Questions You Can Anticipate
Interviewers really have only one question: Why should I hire you? However, it may be asked in different formats. An interviewer may ask it in a traditional manner that focuses on your beliefs, personality or how you would handle hypothetical situations. It is also likely you will be asked behavioral questions that demonstrate to the interviewer how your past behaviors will predict your future performance.
When possible, use the CAR approach to answer both types of questions:
C= Context. It can include employer size, market, your assignment or goal A= Action. What you did to accomplish specific goals R= Result. The outcome of your work or any improvements you made
For example, if you are asked about your work at a bank prior to law school, you might respond by saying you worked in a branch bank (context) negotiating the sale of financial instruments (action) and increased bank’s market share by 20 percent through aggressive sales initiatives (result). Not all jobs will have a result. If asked about work as a resident assistant as an undergraduate, you might respond that you were responsible for the well-being of 30 students (context) which involved dispute resolution (skill relevant to law practice), discipline, and administrative duties (action).
The following is a list of traditional questions you may be asked during interviews along with comments that may help you respond strategically. There is usually a secondary agenda for questions an interviewer asks. Successful candidates work to answer both the question asked and the secondary issues raised. Following the list of traditional questions, is a list of behavioral interview questions.
Use these lists to begin preparing for interviewing and developing a strategy for what you want to communicate as you respond to these questions. The lists are not comprehensive. Expect specific questions about any item included on your resume and be prepared to answer in-depth. Also, expect the unusual. Every year brings a new crop of “off the wall” questions. Resist the temptation to give flip responses. Remember that an interview is only as good as the two participants. You can’t control the skill of the interviewer but you can enhance your qualities as a skilled interviewee by researching, preparing, and practicing.
Why did you decide to interview with our organization?
Secondary Issue: Did you research our organization? Do you understand our areas of practice, the type of work we do, and how you will fit into the organization? Do you have a sense of how our size affects working conditions? Do you know who our clients are?
Your Response: Demonstrate how you make decisions and prioritize information and show that you researched the employer. Be able to tell them what you think is special about them.
Where do you want to be in ten years?
Secondary Issue: Do you have clear career goals? Are you assertive? Are you confident about your ability to accomplish goals?
Your Response: Your response should be individual to your goals, yet demonstrate compatibility between your goals and long-term tenure with that employer.
What type of law do you want to practice?
Secondary Issue: Do you have a specific career goal? How strong is your interest in litigation? Are you plaintiff or defense oriented? Are your goals consistent with the firm’s? Do you have a prior career or strong interest you want to incorporate into your law practice?
Your Response: Show how your interests match the employer’s practice. If you are uncertain about practice area, demonstrate why you like this employer’s array of practice areas and how your strengths would benefit the firm. (Having a business background, I am drawn to corporate practice, but I find in law school I am really enjoying my Moot Court experience and have proved good on my feet. Your firm’s summer program would give me an opportunity to work in both.)
Why did you decide to go to law school?
Secondary Issue: Do you have realistic career expectations? What motivates you (money, personal fulfillment, intellectual challenge)? How methodical is your decision making?
Your Response: Begin with a thesis statement (“I came to law school because…”), and clearly answer the question rather than sharing a long story about how you came to your decision. Emphasize what motivated your choice. Make this answer persuasive by talking about how your reasons for attending law school link up with your interest in the employer.
Tell me a little about yourself.
Secondary Issue: It may be asked to draw information out about your family, marital status, and children or to elicit information not on the resume in an attempt to create a more personal rapport with the interviewer, thus indicating values. Given a broad topic, you choose to talk about those things which are important to you. This question tests your ability to organize a wide topic into a concise response extemporaneously.
Your Response: This is an excellent opportunity to show the match between your goals and values and the employer’s. Develop a short statement that highlights your strengths and goals.
Do your grades reflect your actual ability?
Secondary Issue: Are you confident? Do you recognize the difference between academic and law firm environments? Do you possess discipline and time management skills?
Your Response: In addition to grades, equally important are lawyering skills, practical experience, and business development potential. Don’t be defensive and remember to focus on your strengths.
What do you do with your free time?
Secondary Issue: Are the sports you choose competitive or individual pursuits? Are your entertainment choices conducive to client development (golf, theater, etc.)? Have you developed maturity through travel?
Your Response: Your response will be individualized in nature.
What questions do you have about our firm?
Secondary Issue: Questions demonstrate interest in the firm.
Your Response: Ask in-depth questions. Follow up on comments made earlier in the interview. Don’t be afraid to ask when the firm will notify applicants for second interviews. Do NOT ask about salary or benefits until the offer is made. Do ask interviewers from one firm the same question – you’ll get different responses and a sense of diversity within the firm. Ask follow-up questions throughout the interview to keep the conversation flowing. If you had a good experience, do let the interviewers know how interested you are in the firm.
With which firms are you interviewing?
Secondary Issue: Does the answer to this question square with what you may have said earlier in the interview about geographic preference, practice area preferences, and market sector preferences? The firm also wants to know which organizations they may be competing against if they decide to make you an offer. Firms also share call-back expenses when a candidate is seeing more than one firm on a call-back trip to a city.
Your Response: Be truthful and be prepared to explain any discrepancies with the employers with whom you are interviewing and what you may have said about your preferences earlier in the interview. If possible, stress the similarities between other firms and the firm asking the question. Your goal is to make the firm asking the question believe that if they offer you the position, you are likely to accept. That said, you cannot speak negatively about any other firm. It is not professional and you never know how quickly that negative information can be relayed to another firm. Conclude by stressing specifics that show the fit between you and the firm asking the question.
What are your greatest weaknesses?
Secondary Issue: Are you authentic? Are you self-aware, confident and mature enough to handle this question without being defensive or uncomfortable?
Your Response: Be truthful and state what you consider to be a weakness. Give a specific example in which the weakness impacted performance. Describe what you have done to try to correct the weakness and give an example of the progress you are making. Employers want an authentic answer. Saying you are too organized or too conscientious just won’t do.
What are your greatest strengths?
Secondary Issue: Are you self-aware and mature enough to handle this question without displaying discomfort with self-promotion.
Your Response: Be prepared to list your top three strengths and give an example of each from your educational or work experience. How will they help you succeed as a lawyer?
What motivates you?
Secondary Issue: Is there a fit between the organization’s incentives and what motivates you? The organization is assessing how well its culture suits you.
Your Response: Like all anticipated questions, think this one through in advance of the interview. Try to give an example from school or work that shows what motivated you, how you responded and what result was achieved. Telling without providing examples is like making a claim without supporting documentation.
Why, among all the candidates, should we hire you?
Secondary issue: Can you “make the case” for hire? Are you persuasive? Do you want a job or this job? Do you possess the maturity and good judgment to refrain from criticizing other candidates?
Your Response: This is your opportunity to show you have thought about this in advance and can state the top three to five reasons you believe you should be hired by this organization. These should be reasons that benefit the organization, not you. Your confidence in your abilities will inspire the interviewer’s confidence in your candidacy.