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Law firms' favourite interview questions - and how to answer them

Advice from Alison Peyton and Diana Spoudeas, graduate recruiters at top City firms Hogan Lovells and Jones Day
Applications and interviews

Why do you want to be a lawyer?

Alison likes to see students who have thought about what being a lawyer involves, both the day-to-day work you'll do, and the bigger picture: "They understand what they'll be doing as a trainee, what will be expected of them at a City law firm, and how their career might progress." You do need to know about the firm's work and to have considered what might appeal to you. But it's acceptable to not have picked a specialism yet. Diana says "we welcome students who want to try several areas before deciding - that's what the training system is all about!"

Why did you study X and not law at university?

Diana suggests candidates should explain what they liked about their degree and how it led them to a career in law - for example, a science student might have loved their subject as an academic discipline, but has come to realise that being a commercial lawyer will suit them more than staying in the lab. And don't panic! Your qualifications and motivations are not being called into question - law firms value what non-law students bring to them. But they will expect you to explain what you have to offer - Alison suggests you "think about all the skills you've gained from your degree, and how they're going to stand you in good stead as a trainee lawyer."

The curveball

As Diana puts it, you may well have to deal with "one or two questions which are deliberately intended to throw you out of your comfort zone to see how you react." Examples The Gateway has come across include "What are you reading at the moment that's not related to your degree?" and scrutiny of a less than ideal first year exam result. Diana explains: "We're trying to see how you react - whether you're defensive, or confident enough to be able to handle the question." Our advice? There's not much you can do to prepare for these - they're intended to surprise you. But if you do get one, remember it's more about your reaction than what you actually say. Take a moment to consider your response, stay cool and be honest.

What are your weaknesses?

As with the curveball, the interviewer wants to see how your react - but this one you can prepare for. Candidates often use their answer as a chance to emphasise a strength - "I'm too much of a perfectionist." Safe, but unlikely to endear you to your assessors. But it would be crazy to bring up a genuine flaw in an interview, right? Diana gave us an interesting perspective on the problem. She suggests that you should see yourself as being asked for "a wish list of the things you want to improve". We think that drawing attention in this way to a few of your aims will make you a gold-standard candidate.

Do you have any questions for us?

A good question about the firm shows you have a real interest in joining it. But remember that your interviewees are busy people - don't waste their time by asking questions answered on the firm's website, or that you're asking just for the sake of asking a question. Diana tells us that you should remember that this part of the interview is for you to find out more about the firm, so asking for partners' views on Basel III or superinjunctions should be avoided. She suggests that candidates could go for one about "our training system, our business, or future prospects for trainees."