Interview Questions & How to Handle Discriminatory Questions and Tough Questions

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1 Interview Questions & How to Handle Discriminatory Questions and Tough Questions The interview process can differ depending on the type of employer. Most large law firms conduct initial screening interviews on campus that are usually only minutes in length. This type of legal employer then selects a limited number of candidates for an in-office or callback interview. (For more information on callback interviews, please see the OCI handout.) In contrast, small law firms, public interest organizations, governmental agencies and other legal employers vary in their approaches to the interview process. How to Prepare Preparing for a legal interview is essentially a two pronged process. You must 1] know the employer and 2] know yourself. Many students make the mistake of researching the employer but neglect to determine their own main selling points. You need to be prepared to talk about your experiences and what these experiences say about your strengths. When reviewing the following sets of questions, it is important to remember that there is no magic list of answers that can be memorized to ensure interview success regardless of the type of legal employer. In fact, interviewers repeatedly cite canned answers as one of the surest ways to lose their interest. This does not mean that you can t anticipate questions that could be asked during an interview. According to interviewer feedback, the most impressive candidates are those who can clearly and sincerely articulate their interest in the interviewing employer. Typical Interview Questions Practice for job interviews by preparing to answer the following typical questions and formulating concise, intelligent yet unrehearsed answers. School-Related Questions Why did you choose to go to law school? Why did you pick your particular law school? What areas of law have you considered? Why do you want to practice law? What have you liked best about law school? What courses did you like best and least? Why? Are your grades a good indication of your academic achievement? Work-Related Questions What are you looking for in an employer? Describe the ideal job for you. What do you think makes a company good to work for? What do you like about your current company? What could be better? What have you learned from your work experiences? Why are you looking to leave your current position? What do you want to get out of your next job? What skills are you looking to develop? What do you feel makes you successful in your current role? Give an example to support your success. Tell me about your greatest accomplishment on the job. What was the biggest mistake you ve made on a job? How did you handle it? Tell me about a difficult situation you encountered at work and how you overcame it. Tell me about a time where you were required to work with a difficult person (i.e. client, co-worker, manager, etc.). How did you handle the situation, and what was the outcome? Who was the best manager you ever had? Who was the worst? Give me three adjectives you would use to describe yourself and examples of your work style to support them. How would a co-worker describe you on-the-job? Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 1 of 6

2 If you were given a task to complete in an unrealistic time frame, what would you do? If someone came to you with an enthusiastic, yet unrealistic request, how would you handle it? Do you prefer working alone or in teams? Give examples of how you have worked successfully both alone and in a team. What do you attribute to your success? Personal Questions Tell me about yourself. (Target: two-minute response that includes your main selling points.) What is your geographical preference? Why? What motivates you? How can you contribute to our organization? What can I tell you about our organization? Why are you interested in this organization? Why are you interviewing with us? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What accomplishments have given you the most satisfaction? What qualities should a successful lawyer possess? Could you describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion successfully to convince someone to approach things your way? Where do you see yourself five years from now? Ten years from now? What are your short- and long-term goals? Typical Questions to Ask the Interviewer Solid preparation for any interview also dictates that you formulate some questions for the interviewer. You should ask these with honesty and sincerity and show real interest in hearing the answers. Avoid questions whose answers can easily be found on a NALP form or on the employer's web site, such as practice areas or number of lawyers. At law firms Why did you choose to work at this firm? What type of work do you do? What do you see as the benefits/drawbacks of working at a firm your size? What type of client base does the firm have? Does it rely heavily on one client? For interviews with an organization with more than one location: Are the offices independent? Is there a shared client base? At government/public interest agencies What is the organization of the legal department? Where do junior lawyers fit in? How does the legal department relate to the head of the agency? What opportunity is there for promotion within the agency? Are there any possibilities of intra/inter-agency transfers? How often will I be reviewed for salary increases or promotions? How soon can I expect to hear from you if an offer is to be made? At corporate law departments/with the in-house counsel What is the hiring policy of the department? Do you expect growth in the corporate law department? How much and in what areas? How often will I be evaluated/reviewed? How is the department organized? What is the relationship of the general counsel to the Chairperson of the board? The Board of Directors? How is outside counsel used and for what matters? What is the relationship of the office of the general counsel to outside counsel? How are promotions made? What will a typical career pattern look like? What are your attrition rates? Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 2 of 6

3 When interviewing for summer employment How is your summer associate program structured? How many summer clerks do you plan to hire? What type of projects/assignments do summer clerks receive? Is there a chance for involvement in client meetings? Depositions? Hearings? What type of evaluation/feedback process do you have? Do you allow split summers? Are most offers for permanent, entry-level positions made from the summer program? What must one do as a summer clerk to receive an offer? When considering an offer If I accept the offer, will I have a voice in choosing the kind of work I do? How many associates do you expect to hire? Do you recruit at law schools or laterally? At what rate am I expected to bring in new business? Am I compensated for doing so? Am I expected to bill a certain number of hours or dollars? How many hours does the average associate work? Bill? Is any part of my bonus or compensation determined on the basis of bills collected? Are admission or promotion decisions based in part on hours worked or on bills collected? What are the partnership admission policies and when are they reviewed? The Interviewer s Evaluation Form While the range of desired qualifications can vary depending on the type of legal employer, the following is a good checklist representative of what most interviewers may use to evaluate you: Ability Experience Relevant coursework Activities Diverse interests Leadership Verbal Expression Articulate Logical expression of ideas Professional Behavior Mature, self-confident Appropriate conduct & appearance Interest in Employer Geographic area Practice areas Interpersonal Skills Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 3 of 6

