Clerkship Interview Survival Guide
The excitement of being invited for a clerkship interview is often short-lived. You hang up the phone and do a little victory dance, then moments later you’re a bundle of nerves. Breathe deeply and read our clerkship interview tips – you’re going to be awesome.
Preparing for the interview
Remember all that effort you put into researching your clerkship application? Now is the time to refresh your knowledge about the firm – take a look at the news section of the firm’s website to see what has happened since you submitted your application.
Also review your application, because your interviewer is bound to ask you about some of the skills and experiences you listed. If you expressed interest in a particular deal or practice area in your application, learn the names of any lawyers involved, as they could be sitting in on your interview. Also re-read any information you have about the firm’s clerkship program.
Read some sample clerkship interview questions (see below) and practice your answers with a friend.
Plan ahead for your interview. Double check the interview time and location, and look at the public transport timetable, if needed.
Pack a copy of your application and academic transcript in case they’re needed in the interview. Towards the end of the interview you will be given the opportunity to ask questions. It’s always a good idea to have a few insightful questions about the program prepared, but make sure these questions won’t come across as presumptuous.
What (not) to wear
The clothes you wear tell employers a great deal about the type of person you are (and the kind of employee you will be). You tailored your application for a law firm audience, now you should dress in a way that best suits a professional interview. Before deciding what you’ll wear to the interview, find out what that law firm’s employees typically wear to work and try to dress in that style.
Most importantly, your clothes should fit you – an expensive price tag will not hide the fact that your suit is baggy or your skirt is too short/ tight. Keep the colour of your outfit conservative. Think black, charcoal or navy, and leave the brown suits to Mr. Bean and your grandpa.
Avoid outlandish colours or patterns when choosing a shirt or blouse to match your suit - if your top is bright enough for a Wiggles audition, then it’s probably not right for a clerkship interview. If in doubt, make it a classic white or pale blue shirt.
Accessorise with a classic bag or compendium and comfortable shoes – save the crazy socks for later. Make sure the shoes you’ll be wearing are well maintained. This includes applying a fresh coat of shoe polish. Don’t make the mistake of thinking nobody will notice your feet.
You hair should be neatly trimmed, and if you have long hair, make sure it’s tied back to avoid distraction in the interview. If you wear make-up, go for a natural look: if it’s really obvious that you’re wearing make-up, you’ve gone too far. Any make-up should look natural, and jewellery should be classic and worn sparingly.
Ensure your nails are neatly trimmed, and if painted, in a subtle shade. Don’t forget the antiperspirant to combat pre-interview stress but be careful not to overdo the perfume or cologne. When it comes to fresh breath, don’t leave home without it.
Be sure to have your outfit ready in advance – it will save you a lot of stress on the day. Make sure that everything is dry-cleaned and ready to go and avoid doing your ironing on the morning of the interview, otherwise there’s bound to be a disaster. Try the whole interview outfit on ahead of time and get a friend’s (honest) opinion if you're unsure.
Once you’ve got the clerkship and have a feel for what is acceptable at that firm, you can unleash the wacky socks and more daring shirt choices.
On the day of the interview
Be sure to allow plenty of time to get to the office. Before you go in, take a few moments to check your appearance, turn off your mobile phone and breathe. You’re probably freaking out a little bit by now, but remember the fact that the firm has called you for an interview is a pretty strong indication that they believe you have the qualities they’re looking for – you’re going to be fine.
Let the receptionist know who you are and that you are there for an interview. Be nice to the receptionist, because your interviewer isn’t the only future colleague you need to impress and get on with.
During the interview
Clearly introduce yourself to your interviewer(s) with a smile and a firm handshake.
In the interview, sit up straight, speak clearly and make lots of eye contact. Try to keep your responses succinct and to the point, and know that it’s okay to ask the interviewer to clarify the question or to take a moment to consider your answer.
Interview nerves make it hard, but try your best to come across as confident, positive and enthusiastic… and don’t forget to smile! Remember that you need to come across as professional, so be wary of appearing too casual or cocky. Oh, and never interrupt the interviewer, because bad manners will always trump good legal skills.
When answering questions, honesty is always the best policy. While your answer may not be what the interviewer was hoping for, it’s far better than being caught in a lie.
If you think the interview isn’t going well, try to keep your cool. You may be doing a lot better than you think. Leave the second-guessing yourself until after the interview and focus on each question as it comes.
