In order to determine cultural fit, and to establish whether a candidate has an accurate understanding of the legal profession, it is usual for a number of career motivational questions to be included in the application and interview process. These are usually questions along the following lines:
- Why do you want to pursue a career in law?
- Why do you want to be a solicitor?
- Why do you want to be a [City/commercial/high street/niche] solicitor? Why do you want to work for this firm?
- Why do you want to work for a City firm?
- Why should we offer you the job?
These questions are very important. Whilst it is one thing for employers to know that they are recruiting people with the right skills and competencies, they also need to ensure that applicants have done thorough research of the profession, and the various options within it, and that they have the right impetus and drive to succeed in it.
In many ways, motivational questions can be harder to answer than competency questions. Whereas competency answers mostly appear very straightforward and can be based around one specific event, motivation questions may need to draw on a number of experiences to give the necessary amount of evidence that the recruiter is looking for. Thus, the answers may take longer to craft in order to get them just right.
Demonstrating Career Understanding & Motivation
Every firm that you apply to will be wanting to find out the answers to two main questions in their mind – these are “why them?” and “why you?”.
They will ask various questions in order to explore these two questions in more detail. The “why them?” question also incorporates the “why law?” and “why a solicitor?” type questions as a firm will want to be convinced that you understand, and are sufficiently motivated by, a legal career with them.
The starting point to be able to demonstrate the necessary degree of understanding and motivation is the research you do. Good, effective research involves research into the firms’ practice areas as well as understanding what a training contract and a career in law will be like at different firms. This is time consuming but without doing it and coming up with your genuine reasons for wanting a career in law, and why you want to apply to certain firms over others, then your chances of success will be greatly diminished. It is obvious when people are applying having not done this research and having not thought through their reasoning and motivations.
You need to give your genuine reasons for wanting to work for a firm based on your thorough research. There is no easy way of shortcutting this (such as getting others to help you) as you will need this to convince the firm when you see them in person at interview.
Careers advisers and those connected with the legal profession can help guide you on what to include in your applications and interview answers but they can’t give you your reasons for wanting a career as a solicitor or why you want to work for the firm you are applying to. They can give you pointers on how to do your research and where to do it but there is still a lot of work for you to do if you want to beat the competition into getting a training contract.
It is also vitally important that you do this research for yourself as this is a very important stage of your legal career and your decisions now will have a long term effect on your future.
As a student or recent graduate, I appreciate that it can be difficult to know what law you want to practice and which firms you want to work for – however, you need to work on trying to find out. The good news is that you don’t need to know for certain at this stage and law firms will be fine with this. Remember that a training contract is designed to give you exposure to a variety of practice areas to help you further inform your decision making about your future career path.
However, you do need to narrow things down to certain types of practice area and certain types of firms that you feel will suit you, your competencies and your ambitions best. The way to do this is firstly through extensive research using the various resources available (see the “Art of Research” section) and then by meeting firms at interview and getting a sense as to which one you would most like to train with.
Here are some of the aspects of a firm you may want to consider when you are developing your answers to the “why them?” type questions:
- specialist practice areas
- new developments
- type of work
- client base
- chance to specialise or wide ranging
- early client contact
- early responsibility
- training and professional development/internal opportunities
- training supervisor, mentor, buddy, etc
- retention rates
To further help you develop your reasoning and career motivation answers it can be beneficial to review others’ reasons. Two excellent resources to review are:
Career Spotlight interviews (https://www.lawcareers.net/Solicitors/CareerSpotlight/) – really useful to get a sense as to why others have taken the same path and to give you some ideas of how to develop your answers to the career motivation questions
TargetJobs Interview (http://goo.gl/z03IP) – You can also review the trainee solicitor interviews on the TargetJobs website for similar information to help you develop you answers to the career motivation questions.