criminal mastermind

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You don’t win a prize if you go to the comments to help answer this question from Jane from London, but she stands to win a job AND a wig. So help her out, please. She says:

I am a law student and am trying to qualify as a barrister. In order for this to happen I have to fill in lots of horrible application forms and attend lots of interviews in the hope that at the end of it someone will give me a wig, gown and a job. Most of the application forms are pretty standard and not a problem. But one or two of them have ‘joke’ questions, which frankly I don’t know how to go about answering.

For example, one says “If you were on Mastermind, what would your specialist subject be and why?” Answer me this: what the fuck are they looking for when they ask this question? As I don’t believe I’m located anywhere on the autistic spectrum, I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the wing-spans of birds, or of the Arsenal Football team 1976-1984, or similar! I’m a normal person with normal levels of interests and I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of anything!

So what do I do? Do I make up something that I think lawyer-y types would find impressive (and risk them asking me about it at interview). Do I just tell the truth? Or do I just have a stab at something I quite like, like ‘the works of Radiohead’ and leave it at that?

You are asking the wrong person, Jane: my Mastermind subject would be “How to poison job applications so you definitely won’t make it through to the interview stage”. Which, now I think upon it, is a sad waste of all that education I received. I should have been able to opt for “Anglo-Saxon pronouns” or “mid-period Henry James novels”, but you have to go for where your real strengths lie.

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6 Responses to “criminal mastermind”

  1. Hannah Says:

    When I was a postgrad, my tutor gave me a good piece of advice about ‘personal interests’-type questions on application forms (bearing in mind that he was talking in terms of interviews for jobs in theatre, which might not be quite the same as interviews for jobs in law).

    He’d interviewed lots of people before, and said he used the slightly quirky/personal questions for a couple of things. Firstly, to relax anyone who was nervous, and secondly to try and get the interviewee away from their practised answers, so he could see how they interacted with him normally and what they might be like to work with.

    I think the key is not to think of them as trick questions. Answer honestly – in the case of the Mastermind question, choose something you know at least a little about, not just something you think will make you look clever or cultured. Equally, it’s pretty certain the interviewer(s) won’t be basing their decision entirely on one question, so don’t try to work every skill/quality/experience that you want to discuss in the interview into that one answer – just focus on one thing and make sure the link between the topic and your skill isn’t too tenuous, otherwise it will seem like you’re bullsh*tting.

  2. Autumn St. John Says:

    Job applications try to be ‘quirky’ and interesting when they’re really just trying to find out as much about your skills, qualities and experiences as possible.

    I would advise going for the ‘something you actually like’ option as when you’re answering the ‘why’ part of the question and when it comes to the interview not only will you be able to discuss the topic but you’ll also be able to relate it back to your capabilities.

    But what the hell does your fondness of Radiohead have to do with you ‘in real life’ let alone you as a soon-to-be barrister or your wig size?

    When we like a band, we usually don’t like them just for their melodies or their ability to fit seven guitarists on stage. We normally relate to their lyrics, their image or their own experiences and history.

    So if you wanted to use your appreciation of Radiohead as an excuse to talk about how fabulous you are, you’d first need to ask yourself if any of their lyrics speak into your own life – for example, I like the lyric ‘I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul’ not neccessarily because of what the band actually meant by it but because it reminds me of my will to constantly improve myself. So what can you say about your favourite lyric that would tell the interviewer what they want to know (and want to hear)?

    Or what about the band’s incredible work ethic during its early stages (150 gigs in 1993 according to my friend Wikipedia)? Has that inspired you to also work hard in these early stages of your own career? Yes? Oh, that explains why you’re so near to qualifying as a barrister and why you want to work for this firm, which is characterized by diligence and conscientiousness. Yes, employers love a) hard workers who want to work for them and b) flattery.

    In short, pick a ‘Mastermind’ topic you genuinely like (you don’t have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of it) and ask yourself questions about why you like it, how it’s influenced your life and what you admire about it beyond the aesthetic or the usual fangirl reasons.

  3. Martin Says:

    Definitely not “law” – they’ll quiz you on it, and lets face it a new graduate knows nothing compared to an experienced barrister.

    I agree with Steve – say something like “I’d love to learn all about X” and picking something quirky but mildly cultural that you can actually justify why – e.g. the history of Cornish Tin Mines, because your grandfather was a Cornish tin miner.

    And lay off autistic people.

  4. Sarah Says:

    Surely law?

  5. Anne Says:

    I think that you choose something comfortably middlebrow, not too lawery and show-offy, not “Jersey shore hookups”.

  6. Steve, Nottingham Says:

    It doesn’t have to be something you already know everything about. You get time to study. Also, you don’t have to be autistic to know things.

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