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Performing well in a telephone interview: top tips from LLG president Philip Horsfield

by Sara Robinson | 14 June 2019

Not sure what legal interviewers are looking for in their perfect candidate? We spoke to the current Lawyers in Local Government (LLG) president about what he looks for in candidates to get his thoughts on what you should and shouldn’t do to secure your dream legal locum job.

Interviewing for a legal position can be a difficult and stressful process, particularly if you are interviewing for a locum role. If you are interviewing for a locum position you are usually required to undertake a short telephone interview rather than a lengthy face-to-face one. Whilst this can sound like the easier option, it comes with its own pressures.

In this Q&A, Senior Consultant Sara Robinson speaks with Philip Horsfield, LLG President and Deputy Director of Corporate Governance at Rutland County Council, about his experiences when interviewing locum candidates and provides a few tips and insights that may help in your next interview.

What are the biggest differences or challenges when conducting a telephone interview?

One of the biggest obstacles I face when conducting telephone interviews is building up a rapport with the candidate. I find it much easier to build up a relationship with someone when I meet them face-to-face. I often find that telephone interviews can sometimes make it more difficult for a candidate to sell their experience when there isn’t a natural flow of conversation. 

What do you think about Skype or video interviews? Do they work? Are they the way forward?

I am usually happy to conduct an interview over Skype or via video conferencing, and I do think they can remove some of the awkwardness of a telephone interview; however, they can still feel quite stilted and I would prefer to conduct a face-to-face interview.

What are the biggest things you look for in candidates during an interview?

The most important thing I look for when interviewing a candidate is cultural fit, and how they will fit into our team. For me, it is important to try and discover how the candidate has worked with teams in the past so you can get a feeling of it they are right or not. I believe you can learn a great deal about someone’s experience and qualifications from their CV, but an interview is a chance to find out more about their personality and how they build relationships. This is particularly important as we want our team members to have a good relationship with the client departments.

I also look for how a candidate can add value to a team. I want them to be able to sell their experience but in a subtle way. I don’t want candidates to just recite what they have done and achieved; they have to be able to tell me how they can add value to our organisation and the service we are providing.

What would put you off a candidate in an interview?

Someone with an overly inward focus would put me off in an interview. When speaking about themselves they can’t just talk about their skills, they have to be able to show me how their skills and experience are relevant to the service we deliver. Following on from the point I made in the last question, the overly inward focus is more around them not wanting to or not showing their willingness to work as part of a team.

What questions would you expect the candidate to ask you?

I wouldn’t necessarily be put off someone if they didn’t ask me questions, but I would hope for candidates to ask me questions about the team and how they could fit into it. I want to get an indication that they are interested in our organisation and how we work as a whole, not just the specific role they are interviewing for.

What questions do you feel give you the best indication that a candidate is right for your team at an interview?

One of the biggest things I try and find out is how someone would handle a situation where they didn’t know what to do. This can be a challenge in any organisation, so I ask questions around this to find out how someone might act if faced with a challenging situation. I wouldn’t want someone to just make it up. How you deal with something you don’t know shows a lot about how you problem solve and your attitude to work. Being able to identify your areas for development is really important to me.

Is there anything else that you would like to add about interviews?

For me, interviewing is all about finding out as much about the candidate’s experience as possible, and how they can fit into the team. Ensuring they are the right fit is my primary concern. We expect to be able to accommodate flexibility for our employees and different working patterns, so as long as this is done with a mind for delivering the service then we will accommodate a variety of different working patterns.

This Q&A has demonstrated how important interviews are to legal clients, and also highlighted some interesting things that legal professionals should consider before their next interview. Not only are the important to find out about the skills and experience of candidates, but most legal interviewers will want to know if you are the right fit for their business and team.

If you found this useful and would like some additional help preparing for your next interview, you can check out our handy interview tips and advice guide here.

Alternatively you can give myself, or a member of our expert legal recruitment team a call and we would be more than happy to help.