What I wish I’d known when I was applying for pupillage

Self-knowledge is all

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Following on from our pupillage open thread with Hardwicke earlier this month, the pupil barristers involved have distilled the best bits of their advice into five key points. Read the advice from Louis Zvesper, Clare Anslow and Simon Kerry below.

1. Say something interesting

You’ve heard it before — that barristers read hundreds of applications and you only have two minutes to impress them. So, you cram your application full of grades, awards, mooting, debating, volunteering and commitment to worthy causes. Surely that is going to grab their attention?

However, there are likely to be more people with these excellent credentials then there are interview slots, so you still need to find your unique selling point that makes you stand out from the crowd. A candidate who knows everything about the law but can’t hold a conversation is going to struggle when it comes to dealing with clients, so it’s important to be friendly as well as capable. ‘Great lawyer’ and ‘nice person’ is a better combination than ‘era-defining prodigy’ and ‘loathsome individual’.

There are often questions in the form that allow you to give a legal or non-legal answer — we are often tripped up by thinking it is another opportunity to show of your legal prowess. However, this is a great opportunity to take a risk and talk about something that shows the panel who you are outside law — a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker? Make them want to ask a follow up question.

2. Perfectionism is a bad thing

When it comes to the interview, it’s easy to hold yourself to an unrealistic standard, feeling that absolutely every answer needs to be a beautifully crafted pearl of wisdom. Don’t put yourself under that pressure — it will only inhibit your performance. The reality is that even in a successful interview you will give some good answers, some great ones, and some that don’t quite hit the mark. Panels aren’t looking for perfection in all things, but the overall impression that you give and how you deal with tricky situations that they throw at you.

You will often think during an interview that you’ve not dealt with something as well as you could. Don’t panic, or think it’s all over because of one blip. Just focus on the next question, and you will give yourself a much better chance.

3. Practice makes perfect(ish)

Like anything else, interviewing is a skill. Of course, there are some pupils and barristers out there who were offered just one interview and got an offer — but the vast majority have had numerous interviews. You will start to get used the style of pupillage interviews (which are very different to a ‘normal’ job interview) and you will learn the common questions that come up again and again. So even when you get that dreaded email to say you’ve not been invited to second round, sit back and note down the questions you were asked and think about what you could do to improve.

4. It only takes one

A common question on the Legal Cheek thread this year was ‘How many applications did you make?’ Although on a purely statistical basis, the more applications you make, the more likely you are to get an interview, in practice that just isn’t the case. You are far better off focussing your time and energy on making five fantastic applications rather than 25 mediocre ones. It is always tempting to play the numbers game, but don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

5. You are a unique snowflake (well, sort of)

The above tips are guidelines only — different people work in different ways. One of the strengths and attractions of the bar is that it allows people to work in a way that suits their strengths and individuality. The same is true of the process of getting there. Figure out what works for you, and play to your strengths. Don’t try to force yourself to be something you are not; it will probably make you miserable, and is unlikely to help your chances.

If you are not a naturally funny person, don’t try to charm the panel with witty banter. If you are someone who needs to do 25 mediocre applications in order to hone your skills, then do that. One of the things interview panels seem to look for is self-knowledge. If you can show that you have thought about the way you work, and applied that knowledge to your situation, that is likely to impress. You are even allowed to talk about that process — expressly acknowledging and addressing difficulties may give better results than hoping no one notices them!

Louis Zvesper, Clare Anslow and Simon Kerry are pupil barristers at Hardwicke.

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