As a specialist legal recruiter, I spend a significant amount of my time preparing lawyers for interviews. This includes ensuring an understanding of the job role, establishing clarity on the finer details such as supervision and career progression, and of course addressing technical, personal and awkward questions.
Awkward questions? Why would there be awkward questions in an interview? Is that not subjective? Well yes, it can be, and sometimes questions can be thrown out of nowhere that you can almost never be prepared for.
Allow me to elaborate:
Interviewer: “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?”
Me: [awkward silence while I think of an appropriate answer] “I’ve accidentally set myself on fire more than once.” [immediately regrets answer]
Rest assured, I do not expect anyone to ever hear that question in an interview ever again. You’re more likely to be addressed with the most awkward and yet stalwart of interview questions: “What is your biggest weakness?”
Seemingly the natural reaction is to follow up with “I work too hard” or something equally cliché. I’ll be honest, my younger and less experienced self is guilty of such a crime. Don’t worry though, it is without doubt that your interviewer will have heard this before and will hear it again.
Preparing for an interview isn’t an easy task and it’s all too simple to turn to the internet for help with questions such as that above. In my experience, lawyer candidates find the strengths and weaknesses question somewhat pointless – if you are in the room speaking with your prospective employers and colleagues, are you really going to confess your biggest weaknesses honestly and not indulge in a touch of hyperbole regarding your strengths? Well, in my experience, it’s worth considering the question without underestimating it.
The way in which you answer this question says a lot about you. If you try to avoid the question or turn the question around, you may appear to be arrogant or looking to hide something. That being said, honesty is always the best policy but appropriate honesty for an interview is always advised. So how do we answer the question appropriately?
It’s like they say, the first step is to admit to the problem to yourself. Nobody is perfect, embrace and understand your weaknesses, and then you must answer the question and answer honestly. The interviewer is testing you; it will of course depend on what you say but in truth they don’t necessarily care about what you say but more how you say it and how you approach the scenario. They will want to see you acknowledge your flaws and address them in such a way that, for the want of better words, you can turn your weaknesses into strengths.
If you claim you work too hard, care too much, that you put work before personal or family life etc. they will see through this charade. A lot of people have been guilty of giving these sample answers because they think that’s what employers want to hear. Would it not be better to give a true account having thoroughly considered your previous mistakes? Could you have done anything differently? What were the outliers? Did it affect you personally? Was it a matter of patience and diligence? What did you learn from this? My advice: give a true and genuine account of your weaknesses, how they have impacted your experience as a lawyer, and how you have sought to rectify this.
If I had to answer this question honestly, I would have to say that I am easily distracted and, in the past, this has manifested in my being disorganized. By being aware of that though, I enter each task with a clear plan and objective thus reducing the opportunity to be distracted. It wasn’t easy, it took years and I had to learn self-awareness, but by admitting my flaws to myself I became better for it, but still by no means perfect.
So, consider your weaknesses, embrace them and become better for them. It’s like Batman said, to conquer fear you must become fear.
Associate Director – Think Legal Recruitment
0121 392 8139 | 07720 694 701