Updated: Mar 7, 2020
If you were fortunate enough to receive a much coveted call-back on the Ontario July 19th Call Day, you are one week away from 2020/21 Articling Interview week. Congrats!
If this is your first time at the rodeo, you may also be feeling a little nervous: This is it, your make-or-break. If you bomb this you won’t get an articling job, then what?
First off, relax. I felt the same way in October 2018 when I had my first law interview for a summer associate position in Toronto. I had no idea how different a law interview would be from a “regular” interview and, in fact, having worked for the same company for nearly seven years, I hadn’t formally interviewed in a really, really long time.
I did take some clear steps to prepare for that interview though and it went quite well. Less than a year later, as I find myself preparing for next week with hopes of landing a 2020/21 articling position, I thought I’d share my preparation process…
1. Re-visit your cover letter and any research notes you have on the firm. Reading the cover letter and any research you did on the firm before you applied is a really helpful way to refresh your memory on why you applied to the firm in the first place. If you said anything specific about the firm in your application, you’ll want to make sure you echo those sentiments in your interview.
2. Review/Define your legal interests. In a past blog post, I outlined a formula for concisely defining your legal interests and turning them into a marketable story to tell on legal applications. This story is just as useful and critical to you at the interview stage and you’ll want to make sure you tailor it to align with the firm you are interviewing at.
Think, what is the story of me and my career goals that I need to convey to this firm to show them my interest and passion in their work?
3. Interview yourself, and write down your answers. Since I’d never interviewed at a law firm before October, I decided to be safer than sorry in my prep. The week before the interview I made a list of commonly asked interview questions and wrote out answers for each one. Not only did this calm me down, but it also helped me organize my thoughts and figure out what the most important parts of my story were.
I’ve cleaned up my Commonly Asked Interview Questions list and added some commentary around how things went in my interview. Preparing answers to the questions on this list should help you answer virtually any question the firm interviewers could ask (even if they are worded slightly differently) and there shouldn’t be any “surprise” questions that you can’t answer. Not only will this make you look super put-together and quick-thinking in the interview, but it will also give you a sense of confidence as you walk into the interview room.
Even though half of these questions were not asked, and my interview was casual and conversational, every firm is different and it’s a good exercise to be ready for both a super formal and super relaxed setting.
4. Prepare your own questions. It’s good practice to have some questions prepared to ask the firm at the end of the interview when given the opportunity. This makes you look engaged and curious; it’s also a great way to show off your knowledge of the firm.
For instance, a good question can be something along the lines of, “I read on your firm’s website that I will do a seat in your tax law department. Can you tell me a bit more about the work that articling students do in this space and the types of clients you generally deal with?” Or, “What do you like best about working for the firm; what are its strengths and weaknesses?”
Always be polite when asking questions and ensure they are valuable and thoughtful queries that will give you insight into the firm.
5. Be honest and genuine. In reality, the firm already knows every practical detail about you as they’ve seen your application. The interview is an exercise in finding out about you as a person. If you provide honest and genuine answers to their questions, your face will shine and your passion will come through.
Don’t bother trying to say what you think they want to hear. Be yourself and, most importantly, be consistent with what you’ve put on your paper application as well!
6. Dress Smart. How you look is your first impression. Dress smart and appropriately for the firm. Take a look at what lawyers are wearing on the “meet the team” pages of their website and gauge accordingly.
I personally think allowing a bit of your personality to show through your dress is fine for most firms as long as it’s tasteful, professional, and within reason. Others will disagree and insist on a grey/black/blue suit and a white un-patterned shirt. You’ll have to make that decision for yourself but ultimately, ensure you are confident and comfortable with what you decide to wear.
For instance, ladies, if stiletto heels are not your thing, don’t wear them as a conservative kitten or block heel will do. For guys, while a tie is not optional in most cases (sorry!), don’t feel the need to over compensate with flashy cufflinks or pocket squares if that’s not your regular look either. Just don’t try to be something you are not; again, be yourself!
7. Relax before the interview. Arrive in the vicinity early and post yourself somewhere nearby your interview location so you aren’t rushing around or fighting transit. Take the time to have a tea, or coffee (or not if that makes you more jittery) and casually review your interview answers and firm research. The goal is not to memorize or sound rehearsed in your interview, but focusing your mind on your prep can help calm you down and create a sense of confidence and security in what you are going to say.
Arrive at the firm’s reception 10 minutes before your interview (unless instructed otherwise) and be sure you know who you are interviewing with so you can provide the name to the receptionist.
If you take these steps you will find yourself feeling more secure and confident on the day of your interview(s). Remember, they liked you on paper and what’s not to like in person?
Best of Luck!