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What to ask when interviewing for a public sector legal job

by Sara Robinson | 20 May 2022

If you are seeking a public sector legal role, you should ask the right questions about the organisation’s flexibility and wellbeing policies to make sure that any prospective employer is able to meet your expectations and align with your work-life priorities.

When applying for a legal role in the public sector, most candidates will be focused on showcasing their skills, credentials and competencies to prospective employers. However, it is just as important for employers to demonstrate that they understand the needs and expectations of the candidates.

Today’s legal jobs market is highly competitive and candidate-led, with employers having to compete for a limited number of available applicants. At the same time, candidate expectations are evolving rapidly, with the pandemic encouraging many professionals to reconsider their career pathways and seek out roles that prioritise flexibility and wellbeing.

As such, when you are interviewing for a public sector legal role, it is important to ask the right questions to ensure that any prospective employers are going to be able to deliver working conditions that align with your goals.

What do today’s candidates want out of a public sector legal role?

Today’s public sector legal candidates are looking for a flexible, supportive working environment that prioritises career development and personal wellbeing.

This emerging trend has been demonstrated by a recent survey carried out by Sellick Partnership, which polled 172 public sector legal professionals on exactly what they are looking for when considering a new job. The survey demonstrated the following:

  • 70% of those polled said the prospect of better progression options would motivate them to move jobs, as 45% do not feel they have a meaningful opportunity to progress their career in their current role.

  • 47% said they would be unlikely or very unlikely to move jobs for a role at the same level.

  • Only 5% would be willing to apply for a role that involves working in the office for five days a week, with 28% looking for at least three days working from home, 19% wanting four days at home, and 20% wanting to work entirely remotely.

  • 76% cited enhanced flexi-time as a perk that they will be looking for in their next role.

  • 52% said they want more annual leave, 39% are seeking additional training and 35% want their employer to subsidise opportunities to gain new qualifications.

  • 76% said they would be put off applying for a role if the salary banding was not included in the job ad, while 37% are put off roles that require too much specialist knowledge and 35% are put off by overly generic job descriptions

These findings highlight the fact that legal professionals are now expecting their future employers to be responsive to their needs, and deliver working arrangements that reflect their priorities.

What questions should you ask during your interview?

When considering a public sector legal role, it is vital to make sure you are asking the right questions at the interview stage. After all, the purpose of an interview is not only for employers to evaluate candidates — it is for job applicants to assess whether the employer is able to deliver a job offering that they will be satisfied with, and whether this is somewhere they truly want to work.

The opportunity to ask any questions will usually come towards the end of the interview and it would be considered very unconventional for a candidate not to be given the chance to do so. Employers should also expect questions to arise earlier on in the process than what would have been the norm some years ago.

Below are some examples of the topics you can bring up to ensure that your prospective employer will be able to meet your needs:

Working conditions and flexibility:

  • What kind of flexible working arrangements are available? How often will my flexi-time be usable?

  • What level of control will I have over my own hours?

  • Will my flexible working allowances be written into my contract, or will these be decided on an informal or discretionary basis?

  • What will home working look like? What kind of support and equipment will be provided? What arrangements will be available for staying in touch with the rest of the team - for example, regular team video calls or social events organised for the whole team?

  • What is the average daily workload for this position? How often are staff members expected to deliver more than their contracted hours? Will I be able to regularly take the breaks to which I am entitled?

Wellbeing and company culture:

  • Why has this position become available? What is the average length of time that people remain with the company, and how long has the current team been working here?

  • What is the team culture and workplace environment like? Do you regularly organise team-building events and social gatherings outside of work? Are team members expected to attend regular meetings, or do staff largely work autonomously? How does this differ if I am regularly working outside the office?

  • What kind of support can I expect to receive from my line manager? How responsive are they to questions, and how easy are they to contact? If I am primarily or exclusively working outside the office, will this change the level of support I receive?

  • What makes this organisation different? What are your cultural values, and what aspects of your corporate environment are you most proud of?

Career development opportunities:

  • How does the career progression structure work here? Is there a formalised pathway for advancement, or is every individual career trajectory different? How long on average does it take to get promoted? Would someone else have to leave in order for this to happen?

  • Ask the interviewer about their own career progression: how long have you been here? What pathway have you taken to reach your current level? What support have you received from the organisation to achieve your goals?

  • What kind of training opportunities are available? What additional qualifications and capabilities can I achieve, and what level of support will the firm provide to help me do so?

The takeaway for employers

Because candidates are becoming increasingly aware of their own needs in the employment market and more willing to ask for a generous package that meets these needs, employers themselves should be more proactive about adjusting their offerings to reflect their applicants’ priorities.

This means focusing on things beyond the salary that they are willing to offer a candidate, especially following on from COVID-19 where importance lies with other benefits such as flexibility, establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance and having a clear pathway to progression.

Being aware of the questions they are likely to be asked during the interview stage will facilitate this, and equips employers with the tools they need to show a willingness to go the extra mile in order to provide generous terms for the best talent.

Find out more

To find out more insights into what public sector legal candidates are looking for when searching for a new role, take a look at the full findings of our recent survey of solicitors, lawyers and legal executives.

If you want to learn more about how Sellick Partnership can help match candidates with ideal legal sector roles that meet all of their expectations, please visit our legal recruitment hub, where you can browse our latest legal job listings and find out about the services we offer. You can also contact us directly by calling us on 0161 834 1642.