4 Discriminatory Questions The single most important guideline for lawful interviewing is for interviewers to focus on job-related questions that can be asked of all applicants. Interviewers should take steps to avoid any questions that would be asked of only one group of applicants. Generally, an employer is not trying to be discriminatory; many times they ask inappropriate questions out of ignorance or to promote conversation. If you are having a good interview and are asked an inappropriate question, answer it only if you feel comfortable. You should never, however, feel pressured to answer an illegal question. If you feel an employer is deliberately asking discriminatory questions, you have every right to confront him or her about it. Always try to understand the interviewer's motivation. If you choose to respond to an offensive question, answer positively and focus on your professionalism and job ability. Your demeanor and handling of an offensive question could work in your favor and let the employer know why you are such a good candidate. Some typical discriminatory questions and suggested responses include: National Origin Question: Where were you born? Where were your parents born? Of what country are you a citizen? Suggested Response: "As a permanent resident and citizen of the United States, to me it is like I was born here since it has been my home so long." Religion Question: What is your religion? What church do you attend? Do you hold any religious beliefs that would prevent you from working certain days? Suggested Response: "In all my previous employment, schooling and other activities, my religious practices have never interfered with my performance." Age Question: How old are you? How would you feel about working for a person younger than you? Suggested Response: "I relate well to people of all ages. In law school, most of my friends were younger than I was. I respect people based on their knowledge and competence." Marriage or Family Question: What are your marriage plans? Do you plan to have children? What does your spouse do? What happens if you or your spouse gets transferred or needs to relocate? Suggested Response: "I believe my career will be successful with or without a spouse or a family. My spouse and I make career decisions together. Certainly law school was not undertaken lightly and I am not interviewing frivolously. I am here because I am committed to my career and interested in this position." Race or Ethnicity Question: What is your ethnic background? Would you feel out of place being a minority in our office? Suggested Response: "Throughout my life, I have gone to school with persons of diverse backgrounds and cultures. I have always worked hard and gotten along with everybody. A person's race, whatever it may be, should not interfere in the work environment." Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 4 of 6

5 Gender or Sexual Orientation Question: How would you feel about working for a man/woman? Do you think you would be comfortable working for or with someone of the opposite sex? As a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered individual, would you feel out of place working in our office? Suggested Response: "As long as a person is qualified, I have no problems working for or with someone of the same or opposite sex. A person's sexual orientation, whatever it may be, should not interfere in the work environment." Physical Challenges Question: As a physically challenged person, what help are you going to need in doing your work? How severe is your handicap? Suggested Response: "Actually, I do not need help doing my work, because I have been adequately trained. What I need might be minor adaptations of the work station and colleagues who relate to me as a fellow professional." Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 5 of 6

6 Tough Questions for an Alternative Position Issue 1: You can t afford to take this alternative legal position. When you apply for an alternative legal position, employers may be worried that you will be able to work at their salary for a short period of time. First, you must honestly assess your financial situation and thoroughly research the industry s salaries before the interview. Once you are confident that money will not be an obstacle, it is up to you to convey that fact to the employer. Mention that you conducted thorough research into salaries prior to embarking on the alternative career search. Assure them that you are financially prepared to start at a level that is commensurate with your direct and transferable experience. Issue 2: You re nice and all, but you have no experience in our industry. You probably possess more experience than you think. Here s where you need to be a detective of sorts. Sure the job title is XYZ, but what does that really mean? What are the daily tasks? Distill the job down to the basic skills required and you might learn that your legal experience has provided you with tremendous transferable skills. You likely have developed strong research, writing, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Your legal work may also overlap with your current industry of interest. Issue 3: What s this? You are on your third career! How can you be certain this job is right for you? Multiple degrees or job changes may cause employers to believe that you have not narrowed down your career choices, or that you make rash decisions. In the interview, your job is to tell your story so that it will make sense to an employer. Don t wait for employers to come up with their own reasons for the changes. Then, stress what steps you have taken to make sure you are better informed about this new field and better prepared to make a lasting commitment to it. Issue 4: If you didn t have what is takes to make it as a lawyer, why should we hire you? OUCH! This employer concern is arguably the most personal and perhaps the hardest to answer. Focus on the high points of your legal education and career: the excellent training, your contacts, the opportunities to help you ve had, and even the terrible working conditions you survived! If you are deciding to embark upon a new challenge, then show your enthusiasm and be clear in your mind how your experience as a lawyer compliments your new career path. You will exude a positive outlook and this will go a long way in answering the skeptical employer. Santa Clara University Law Career Services Page 6 of 6

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