A note about group interviews
Group interviews are an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership and teamwork skills, and it can be a difficult balancing act! To do well in a group interview, it’s important to build up a rapport with your fellow interviewees. Speak up and be the first to answer questions where you can, but acknowledge the contributions of others in helping the group to arrive at an answer. No matter how eager you are, don’t interrupt another candidate and make sure you also let others have the floor during the interview.
At the end of the interview, shake the interviewer’s hand and thank them for their time.
Take a moment after the interview to think about the answers you gave and consider where you could have done better. This is really helpful for honing your job interview skills, especially if you’ll be attending multiple interviews this clerkship season.
Don’t beat yourself up if you think you’ve blown it – wait for the final answer from the firm. You might think you’ve messed up, but in reality, you may have actually wowed your interviewer. Stay positive and don’t write yourself off!
If you don’t get the job, remember that it isn’t the end of the world. The clerkships process is competitive, and it doesn’t mean that you weren’t a good candidate.
If you think your interview performance let you down, you can always consider a short follow-up phone call with your interviewer to get some constructive feedback.
Common clerkship questions
An article from Forbes once claimed that there are really only three job interview questions:
Can you do the job?
Will you love the job?
Can we tolerate working with you?
The questions you’re asked in a clerkship interview may be worded differently to this, but they are all directed towards finding out your strengths, motivation and fit with the firm’s culture.
When it comes to preparing for clerkship interviews, it’s a good idea to consider these three issues and practice answering standard interview questions with a friend. At the very least, practice in front of the mirror.
Tell us a bit about yourself...
These questions aren’t just about ‘getting to know you’ – the interviewer is also trying to determine if you’re the right fit for the firm’s culture.
What skills/experiences can you bring to the firm? We all know you have plenty of awesome skills and great experiences, but consider the attributes the firm would most want in a clerk, and share only the skills and experiences that are the most relevant.
What are your strengths? Focus on your strengths that best correspond with some of the key attributes needed for the role.
What are your weaknesses? Try and frame discussion of your weaknesses in a positive way, perhaps showing how you’re working to strengthen your abilities in these areas.
What are your greatest achievements? Consider picking achievements that best demonstrate attributes firms are looking for.
What are your hobbies? Your interviewer is keen to learn about you as a person, but your response should not be a straight “I like cycling and tennis.” Instead, it’s a good idea to include the skills you have developed through these extra-curricular activities.
Which subjects have you enjoyed the most? Firms are hoping to see that your interests correlate with their practice areas. A question like this is also an opportunity to explain that rogue pass mark from second year.
Why did you choose to study law? You can especially expect this question if you studied another degree before doing law.
Why do you want to do a clerkship? Balance what you’re hoping to gain from the clerkship with the skills you believe you can bring to the firm.
Why do you want to work at this law firm? Firms are looking for people with an interest in their firm and an enthusiasm for the work that they do. This is the opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework about the firm and know why you want to be there.
What areas of law are you interested in? Hopefully the areas of law you’re interested in fall within practice groups offered at the firm. It is probably a good idea to focus this discussion on a practice group or groups that fall within the clerkship rotations on offer.
What interests you about a career in commercial law? Firms want clerks that are interested in the work they do, so demonstrate that enthusiasm!
Where do you see yourself in five/ ten years? What are your long-term career goals? Firms invest a lot of time in training and mentoring their clerks and grads. They want to know that you’re going to stick around!
Do you plan to undertake further study? It’s not a bad thing if you do, especially if that further study relates to law or business.
Expect behavioural questions. These questions will be along the lines of “tell us about a time you worked in a team and had to deal with a difficult team member.” You can’t prepare for all possible behavioural questions, but there are certain situations that will come up in most behavioural questions:
Working under pressure/ dealing with stress
Dealing with conflict
Think of one or two experiences you’ve had that relate to each of these themes. Any answer to a behavioural question should outline the situation and any problems encountered, describe the steps taken to resolve it and explain what you learned from the experience.
Substantive law questions
Firms will take your good academic record at face value, so it’s very unlikely that you will be asked any substantive law questions - no need to freak out and revise every law subject you’ve ever studied. In the very rare event that you are asked how you would advise a client in a particular situation, you will probably only be expected to cover some general areas of law that could come into play. You’re not going to be expected to dive into a discussion of the case law on an obscure point, so take a deep breath and tackle the scenario in a logical order.