Unusual questions are par for the course at training contract interviews and it’s easy to be caught off guard. We asked trainees who have been through the process and come out the other side about the toughest training contract interview questions they faced.

training contract interview questions“What motivated you at university on a daily basis?”

While this may not seem a difficult question at first, it was really the first time I had truly considered what I had achieved. My motivation almost exclusively came from the support system of friends and family I had around me. Many people had given up a lot of time and energy to lay down the foundations for my future success, and from this I could not face the thought of failing to reach my potential and letting them down.

Valery Nformba, Macfarlanes

George Kaye, Ince & Co“If you were given a super tanker, what would you do with it?”

I was not allowed to just say ‘use it to trade oil’. I think I said something along the lines of turning it into a giant floating hotel and pool complex. This went down well at the time – although in hindsight I wasn’t asked back for another interview so perhaps should have said something more serious.

George Kaye, Ince & Co

“You’ve got a lot of extra-curricular activities on your CV – have you got time to be a lawyer?”

That was a bit of a curveball. I think I explained that I have a broad range of interests that will complement, rather than compete with, my legal career and ambitions – and that I would probably do a bit less once I started work.

Dan Partridge, Stephens Scown

“What would your autobiography be called and why?”

I was completely flummoxed by this before I managed to answer, “There and Back Again.” I may have slightly plagiarised my answer from The Lord of The Rings (big fan!) but it was the only thing that came to mind at the time while the interviewer was watching me crumble.

Kate Jones, Clyde & Co

“Who would you save in a doomed hot air-balloon?”

I was given the names, ages and characteristics of about eight people, including a child, who were destined to die without the intervention of my single parachute. I still cringe at the thought of that interview – it was a car crash.

Emma-Louise Fenelon, 1 Crown Office Row

“How would invest £1m and would ensure you made a good return on the investment?”

This particular interview was post-financial crisis as businesses were starting to recover. These types of questions aim to test your commercial awareness which can be difficult if you have not had a great deal of experience in the commercial world.

I cannot remember exactly how I answered the question (it is always the question you remember; not the answer given) but, I recall it related to investing in renewable energy sources and real estate.

Rebecca Cox, MacRoberts

“You overhear three of your friends talking about you, what are they saying about you?”

This actually wasn’t in a training contract interview but in a job interview. At the time I could only think ‘why are they talking about me behind my back?’ and I automatically thought they were saying bad things about because they were talking behind my back. At least this was my thinking in the stress of a job interview. For obvious reasons I didn’t want to talk about my annoying or bad habits in an interview so I was a little bit flustered.

After a long pause I think I said that my friends would describe me as passionate and argumentative, in that I stick up for myself when I think I am right and am not afraid to share my opinions.

Hannah Manson, Simpson Millar

“Do you think you are commercially aware?”

Without sufficient interview preparation this could have taken me by surprise. I think it is good to show who you really are during an interview but you can also help yourself by preparing answers for questions which you know you are likely to be asked. At least having relevant examples of your experience to mind which you can draw upon can really help.

Luckily I was able to talk about when I worked as a part-time shop manager during the summer before my LPC started. While working there I would have to submit orders of craft beer to our suppliers. One night, while shopping in supermarket, I noticed that it had started to sell some of the beer which we stocked, at a lower price per unit than we were able to order from our supplier! I raised this with the shop’s owner who investigated the impact this would have on the profitability of certain product lines.

Thomas Broster, Brabners

“What literary character do you most identify with and why?”

I was reading Bleak House at the time so I said Richard Carstone, a young man who decides to be a lawyer at the beginning of the book. I likened my struggle with the training contract applications to the character’s frustration with Jarndyce v Jarndyce, the Chancery case that consumes his life and goes on for years.

Alastair Edmondson, TLT

“If you could compare yourself to one person in history who would it be and why?”

To be honest I can’t remember who I chose in the heat of the moment. I remember saying that they had faced adversity, had proved everyone wrong and succeeded.

I think I was referring to the amount of times that I had been rejected from law firms but that I remained determined to succeed (I was embarrassed afterwards).

Polly Egan, Gateley

“How would you explain music to a deaf person?”

I can’t actually remember what I waffled on about but it was useless. I’ve since heard a friend was asked the same question and drew an analogy to colours which apparently worked quite well.

Charlie Reed, Berwin Leighton Paisner

training contract interview questions“What is the difference between the situation in Syria and the situation in Libya?”

Overall, I found that most interviewers asked challenging, but reasonable, questions. However, at my first ever interview (around the time of the Arab Spring) a partner started proceedings by asking this question.

I put forward several points about Russian vetoes and “varied Western interests in the region”, before being promptly given a potted history of the Middle-East and a summary forecast of future developments and regime changes in the region.

After the interview I was in a newsagents, and a paper had an article on exactly the topic I had been questioned on. I think the moral here is to always allow some time on the morning of your interview to digest the day’s news.

Ben Martin, Osborne Clarke

“Out of those on this vacation scheme, which two hopefuls would you hire and which one would you fire?”

I am pleased to say that I chose two hopefuls who are now my fellow trainees and the vac schemer that I chose to fire was unsuccessful! It’s a dog eat dog world!

James Hall, CMS Nabarro Olswang

To see more awkward questions and answers, check out the first tricky questions article, as well as our 60-second interview series.

Are you a trainee who’s faced a tougher interview question, or would you like to do a 60-second interview yourself? Email richard.simmons@thelawyer.com