How to Answer Really Tough Interview Questions

By Hillary Mantis

You have checked your resume over twice. You have lined up all of your references. You have re-familiarized yourself with that paper you wrote when you were a 1L that’s now on your resume, along with every summer job you’ve held since high school.

You are ready for your next interview….or are you? What if they ask those vague, unanswerable questions that you can’t really prepare for like “Tell me about yourself?” How are you supposed to answer that question?

While you don’t want “canned answers” for most of your interview questions, you do want to have a plan for these types of tough questions. If you have an interview coming up, here are some tips to answer those really tough interview questions.

 


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1 | Tell Me About Yourself.

What do they want to know about you?

Do they want to know where you grew up and where you are going over Christmas break? Probably not. What they are looking for is an overview of your work history, especially as it relates to the job at hand.

You may want to start with when and how you decided to go to law school, then summarize the internships and law related jobs you have held. Give an example from each experience of how you accomplished or initiated something positive while you were there. Bring the interviewer to the present, and tell them why you are now applying for this specific position. Hopefully your summaries of past employment will fit in to your current goals. If not, you can explain why you are making a switch. Also give a brief history of your academic highlights in college and in law school. Mention academic honors, and specific courses you have taken that relate to their practice area.

As you answer this question, be prepared for interruptions. You may have to adjust the story as you go, but no matter what try to get in a few examples of your accomplishments over the years, whether they are job related or academic.

 

2 | Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

You may not really know where you want to be in one year, much less five; but you probably have some idea of your long term goals.

The key in answering this question is to have some goals that hopefully fit in with the employer’s goals. You would be surprised to learn how many students I have worked with who have given answers to this question that were completely unrelated to the employer’s practice area or location.

Employers do not need to know everything about you, but they do want to hear that you are committed long-term to the type of law that they practice, and hopefully to the geographic location they are in. If they hire you and train you, they want to know that you are as invested in them, as they are in you.

 

3 | What Are Your Weaknesses?

I used to hate being asked this question, and I’m guessing you do too. What can you say that does not sound totally phony and artificial? 

The general theory is that you name a weakness that either does not relate to the job, or one that you have overcome or improved upon.  I prefer the latter — a weakness that you have learned to overcome or have substantially improved upon.

Take public speaking, for example. Many people hate public speaking. Some would rather have root canal than to give a speech in front of a large audience. But in school, you are forced to answer questions in class, participate in moot court and develop confidence in your thoughts and legal arguments. If you can give an example of how you improved that would be an excellent way to answer the question. You could say your team placed first in mock trial, you got an “A” in moot court, or your grades went up because of class participation. Public speaking is just one example. Think of other ways you have managed to improve your skills in any area during college and law school.

In the end, these questions are not ones to be afraid of — they are really opportunities. They give you a chance to tell the interviewer information that they would not typically ask if they were just going through your resume.

 

Like this article? Check out more helpful career advice from Hillary here 

 


Hillary Mantis consults with pre-law students, law students, and lawyers. She is the author of career books, including Alternative Careers for Lawyers, and Director of the Pre-Law Program at Fordham University. You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.


 

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