How to Answer "Gotcha" Questions in a Legal Job Interview
November 7, 2017
"Why should we hire you?" "How are you doing academically?" "What are your greatest weaknesses?" These gotcha-type questions are famous for stopping some job interviewees dead in their tracks, their mouths agape and minds furiously brainstorming a good answer. Provide a good answer, and your chances of landing the job increase. Give a poor answer…well, it’s back to the job search. The key to acing gotcha questions is preparation. You should think about the types of gotcha questions that you’ll be asked and carefully prepare a response that you can give in an unscripted manner to the hiring manager. Here are a few challenging interview questions and strategies on how to answer them without breaking a sweat:
Question: Why should we hire you?
Answer Strategy: This is the number-one gotcha question of the job interview. View this question as an opportunity to sell yourself to the hiring manager. Review your résumé and find three to four selling points that you can reference during the interview. Look for summer job experience, skills, fellowships, internships, courses, or association experience on your résumé that are a good match for the job in question. Try to develop at least two success stories in which you cast yourself in a positive light and link this success to the job duties of the new position. Be sure to give concrete examples. For example, if you are touting your writing skills, be sure to reference the college award you won for best legal brief or a letter of reference from your summer internship coordinator lauding your writing abilities. One other thing to remember: It’s fine to note what you’ll gain by being hired, but the hiring manager really doesn’t care about that. He or she needs to know that they are hiring someone who will bring value to the firm and improve its bottom line—and you need to stress this in your response.
Question: How are you doing academically?
Answer Strategy: If you’re not at the top of your class, don’t despair. Many law students have rough patches in their studies, and the key is to answer this question directly. Provide a thoughtful, but not lengthy, explanation of why your grades are lower than the ideal (challenging professor, heavy course load, a personal challenge such as an extended illness, etc.), and then move on to spotlight a class or two that you excelled in—ideally ones that relate to the firm’s practice area. And when you get back to school, work even harder to improve your grades so you won’t be asked this question again.
Question: What are your greatest weaknesses?
Answer Strategy: Many interviewees try to avoid answering this question, but that’s the wrong approach. Before the interview, prepare a list of two or three weaknesses and short stories of how you turned them into assets. So when an interviewer asks the dreaded question, be honest, detail the weaknesses (organization and time management, for example), and describe what steps you have taken to become more organized and a better time manager. Try to provide concrete examples of how you have improved these skills, using examples from law school or your work experience. It’s even better if you can provide a letter of reference or a LinkedIn tout from a former employer or internship coordinator that compliments you on these skills.
Question: Why did you become a lawyer?
Answer Strategy: Saying that you became a lawyer because a family member is one or because you like debating won’t cut it as a response. You need to show the interviewer that you’re self motivated and that you understand that there’s much more to being an attorney than just arguing. You should prepare a story of what inspired you to become a lawyer—whether it was your concern for civil rights issues, your fascination with the innerworkings of the U.S. tax code, your interest in protecting the environment, or some other event that inspired you to pursue a legal career.
Question: Why weren’t you on your school’s law review?
Answer Strategy: Experience working on a law review can be a big advantage in finding a job. Many judges and employers believe that working on a law review provides valuable legal writing and research skills. Students are selected based on their grades and/or by participating in writing competitions. If you weren’t on your school’s law review, you need to turn this potential negative into a positive by 1) detailing how you’ve developed your writing skills in other ways (such as writing for specialty journals that are published by your school, legal Web sites or blogs, or other law-related publications, or by winning best memo and best brief awards in first-year legal writing classes), and 2) explaining why you didn’t work on the law review. Good reasons could include a combination of the following: working full time to pay for law school, being very involved in student legal groups, working on a research project with a professor, participating in legal clinics, taking extra clinical classes, or working in industry to gain experience in your planned practice area. If you participated in moot court competitions, be sure to mention this, too. Moot court is a type of mock trial competition in which students practice their skills at performing oral arguments and writing appellate briefs. Law students who win moot court competitions are highly desirable to law firms.
This post has been adapted from the Vault Career Guide to Law, Second Edition.
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