Law firm interviewers tend to ask candidates questions that test their abilities to “think on the spot.” These questions are designed to assess any number of skills, most notably problem solving and analytic aptitude, compatibility and people skills, time management, personal motivation, emotional health and stability, and beyond (American Bar Association). While the interview may be an intimidating and unpredictable affair, you can prepare yourself to answer these questions with confidence and acumen. Below is a list of 50 questions that an interviewer may challenge you on your next law firm interview. The first twelve are accompanied by two categories: what the question is designed to assess and how you can potentially answer the question. Use these criteria to determine how you might answer the remaining 38 questions.
- Tell me about a time you had to complete a task under a tight deadline (American Bar Association).
Assesses: problem solving skills, time management, personal motivation.
How you should answer: Be specific. Make sure you emphasize both parts of the question: the task at hand and the deadline. Briefly explain why the task was important.
- Tell me about a time you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. (American Bar Association).
Assesses: Compatibility and people skills, problem solving, emotional health and stability.
How you should answer: Avoid devolving the question into a platform for gossip. The question is, after all, about your ability to work with others and not about the work environment at other firms or organizations. In sum, be specific about what you did, but do not go into detail about the deeper social problems that plagued the work place.
- What are some imaginative or creative things you have done on the job? (American Bar Association).
Assesses: Problem solving, personal motivation
How to answer: The question itself is somewhat general, leaving you plenty of room to fill in the blanks with personal details. Be sure to take advantage of that.
- How do you deal with stress or conflict? (American Bar Association)
Assesses: Problem solving, compatibility, emotional health and stability
How to answer: This is one of those questions where it is okay to admit that you are not superhuman and therefore are prone to human emotions, stress in particular. Your job here is to convey to your interviewer that you deal with these human problems in superhuman ways. Be specific. Explain your coping techniques in detail and how they help alleviate stress. Briefly describe common workplace conflicts of the past and show how you resolve them swiftly and gracefully.
- What clues have you come to recognize as signals that you may be under too much stress? (American Bar Association)
Assesses: Problem solving, emotional stability and health
How to answer: Like the previous question, this one asks you to acknowledge the possibility of stress. Be specific. Turn the negatives in positives. For instance, you might say that while you tend to worry a great deal about letting your colleagues and clients down, your stress fuels you to perform to the best of your ability.
- How would a good friend describe you? (American Bar Association)
Assesses: Just about everything!
How to answer: Be specific. Do not just list off traits. Explain how each one contributes to your work.
- What kind of people do you find most difficult to work with? (American Bar Association)
Assesses: Compatibility and people skills, problem solving
How to answer: Again, do not name names. Focus more on the process—how you cope with and work through the situation—instead of on the conflict itself.
- What do you think are the most important characteristics and abilities for any person’s success?
- How do you rate yourself in these areas? (American Bar Association)
Assesses (Qs 8 & 9): Just about everything.
How to answer: These questions are designed to reveal what is important to you and tend to go hand in hand. Notice that the first question is impersonal. Try to keep your answer that way as well. Relay more personal details in the second question.
- When have you failed? Describe the circumstances and how you dealt with, and learned from, the experience. (American Bar Association)
Assesses: Problem solving skills, motivation, emotional health and stability
How to answer: This question is not necessarily designed to grill you for failing at some point in your career; rather, it is designed to reveal how you cope with failure and what you do to fix the situation or mitigate the consequences of your actions. Frame your answer to address these things. Emphasize the solution. Avoid being overly self-deprecating.
- Describe the work environment that you consider optimal for your personal satisfaction and best performance (American Bar Association).
Assesses: Compatibility and people skills, motivation
How to answer: Be honest and specific, but avoid bringing up tension in past workplaces.
- Any scenario question. Example from the American Bar Association: “Scenario: You are an attorney working at our firm on a day when you are the only person in the office. An elderly woman comes into the office asking to see a lawyer right away. She does not have an appointment but says that she needs to sign some papers. She has no papers with her. What do you do?”
