Changing your mind and explaining why: what I look for in an interview candidate

Colm McGrath is a Research Fellow in Medical Law and Ethics and a fellow of Trinity Hall. He conducts interviews for Trinity Hall each year as part of the admissions process. Here Colm discusses one of the key skills he looks for when interviewing Cambridge Law applicants.

As part of your application process, you will be given an interview by the college to which you have applied. This interview forms just one part of a holistic process, which we go through with each applicant. When it comes to those applying to study law, the interview often tests a candidate’s likely aptitude by exposing them to a short legal text (sometimes from court decisions, sometimes legislation or even academic literature discussing legal problems) and then asking the candidate to analyse it. The resulting conversation will often involve moving between the situation set out in the original text and other, analogous situations.

In the years I have acted as an interviewer in law, a key skill that I have come to recognise in successful candidates is the willingness to go back and change an earlier answer when the candidate realises that it has become inconsistent with their current argument.

Of course, just because the interviewer, as they often will, probes a candidate’s argument from different viewpoints and asks them to defend it, that is no reason in itself for a candidate to abandon their position­­­; being able to see and defend one’s argument from all sides is a characteristic lawyer’s habit and the interview will naturally test a candidate’s ability to do that.

But there is no inherent value in doggedly sticking to an answer where there is a good reason not to or realising that an earlier answer has become inconsistent.

Changing your position when the circumstances merit it — and being able to explain to your interviewers why that is the case — is a key skill and there is nothing wrong with wanting to revisit an earlier answer as the interview goes on. The interview is intended to help us see how a candidate thinks not what they think. Being able to explain why your argument does (or does not) change is a really good way to show us that process.

Interviews are conducted in early December, and are arranged by the college that you apply to. For an in-depth look at three mock-interviews, check out this video from Cambridge University:

For more information, see the Cambridge BA Law website and the Cambridge University website, or contact the college that you applied to for answers to specific questions.

The information in this article is considered correct at the time of publication.

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