How to prepare for law firm telephone interview with graduate recruitment
Introduction to telephone interviews
Commercial law firms will receive so many excellent applications that they cannot possibly interview everyone in person. Telephone interviews are a common next stage to whittle down application numbers and select a manageable amount of final-round candidates who are worth interviewing in person.
As you are closer to the top of the application funnel, telephone interviews are shorter. Some are as little 10 minutes long. This helps to reduce the graduate recruitment team’s workload, who will often carry out these interviews dozens of times per day.
This means you have limited time to impress. Proper preparation is required. You are competing against a shortlist of the most promising and successful candidates in the market. Everyone can write a good application, so how do you prove that you are worthy of a coveted assessment centre place?
During the course of this article, we will consider:
- What a phone interview typically involves;
- Where you should carry out the call;
- How long these interviews typically last;
- What interview questions you should expect;
- The best ways to prepare for your telephone interview; and
- Tips for your interview and pitfalls to avoid.
What to expect from the telephone interview process
As opposed to face to face interviews and video interviews, you will not be able to see your interviewer physically. Instead, the interviewer will either ring your telephone number or set up a Teams audio phone call with you.
You should expect a brief conversation with your interviewer covering your motivations for the firm, competency questions and your wider commercial awareness/knowledge of the legal sector. It’s critically important that you can explain why the firm interests you and that you have a bank of experiences ready to support your responses to competency based questions.
Where should I carry out the call?
You should carry out the interview in a private room free from interruptions. Though you do not need to dress smartly as you would in a face to face interview, your environment should nonetheless reflect the same professional tone as in-person assessment days.
This means that your room should be quiet, free from distractions and that you have fully tested your device's audio/microphone prior to the call.
It’s easy to do this ahead of the call - there really is no excuse for not spending 10 - 15 minutes the day before creating the right environment for the call. Although the person that you speak to may be sympathetic, you will not inspire confidence if you cannot set-up audio equipment for a call in today’s world.
How long will the interview last?
Telephone interviews typically last no more than 10-15 minutes. This is because recruiters are still dealing with 100+ applicants at this stage in the process.
As such, phone interviews prioritise efficiency and you should not expect a prolonged discussion. That said, you should prepare thoroughly as there is only a brief window of time for you to make a good impression.
What will the recruiters ask me?
It is impossible to predict precisely what the graduate recruiters will ask you. That said, you can expect the recruiter to ask fairly typical motivational, competency and commercial awareness questions. In our experience, these tend to be quite generic. They are designed to test whether you can articulate logical and well-reasoned oral arguments under time-pressured interview conditions.
The following are examples of questions you should expect to be asked:
- Why have you pursued a career as a commercial solicitor? - You will almost certainly be asked why you have decided on a career at a commercial law firm. If the interviewer has reviewed your application form and has noticed that you have done something contrary to commercial law (e.g. you didn't study Law at university), then you may be asked why you have chosen the commercial solicitor path instead of something else. You should make sure you have three strong and personalised reasons for choosing the career path, applying the PEEL/AL structure (point, evidence, explanation/analysis, link back to the point). Each point should be backed by a personal example. Please see our standalone article on how to answer “why commerical law” for more information.
- Why do you want to work for our firm? - Recruiters use this question to assess candidates on both their genuine interest in the firm and the depth of their research into it. You will need to demonstrate three strong reasons for wanting to join that firm in particular. This is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge of the firm's practice areas, recent deals and wider global growth strategy. You might also be asked why you have applied there over other firms, so be ready to compare the firm to its competitors. We’ve written about this separately in our article which explains how to research law firms.
- Tell us about a time when... - You can expect the interview to ask some basic competency questions, such as an example of a time you've solved a problem, applied your communication skills or made a mistake and overcome it. You should use the STAR structure (Situation, Task, Action, Result) when answering questions such as this.
- Tell us about a recent deal we've worked on and why it interests you. - One Next City Lawyer contributor has faced this particular question in multiple telephone interviews, and it has been known to catch many candidates out. You should identify at least two recent deals and one litigious matter that the firm has worked on, before analysing how they fit in with the wider business world and explaining why they interest you.
- Discuss a recent commercial news article that interests you. Why does it interest you and how might it impact our law firm? This is a typical commercial awareness question where you will be asked to explain (1) why a particular business article interests you and (2) how it might impact the legal sector more widely. This is an opportunity for you not only to demonstrate your wider commercial awareness and interest in current affairs, but you can also demonstrate your analytical skills by applying that knowledge to law firms. We’ve written more about commercial awareness in this article.
You can read our advice for assessment centre preparation here. This offers further guidance on the best ways to prepare for each type of question.
Telephone interviews: How to stand out and pitfalls to avoid
The best ways you can stand out
- Review your application form prior to the interview. - This is crucial. Your application will help guide your preparation and remind you of the research you have conducted thus far. You will almost certainly have answered basic motivational and competency questions in your form, so you should re-read your answers to identify the key points you would like to address in the interview. You should also identify any ambiguities/gaps in your CV so that you are ready to explain them in the interview. For instance, if you did not study law then you will clearly need to explain why you are pursuing a career in law it another career path.
- Speak clearly and concisely. - This might seem obvious, but it is crucial that you speak in a calm, measured and professional tone. The recruiter only has your voice to rely on. As such, you should practice answering basic questions in advance so that you can answer questions confidently and thoughtfully.
- Practise in advance. - You should practise the phone interview in advance, ideally with someone else (e.g. a friend, a family member, a university careers officer or someone in your university's faculty). Not only will you get valuable feedback on how you came across over the phone, but you can also use this as an opportunity to check that your mobile device works properly.
- Pause if you need to. - If you are faced with a difficult curveball question, then you should take a few moments to breathe and think through your answer. You are also within your rights to ask the interviewer for a moment to think. If necessary, you can say “That’s an interesting question. Is it OK if we come back to that at the end so that I have time to formulate a proper response?”. The interviewer is ultimately assessing your ability to formulate good arguments under pressure. As such, it is far better to take your time than rush into giving the wrong answers.
- Prepare questions to ask the interviewer at the end. - You should prepare 1-2 questions that you genuinely want to know the answer to. These should be tailored to the interviewer in question. For instance, it would make little sense to ask a graduate recruiter what they think the private equity market will look like in the next five years.
Pitfalls to avoid
- Don't be complacent. - You must treat the telephone interview with the same level of professionalism as you would with an in-person interview. You are still competing with potentially 100+ other candidates at this stage, so it is crucial that you do not let your guard down. Even though the interview is audio-only, you should still carry out the interview in a professional environment and sit with the correct posture throughout. This will help you get into the right frame of mind for the interview.
- Test your devices thoroughly. - It is crucial that you test your device's audio and speakers thoroughly, so that you can both hear the interviewer and speak to them clearly. You only have one chance to impress, and you don't want this to be marred by technical issues.
- Don't have a defeatist mindset. - You have still impressed the recruiter against 1000s of other candidates at this stage, so you should use the interview as a chance to showcase your research, skills and impressive commercial awareness.
This article has summarised what telephone interviews involve. Specifically, we have looked at what a telephone interview entails, the best ways in which you can prepare for the interview, and the typical do's/don'ts that you should consider prior to the interview.
We hope you found this useful - if you did, please do share it with other candidates!
You can learn more about how we can help you secure a training contract here.
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