How to prepare for day zero interviews

 

So the time of the year is here – day zero interviews at the top law schools in the country. In case you don’t know what that is – you probably need not read this article anyway. The top recruiters of law school students, usually law firms offering salaries in the range of INR 1 lakh per month to fresh graduates, come to take interviews and make offers to students on the spot. One student can get multiple offers sometimes. The brightest law students usually look forward to a day zero offer.

Day zero is very important, not just because the best job offers are usually made on this day, but also because this year the recruitment market is very dry and probably day zero jobs are the ones for which you have to work the least. Although even day zero recruitment may see lesser number of hires this year given the bleak outlook of the employment market being projected so far, getting other jobs later will probably mean a lot of legwork and frustration running high. It would be so much better to prepare hard for day zero, and then relax for the rest of the year.
How can you prepare for day zero interviews? Let me throw some light on that.

In day zero recruitment drives, you may come across written tests, group discussions and interviews. Various aspects of your lawyerly skills, personality and aptitude will be tested in these. You need to be aware of what you are being tested on, and then you must meet the required standards.

Knowledge threshold

Firstly, you must prepare to meet the knowledge threshold. You need to study certain basic subjects, and you will find the details of what you need to study before an interview over here. It is difficult to find books which have basics concepts written down in simple and precise manner. The modules available on the Bar Council of India website can be quite handy for this: please refer to them here.

Any law firm before hiring is going to test your knowledge in basic legal subjects like law of contracts, companies act, transfer of property act and other important subjects before offering you a job. Some will do this through a written test, and others may do so during the main interview itself.

CV related preparation

You are certainly going to be asked a lot of question from your CV. For instance, if you have done well in certain subjects in your exams, basic conceptual questions about those subjects may be asked. Similarly if you have worked on any transaction while you were interning, certainly expect some questions about that. In an interview with an Indian law firm, what you write in your CV about your past internship experiences is a critical factor in determining what questions recruiters ask you in the interview, and even the result of the interview. Smart students can also use it to strategize about the direction in which the interview will proceed.

Whatever work experience you may have mentioned in your CV, be thoroughly prepared to face any sort of questions about that. In fact, if you are not comfortable or knowledgeable about certain kind of work, totally avoid writing anything about that in your CV.

For instance, perhaps you did some small research for an ESOP scheme while you were interning, but you do not have very clear idea about how ESOP really works. Just don’t write about it in the CV. If you do write about it however, read up on ESOP schemes in India,  how ESOP really works, what laws govern these, what is the difference between sweat equity and ESOPS, what happens if the employee forgets to exercise the options he gets through ESOP scheme, even what is an option if you do not know already. Basically every question you can think of which may be related to ESOP, ideally you should be able to answer them since you have mentioned ESOP in your CV.

Similarly, you may be asked questions about your extra courses, various diploma courses or whatever else is mentioned in your CV. Imagine the questions that may be asked about these points if mentioned in the CV and prepare accordingly.

Group discussion skills

Since many law firms prefer to shortlist students through group discussions, developing work on your group discussion skills is a must. There are tons of training videos on You Tube – make sure you watch them and learn what is appropriate behaviour in a group discussion. It is a discussion, so do not try to hog all the time no matter how good you are with your points. A discussion is meant to bring out all the point of views and open people up to others; else the discussion is a failed one. Keep that in mind, be kind to others. At the same time, since there may be other uncivilized brutes in your group who might be shouting at the top of their voice and preventing anyone else from speaking, please be prepared with some solution as to what will you do if push comes to shove and you do not get an opportunity to speak. Preparing for these contingencies is necessary.

Writing the CV correctly

Writing the CV correctly is half the battle won. While interviewing you, the interviewers are almost certain to be reading the CV with eagle eyes, and they will be asking questions from the CV as I mentioned earlier. Silly mistakes and grammatical errors are a killer for this reason. If the interviewer notices such mistakes in your CV – you are dead. Lawyers are very paranoid about these things – and they don’t want to hire people who make spelling mistakes for that huge monthly salary – so act accordingly.

Also, use your CV to create talking points. I had mentioned by experience in kick-boxing in the interest section of my CV, which led to a very interesting discussion in one of my interviews – which cemented the good feeling the interviewers had about me – and that certainly helped me to secure a job. Similarly, create talking points about your internships, bait questions with what you write. Mention the subjects you know well in the CV – so that they ask you questions about those.

Tell a consistent story

One majorly important thing to do is to keep your CV relevant to the job at hand. I had plenty of experience in teaching and doing social work – but I played them down significantly in my CV that I submitted to law firms. I rather highlighted the commercial legal work that I had done and my internships. I am sure you had a very interesting life – but focus on the part which is relevant to the job you are applying for. It is important to tell a consistent story to the recruiter about your goals, ambitions and the work you have done so far – and how all of that leads to the job you are applying for.

I wrote about kick boxing and long distance cycling in my CV – but only in the last sentence, and exactly in those many words. Everything else in the CV showcased how suitable I am for a job in a corporate law firm. That meant not mentioning winning an essay competition where I wrote about farmer’s rights, or my winning an award from the President of India for writing poetry, or all the social work I did in the last 5 years.

This story telling starts in the CV, but you must keep up the other end of the story when you are interviewed personally as well. Don’t say in your interview that your real interest lies in constitutional law – if you do that, why would a law firm that almost never deals with constitutional law hire you?

Develop interview related skills

Many of you, despite being very intelligent and hardworking, may have less than good interpersonal skills. If your presence, or communication skills, or confidence level, is not found to be at par, no matter how brilliant you are otherwise, you are unlikely to be hired. This is a mystery for most law students, and for some this is something that naturally comes to them. Unless you are naturally very good at interpersonal skills, and consequently known for your charm and personality, you better start working on these things. Remember that these are not attributes acquired by birth, these can very well be learnt if you wish to and work towards it. Try and get hold of a recent best seller called “The Charisma Myth” which is written exactly on this subject by Olivia Fox Cabane if you can.

Prepare for HR questions

There are some questions and tests to see if you have the right aptitude for the job. You must prepare ahead for this as well. Please read this article to figure out how to handle HR questions in a legal job interview.

Practice giving interviews

If you go to play baseball – which you have never played in your life – do you expect to perform your best in the first game itself? When you are still grappling with the basics, the rules, the pressure of being watched and something valuable being at stake? Not really, right? You will go for some practice sessions, even practice matches.

Do the same for interviews, please. Practice giving interviews with some seniors, with your dad, elder sister or any other professional who has cracked interviews in the past. Practice with your friends as well; quiz each other on your CVs by turn. Give mock interviews with people you know who are already working in law firms or elsewhere. Identify your mistakes, and improve on them. Work ruthlessly to improve the quality of your answers.

Most importantly, learn to remain calm and composed even when you are in trouble. Meditate if you can, it helps you to improve responses to fearful and tense situations. Become a zen monk before you go for your interviews.

All the best!

PS: We at iPleaders, are planning to do some webinars for our students on how to handle interviews. We plan to keep at least one of these open to everyone – feel free to join in. We’ll discuss some tried and tested advanced techniques you can use in your future interviews. Sign up on the top right corner of this blog for more details.

About Ramanuj Mukherjee

Ramanuj Mukherjee is former corporate lawyer and an alumnus of National University of Juridical Sciences. He co-founded iPleaders, a startup that is making legal knowledge and education easily accessible to everyone. You can follow him here: https://twitter.com/law_ninja or connect with him here: in.linkedin.com/in/ramanujm

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