Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Interview question – are you ashamed of your 'new university' degree?

Believe it or not this question was asked in a recent Magic Circle firm in London of a student with a first class degree from a new university as opposed to a red brick university. It was in the context of a question about the status of the university and the achievement of gaining a first class degree. The interviewee admitted being very surprised at the question and felt that she may have come across as defensive when she heard it.

One of the things that came out of lecturing to students on an LPC course about CVs and interviews was to be prepared for questions like this, as they are regularly thrown into interviews. In fact, I am glad that I have heard about this because I often get queries from students and clients who have used our career coaching service as to why some of the questioning I undertake is quite hostile.

There is really no way to prepare yourself for a question like this without being asked critical questions by someone else and practice answering in an non-defensive or aggressive way. If you are asked a question like this, it is important to ensure that you retain the same cheerful composure that you had before the question, regardless of whether you want to attack the interviewer and inflict terrible injuries, and to ensure that your answer is as non-defensive as possible.

A good answer would be no, I am not ashamed of my degree as a first class degree on any course I feel is an achievement, and I am not sure that it makes any difference where the degree is from as to the status of it. Another thing to do if you have a first class degree is to ensure that you know the statistics from your university as to the number of students who receive a first class degree in any given year, or the number of students who have received a first class degree in the last five years on your particular course. I am pretty sure that most universities would be very happy to give you this information. If you have this it makes your answering a lot easier and a lot easier to cope with the question about a first class degree. I am not sure that this will be an issue for 95 percent of students, as the vast majority of us do not have first class degrees.

However, if you are asked a similar question in interview, you have to think about why you’re being asked the question. The reason is that the interviewer probably wants to see how you handle it, and is not necessarily as interested in your answer as in the way you deal with it. If you adopt the somewhat aggressive nature that a lot of LLB and LPC graduates take when going to interviews because they believe this is what a lawyer should behave like, it is very easy to get tripped up with questions like this, as you will all to easily be quite angry and feel insulted by the questioning. The interviewer is seeing exactly how you handle it and whether you can maintain a good composure and appear nonplussed by the question. If you have a think about when you are in practice and you have an awkward client who asks you a question that you don’t like, then it is important to be able to answer in a dispassionate way without getting upset. This sort of questioning is very good at determining who is going to be able to handle these questions and who is going to struggle and get angry.

Jonathan Fagan is a recruitment consultant with Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (http://www.ten-percent.co.uk/). He takes an active interest in the recruitment process and regularly conducts career coaching for law students and graduates, details of which can be found on the website in the Career Centre.

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