The job interview faux pas: what you say, and what the interviewer hears.

by Nikki in Blog

DatePosted on July 15, 2016 at 06:45 PM
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Yes, a good CV may get you an interview opportunity, but only consistently outstanding performances at the interview stages will maximise your chances of getting that job offer.  As recruiters we have come across many candidates asking/saying similar things but the way they bring out the messages are rather different. 

Below are 3 examples to consider:

1. Your reason for leaving

What you say

I’ve been working as a litigation paralegal for 2 years, and before that an IP paralegal for a year. I want to try new things, so I’m quitting my job in search of a position in a corporate team.

How the interviewer interprets that:

You don’t know what you’d like to do and simply want to try out new things – you're showing no dedication to the area of law that you have been working in to date and that, to me, seems like you're a high flight risk, ie, someone who is unstable and likely to move on when you hear of a better offer or a different opportunity.

What you could say instead:

I’ve gained 3 years of experience working in the litigation fields and I believe it is time to gain extra exposure, particularly as I have had a long held passion for business and commerce.  I really admire companies which grow and put themselves on the global commercial map when they [acquire other companies internationally/gain an IPO listing].

[For example, I was reading with great interest how recently there has been a trend among companies in the technology sector gaining a lot of popularity in listing, such as....(give examples)].  

So, I feel that the skill sets which I’ve been building up since I started my paralegal career are transferable to your team and I am confident that I can get up to speed within a short period of time.

2. Applying for a US Associate role

What you say:

I’ve recently passed the New York/California Bar, can your firm offer me a role with guaranteed-associate track?

How the interviewer interprets that:

You’re too aggressive and not realistic – a US legal qualification does not require any fixed-period formal legal training, unlike Hong Kong admitted solicitors, so most firms do not offer guaranteed associate tracks for US admitted attorneys. There might be a potential there to offer you an associate role later on, once you have proved yourself, but I don’t like to hear you asking specifically for it at the interview stage, and before you show me your ability and hunger to succeed and help my team. 

What you could say instead:

Whilst I would eventually wish to become a registered foreign lawyer, my first priority now is to gain more relevant legal working experience. I understand and accept the fact that no law firm would guarantee an associate track – I’ll put in the time and effort to prove myself and to earn the promotion opportunity at your firm.

3. Indicating a desire for a work life balance

What you say:

I have family commitments and I want a work life balance job.

How the interviewer interprets that:

You just want an easy job with decent pay and good hours – wrong attitude!

What you could say instead:

I totally understand that overtime work might be required for urgent matters and I am totally fine with that.  However as I might have to attend some family commitments from time to time I wonder if the firm can offer some flexibility to its employees – say work from home on an occasional basis?


Interviews usually last between 30 minutes to an hour, and some interviewers already make up their mind within 30 seconds of meeting the candidate! 

You do not have a second chance to redo the interview – so please do prepare well in advance as to what messages you are going to convey and do convey them in a confident, yet humble way.   

Hilary Hinton ‘Zig’ Ziglar, the famed American author, salesman and motivational speaker, once said that: “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”.  Possessing the right positive attitude is always the key, and this is not limited to job interviews but equally applicable to our daily lives as well. 


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About the Author


Nikki is Star Anise's resident writer and curator of content on all things careers, coaching and recruitment related at the Star Anise Knowledge Hub. 

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