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Monday, September 21, 2009

Answering Difficult Interview Questions

The interviewer shouldn’t ever ask you a question that catches you off-guard. The fact is that a large part of the interviewing process is designed to knock you off your game, to encourage you to say something that will eliminate you from contention. Prep yourself for the difficult questions so you never get caught flat-footed.

"Tell me about yourself."
How does one answer such a broad question? Does the interviewer really want to know your life story? To prepare your response to this (or the similar question "Why should I hire you?") , list three or four of your most impressive attributes and achievements. If you do not get another chance to speak during the interview, what do you want the interviewer to know? Next, find examples from your resume and other life experiences that support each of your attributes. Finally, find a way to incorporate your achievements and strengths into a brief "history of you". Your answer should last for about 2 minutes and may also include:

- Where you went to college and your major
- Any relevant activities or jobs while in college
- Why you decided to go to law school
- Why you chose New England Law
- Any legal work experience
- Any long term career goals
- Why you want to work for this employer

"What is your greatest weakness?"
How can you answer this question without giving them a reason not to hire you? The worst answers to this question are the ones that either sound disingenuous ("I work too hard.") or raise red flags ("I never finish anything on time.") The best way to answer this question is to talk about a past weakness and how you have worked hard at correcting it.

Example: I have really struggled with speaking in public. However, I am taking a public speaking course right now which has helped immensely.

You could also point out a weakness that the interviewer may already see on your resume such as lack of legal work experience or poor grades.

Example: As you can see from my resume, I do not have a lot of legal experience. However, I am starting a clinic this semester during which I will be handling my own caseload.

Whatever your answer is, you want to make sure it reflects an honest self-awareness while not remaining too negative.

"Do you have any questions for me?"
The answer to this question should always be yes! Asking questions is the best way to let them know how interested you are in the position. Good examples of questions to ask are listed in the interview section of the CSO Handbook and include:

- What’s a typical day for an associate?
- What type of training should I expect?
- How will my work be evaluated?
- What cases best highlight the [firm’s/organizations’] strengths?

Make sure the questions you ask are not ones that can be answered by reading the organization’s website and do not ask about salary during the first interview. If you find that the majority of your prepared questions were already answered during the interview, ask the interviewer for their own point of view of the organization, why they decided to work there, and what they like best about their job.

In approaching any interview, it is important that you are honest and straightforward about the kind of job you want and about yourself as a person. Your initial goals are to establish rapport with the interviewer, to communicate your qualifications, to convey your self-confidence and enthusiasm, and to receive a job offer. However, your ultimate goal should be to find a job in a place where you can do the kind of work that interests you, with people you like, and with whom you will have a positive working relationship.

For further reading on interviewing:
Interviewing section of the CSO Handbook
Walton, Kimm Alayne. "Interviewing: The Secrets That Turn Interviews Into Offers." Guerrilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of Your Dreams. Harcourt Brace. 1995 (Available in the CSO.)
"A Question to Make a Monkey Out of You." The Wall Street Journal. 3 February. 2009
"Tell me about yourself." New York Lawyer. 24 March. 2009

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