The questions that you see on application forms usually come in the style of competency based questions, strength based questions and personal statement questions that ask you to explain your motivations.
Competency Based Questions
These questions allow recruiters to assess whether you have the competencies that they are looking for. When you are writing your applications, keep a copy what key competencies that firm is looking for in front of you to make sure that you demonstrate every single one in your answer.
The competencies that most firms are looking for include (but are not limited to) academic intellect, commitment to excellence, analytical ability, adaptability, excellent verbal and written communication skills, resilience, team building skills, creativity, leadership, negotiation skills, commercial awareness and attention to detail.
Questions might include:
- Write about a time when you demonstrated team building skills
- Write about a time when you demonstrated excellent communication skills
- When have you shown resilience?
The ‘STAR’ technique is one useful way of structuring your answers to demonstrate the competencies that firms are looking for.
Situation: Set the scene for the recruiter
‘During my time participating in a fundraising competition that was organised by my university for Charity X…’
Task: Explain the task that you were set
‘I led a team of volunteers to organise an event to raise money…’
Actions: Spell out all the stages that you went through to achieve the outcome. If it is a teamwork example, make sure you focus on what YOU did. Use the word ‘I’, not ‘we’, when appropriate.
‘I contributed by… Secondly, I… and then I…’
Result: Mention what the outcome of the situation was. If you have quantifiable data, mention it here to support the result that you achieved. Also, reflect on what you think went particularly well, what did not go so well, and what you learnt from being in that situation
You can draw on situations from university, work experience, extra curricular activities or personal achievements and challenges, but try to vary the experiences that you write about throughout your application. The experience that you are drawing on must be a strong example of you demonstrating the key competency that you are being asked to demonstrate. Also, try to keep the examples you give as recent as possible.
The example that you use might be an occasion where things did not go according to plan. As long as you can demonstrate that you learnt from the mistakes that you made and explain how you put things right, then that may impress the recruiter. Employers are looking look for graduates who are willing to learn and who demonstrate resilience when things do not go according to plan.
Questions that test your commercial awareness:
You might be asked to write about a recent news story that has interested you or to explain what challenges the firm is currently facing. You must do your research and go into a lot of detail in order to demonstrate your understanding. Keep up to date with general current affairs, and the financial and legal press by following stories that interest you. Warning: Be prepared to expand on your answer at interview.
Strength Based Questions
These questions ask you to describe your personal qualities and achievements. This is a way for recruiters to assess your personality and whether you are right for the role.
Questions might include:
- What techniques do you use to build rapport with people?
- What do you consider to be your main strengths and weaknesses?
- How do you feel when presented with a problem?
One way of tackling these strength-based questions is to structure your answers with a beginning, middle and end. This shows that you have carefully considered your answers and makes it easier for the reader to follow. You can also just focus on 3 main points, i.e. ‘I consider that my three main strengths are…’
These questions require honesty, as employers want to see that you are self-aware. Try to keep what you are writing positive. If you are asked to explain what your weaknesses are, say what you are doing to overcome them.
Personal Statement / Motivational Questions
These questions assess your strength as a candidate, your motivations for applying and your commitment to law.
Questions might include:
- What makes you a suitable candidate?
- Why do you want to be a lawyer/solicitor/barrister?
- Why do you want to work for us?
Think your answers out very carefully. You should structure your answers in a clear way, using thematic paragraphs and making just 2/3 points in each paragraph. When writing about the firm and the role, go into detail to show off the research you have done, but avoid stating the obvious. You might want to talk about recent press releases by the firm, or awards that the firm has won to back up statements you make. When writing about your motivations and when explaining why you are a strong candidate, provide evidence of your skills by drawing on your past experiences.
- Draft your answers in Microsoft Word before submitting them online
This will give you the opportunity to spell check what you have written and keep an eye on the word count. This will also allow you to take your time when writing and editing your answers.
- Write to the word limit
Some firms consider the word limits on the questions to be a drafting exercise to test your ability to write clearly and concisely. Use all the space that you have been given, but be careful not to go over the limit.
- Make sure you answer the question you are being asked
It is important to address exactly what the question is asking you. Often application questions may appear at first instance to be asking you the same thing, but there might be a slight change in the wording, which requires you to emphasise a particular point. This is why copying and pasting your answers often will not work. Where there are two parts to a question, make sure you address both parts of the question with equal weight, unless instructed to do otherwise.
- Use action words
In your answers, try to use powerful action powerful action words to emphasise your contributions. For example: ‘produced, gathered, organised, improved, negotiated’, give a greater sense of what you did rather than ‘assisted, helped, worked’.
- Check what you have written, no mistakes!
It is vital that you make sure that there are no mistakes in what you have written as when you hit the submit button there is no going back. Check everything that you have written and ask someone else to check it too.