview if you are not 100% prepared for everyone question that you receive. The way that you compose yourself and respond to such questions is what your interviewers will be looking for :)

As ever, please let me know if you have any further questions about my experiences!
 
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James Carrabino

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Week 6 - Improving Between Interviews

For the final instalment of my thread on 'Weekly Interview Insights' I thought it was important to discuss how I took lessons that I learnt from interviews and applied them to my preparation going forward, so that I could improve before the next interview. Being self-reflective is incredibly important during the interview process, because it enables you to rapidly discover what works and what does not.

First of all, I am going to focus this post primarily on interviews, but many of the same principles apply to video interviews, case studies, group exercises and written exercises as well. In relation to video interviews specifically, I would invite you to review my first post in this thread. I explain that I was unsuccessful with a video interview for a firm and was offered the opportunity for feedback, which I duly took on board and was successful in my next VI with the firm. In relation to case studies and/or group exercises, reflect on how well you were able to address your key points and make concise conclusions from them, and with written exercises, just continue to practise writing and making arguments in as clear a way as possible. Think about the kind of issues you addressed in your previous written exercises and be prepared to possibly address similar issues in subsequent ones.


For actual interviews, you should take as much time for self-reflection as you need after each one. I found that the majority of the time (but not always), I was able to successfully predict how my interview had gone. I had a sense for whether I had built rapport with my interviewers and whether they had given positive reactions to the comments I made, or whether they acted as if I had not quite answered their questions or they were not particularly interested in my answers.

Usually, this is as good as you are going to get in terms of insight as to how you did in an interview - it will come down to that intangible self-reflection of your performance that gives you an inkling of whether you will pass to the next stage. Think about the times where you felt that an answer had not gone down as well as you would have hoped, or where perhaps you wished you had mentioned something that you did not, and make note of them.


Indeed, there are some tangible things that you can do after an interview which will help you get yourself ready for the next one. I have compiled a list of steps you should take in the aftermath of an interview, starting with those which you should do within the hours directly after the interview and moving onto those that you can think about closer to your next interview:
  • Make a note of every question you got asked right after your interview
    • I always made sure to do this, especially for any questions that were tricky or caught me off guard. It is great to use resources like TCLA's training contract interview questions but I also found it really helpful to build up my own list of questions that I had actually been asked, because then I was able to make note of what I actually answered!

  • Make a note of your answers and how you thought your answers were taken by the interviewers
    • The benefit of noting down all the questions that you were asked is not only so that you can prepare for the same questions arising in future interviews. By doing this, you are also able to reflect on how comfortable you felt giving your answer (did it come naturally, or did it feel like you were searching for an answer in a panic on the spot?) and how well this answer was received. I would note down all the questions asked and the answers I gave, with a note next to each one as to whether or not I thought my answer was good enough to use again. Obviously this is not fool-proof as I may have thought some answers were great which the interviewers didn't, but on the whole I think that we tend to have a fairly good sense for these things.

  • Note down where rapport was good
    • This is another area where you can assess what 'worked' in your interview. This is more general and comes down to which topic of conversation made things very natural for you and your interviewers, and which aspects of your background did the interviewers take particular interest in? Having an idea of these things can help you to direct the conversation towards such topics in future, where it is natural to do so.

  • Give yourself general feedback
    • Bearing in mind the above points, jot down some notes with overall feedback for your own performance in the interview. After doing this, begin considering which areas of your commercial knowledge you need to brush up on, or which aspects of your motivations you think you need to express more clearly. Perhaps spend more time thinking about good competency examples from your past, if you think that that is the area where you need to improve. This exercise can be really helpful to consolidate your interview preparation and build on it for the next one!

  • Get feedback if you can, whether from grad rec or anyone else you interacted with
    • Finally, this is the best way to find out how you actually did in the interview. Even if you are successful in a vac scheme interview, then I would recommend asking for feedback so that you can apply it in advance of your final TC interview - many firms will oblige you. Not all feedback will be incredibly insightful, but it will usually point you towards the general things you need to work on and this can be incredibly helpful if you did not identify some of these areas in your self-reflection.

Finally, gain confidence from the past interviews you have done, whether or not they were successful. Practice makes perfect and once you know that you are at least able to hold your own in an interview environment, you will be able to loosen up for future interviews and start thinking about how to refine the answers you have given and make them more eloquent. Experience will help you stay relaxed, which will allow you to think more clearly on the spot and build up a dialogue with your interviewers.


I hope that this is helpful along with the rest of my posts in this thread! I really enjoy being able to provide my insights from a very difficult application process of my own, and in concluding this thread I hope that I have addressed many of your concerns about interviews.

Please reach out if you have any queries, and look out for a new thread of mine in the future 😊
 
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