Lord Hope and the Single Biggest Mistake Applicants Make When Preparing for Competency Based Interviews

Conscientious, able lawyers preparing for their judicial or silk competency-based interviews typically spend time identifying relevant examples that are additional to those they have included in their self-assessment application.

They will often identify examples that they believe will be strong answers to questions they anticipate being asked.

At first blush this makes perfect sense and is in line with the advice often given from various credible quarters. This approach backfires, however, when applicants become too wedded to the examples and make the decision (consciously or unconsciously) to use the example……no matter what the question.

Q. What Colour are London Buses – A. 5.45pm

I see the consequences of this approach to preparation when running clients through a mock interview. I will ask a question directed towards a particular competency and the client will provide an answer which is an excellent response to a slightly different question, that I did not ask.

To illustrate the point, I might ask

Tell me about a time you made a quick decision in a case’

 The client might reply with something along the lines of

A difficult decision that I had to make recently concerned…”

 Despite the focus of the question being on speed, the focus of the answer is on complexity, with no reference to speed.

When I point the mistake out to the client during the feedback part of the meeting, the client will either indicate they did not realise they made the mistake or occasionally they might state that they knew the example was not directly on point, but it was one they had prepared earlier and really wanted to deploy.

Lawyers, Rabbits and Deers

Most lawyers do not anticipate making this type of mistake as it is not the sort of thing they would ever do in court or during a client meeting. What contributes to the error is the context.

Applicants are outside of their comfort zone, engaged in an unfamiliar process, where the questions are about them and not their clients and the icing on the cake is that they have something important vested in the outcome.

These factors contribute to applicants losing focus and experiencing the medical condition of performing like a rabbit or deer in headlights. As Lord Hope said in R v BBC

“..context is everything

Thinking Before Shooting

So, while you should spend time identifying additional examples that you might use at interview; ensure that you are simply bringing them to the surface of your memory as possible answers rather than examples you have scripted and memorised with the intention that you will deploy them.

It is important to understand that an applicant will always be asked questions that they did not expect and consequently could not prepare for.

The optimal preparation strategy, therefore, is to ensure that you can recall and deploy examples that you have not thought of recently, in response to questions you have not anticipated.

When you prepare in this manner you will almost always be able to provide on point answers to unexpected questions.