Assesses: This particular question assesses your people skills and problem solving ability. However, remember that scenario questions will be designed to assess any number of traits and abilities.
How to answer: Scenario questions place you in a specific place and time and require you to think on the spot. This is the most important thing to remember. Embrace it. After all, in most law firm settings, you will have to think on the spot most of the time. Answer slowly to ensure that you cover all the bases completely. Do not be afraid to take your time to think out each step in the process. Part of being a good problem solver is allowing yourself to stop and think.
Other questions to be prepared to answer:
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
- What do you think makes a good attorney?
- Give me an example of a time when you had to be quick in coming to a decision. (Knight: “Acing the Behavioral Interview”)
- Tell me about a time when you took the initiative and took ownership of a project at work.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What should I know about you that is not on your resume?
- Tell me about a time you overcame a challenge at work.
- Why did you choose to attend law school and why did you choose to attend [your law school]?
- What would you do if the priorities on a project you were working on changed suddenly? (Quintessential Careers)
- Tell me about working for [Senator/Judge/Law Firm] over the summer.
- Describe the most challenging group from which you’ve had to gain cooperation. (Knight)
- List the steps that you would take to make an important decision on the job. (Quintessential Careers)
- Give me an example of a written legal project that is a source of pride for you.
- Did you find law school to be a challenge? Why or why not? What was the most challenging?
- Give me an example of a situation in which you positively influenced the actions of others. (Knight)
- You disagree with the way your supervisor says to handle a problem. What would you do? (Quintessential Careers)
- If you were [Dean of your Law School], what you change? (YLS)
- What was your most rewarding academic experience? (YLS)
- Describe a situation in which you were able to communicate with another individual who did not personally like you (or vice versa). (Knight)
- How have your previous positions helped prepare you for a legal career? (YLS)
- When scheduling your time, what method do you use to decide which items are priorities? (Knight)
- 34. Describe how you’ve handled a sudden interruption to your schedule. (Knight)
- What would you do if you realized at deadline time that a report you wrote for your boss or professor was not up to par? (Quintessential Careers)
- What are factors most important to you when selecting a law firm? (YLS)
- Give me an example of a complex process or task you had to explain to another person or group of people. (Penny: “Situational Interview Questions”)
- How would you handle a situation where you had to rely on information given to you only verbally to complete a complex task? (Penny)
- We have all had to work with difficult or persnickety personalities. How have you managed situations with those individuals?
- Discuss a recent experience where you had to work under pressure. What did you do and how did you handle it?
- Describe a situation where your work was criticized. What did you do and how did you handle it?
- Describe a situation where you had to persuade a colleague to agree with your point of view.
- Give an example of a situation where you used good judgment and logic. (YLS)
- Discuss a situation where you had to make an unpopular decision. How did you manage the fallout, if any?
- Tell me about a time when you agreed to work on too many projects and had to prioritize. How did you manage the situation to meet the deadlines?
- How do you interact with people who are different from one another in a work situation? How do you interact with each one?
- Tell me about a good work decision. Tell me what was good about it and what feedback did you receive?
- Tell me about a time where you had to manage a group and had to deal with a difficult team member. How did you manage? How did you persuade the colleague to be a better team member?
- Describe a situation when you were unexpectedly put in a leadership role. What was the result or outcome? (YLS)
- How would you deal with a significant mistake you made at work? (Penny)
Knight, Jeanne. “Acing the Behavioral Interview.” The Ladders, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.
Penny, Julia. “Situational Interview Questions and Answers.” Situational Interview Questions and Answers. Best Job Interview, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.
“Preparing for the Most Common Types of Law Firm Interviewers.” Loyola University Chicago, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.
“Sample Interview Questions.” Law Practice Division, The American Bar Association, Nov. 2009. Web (http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_home/law_practice_archive/l). 20 Aug. 2015.
“Situational Interview Questions.” Situational Interview Questions & Excellent Sample Responses, 1-10. Quintessential Careers, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.
Yale Law School Career Development Office. “Questions Employers Often Ask.” 20 Aug. 2015.