The most nerve-wracking portion of the interview is, of course, answering the many questions that may be posed to you. You may be asked a variety of questions, depending on the skill level of the person interviewing you. Some interviewers are not trained in the art of obtaining as much useful information as possible from a prospective employee. These people may spend much of the interview time talking about themselves and their practice, or pontificating on the firm and its philosophy. You may come away from one of these interviews knowing more about the firm than they learned about you! However, professional personnel managers know just what they need to ask to find out about you, your skills, your background, your attitude, and everything else they will need to know to decide whether you would make a good addition to the firm.
The best way to relax at an interview is to rehearse. With that in mind, we have listed below samples of questions that may be in interviewer's bag of tricks. Pose each of these questions to yourself and think about how you would answer it. If you go through this exercise, you should be able to give a natural, relaxed, well thought-out answer during the interview.
275 Killer Questions You Just Might Be Asked in the Interview
Tell me about your college experience.
Why did you choose this major?
What do you intend to do with your degree?
Are you changing your original goals?
What was your grade point average (GPA) in college? in paralegal school?
Were you an honors student?
What was your favorite subject?
What was your least favorite subject? Why?
Tell me the areas in which you excelled.
Tell me your weakest subject areas.
Were you employed while attending school?
Are you planning to complete college/paralegal school?
Why did it take so long to complete your degree?
Why did you decide to become a paralegal?
Why did you change careers?
Why did you choose the ABC Paralegal School?
How has your education prepared you for a paralegal job?
What professional seminars have you attended in the past year?
What are your future educational plans?
Does your grade point average reflect your work ability?
Name three subjects you learned that could be used in this position.
Are you planning to attend law school or grad school?
Tell me about your best/worst assignment.
Did you participate in a paralegal internship program?
What did you gain from the experience?
Do you have a paralegal mentor/role model?
Why did you choose this person?
Are you a CLA (Certified Legal Assistant) or a PACE-registered paralegal (Paralegal Advanced Competency Exam), or have you applied to take either test?
How has this certification or registration helped or hindered your job search?
How do you react to on-the-job-training?
Did you bring college/paralegal school transcripts with you? Can you provide them?
Characteristics and Traits
Tell me about yourself.
How well do you work under pressure? Please give me an example.
What would you do if, during a peak work period, someone dropped a document on your desk and said, "please have this done in an hour?"
Do you get bored doing routine and repetitious work?
Tell me about your ability to pay attention to details. Please give me an example.
What stresses you? What really stresses you on the job?
Tell me how you cope with deadlines. Please give me an example.
How would your past employers describe you?
What are your greatest strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
How would your friends/former coworkers describe you?
How do you cope with a changing work environment?
Who are your role models?
Describe a work situation where you were the "hero."
Describe a situation you could have handled better.
Describe a situation that demonstrates you are a "self-starter."
What are your feelings about a dress code? Casual day?
Why should we hire you?
Our paralegals are expected to bill 1,600 hours per year. Can you do that?
Describe how you would handle an irate client/attorney/ colleague/supervisor.
Describe how you would handle an overworked, stressed-out, about-to-go-to-trial attorney/client/colleague.
What is your greatest attribute?
How do you get along with others?
Are you better in a team environment or as an independent player?
Are you a team leader? If so, please describe an instance that demonstrates your leadership.
What would you do if you were faced with an unethical dilemma?
Creativity and Initiative
Tell me how you handled the most boring assignment you've ever been given.
What would you do if you were handed an assignment you didn't know how to complete?
What makes a paralegal successful?
Describe an assignment where you took the initiative.
If you were in a situation where work was trickling in, what would you do?
If you were in a situation where the volume of work was overwhelming, what would you do?
How do you motivate a team?
How do you go about making important decisions?
Can you work without direct supervision?
What process do you use when faced with a job-related problem?
The behind every question lurks a possible objection. Basically, the interviewer continues to ask JD herself, "Why should I hire you?" They really consider objections as part of their job. No one is entirely gullible, and objections serve as guideposts to making the right decision about the right candidate. ....
The final strategy in a job hunt has to do with the quality of your effort. Very little of this comes naturally, unless you are a natural hustler. The first spirit of America is fierce independence. The fiercely independent declared that without the shackles of the old world binding a person to a state or cla ....
Traditional job-search workshops will advise you to write a thank-you letter after each interview. We would like to offer an effective variation on the theme: the follow-up letter. The purpose of the follow- up letter is to continue promoting yourself. It is a reason to contact the interviewer once again and ....
Tell me about your past position. What were your responsibilities?
Why are you leaving your present position?
Why did you leave your past positions?
Describe your current responsibilities.
How does your current/past position relate to the paralegal field?
To whom did you report?
What do you enjoy most about your current position?
Were you required to bill time in your past position? If so, what were the requirements?
Why were you downsized? Laid-off?
What would past employers say about you?
Are you accustomed to working overtime?
Tell me about your toughest project and how you handled it.
Describe a typical assignment from your last position.
Does your present employer know you are leaving?
Were you responsible for training/supervising anyone?
Why do you want to change professions?
Who can we contact for professional references?
How did you get along with your boss? Coworkers?
Tell me about your last performance review.
Why do you want to work here?
Why should we hire you over other candidates?
What do you know about our firm/company?
When can you start a position?
What would you like to be doing in five years?
Have you ever written any articles/taught courses?
Your resume reflects a two-year gap. Did you work during that period?
(Please note: You may be asked a few of these questions according to the job's practice specialty.)
Did you bring a sample of your work product?
Can you provide a writing sample?
Have you had a legal research assignment?
Do you know how to use LEXIS-NEXIS or Westlaw?
Are you familiar with federal and state laws?
What specialty are you seeking?
Do you speak any foreign languages?
How would you rate your cite-checking abilities?
Tell me about your computer skills.
Tell me about your analytical skills. Please give an example.
How extensive are your factual investigation skills?
Have you ever interviewed a witness?
Can you put together closing binders? Trial binders? Exhibits?
Have you ever summarized a deposition?
Have you ever drafted pleadings?
Have you ever attended trial?
What do you know about the SEC?
How would you prepare for a real estate closing?
Can you prepare subpoenas? Notices of depositions?
Tell me about the judicial system.
Have you ever coded documents?
Tell me about your organizational skills.
How much experience do you have interfacing with clients?
What are your crisis-management skills? Please give me an example.
Describe your worst assignment and how to prevent it, if you could, today.
Describe an assignment where you were the hero.
Do you know your way around the courthouse?
What do you know about imaging and scanning?
Have you ever formed a corporation?
Do you have any experience working with government agencies?
What do you know about CERCLA?
Have you ever worked on the case/matter? (Checking for conflict of interest.)
To what extent have you been exposed to mergers and acquisitions?
Have you ever worked with Blue Sky laws?
Have you ever Bates-stamped? No? Have we got a surprise for you.
How are punitive damages awarded?
How do you prepare jury instructions?
Have you ever prepared a lease summary?
Have you been to/studied Family Court?
Are you familiar with products liability litigation?
Describe how a trademark is registered.
Describe the patent registration process.
What is the procedure to file a copyright?
Give me an example of your organizational abilities.
Describe the differences between Chapters 7, 11, and 13.
What skills do you possess to be a great paralegal?
Why have you chosen corporate law over litigation?
Why are you seeking a position with an in-house legal department?
What is the difference between arbitration and mediation?
What practice area most interests you and why?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
How do you handle last-minute projects?
Salary, Bonuses, Overtime, and Expectations
What is your current salary?
What is your base salary?
Are you compensated for overtime? How much do you receive in overtime pay?
Did you receive a bonus? If so, what was it based upon?
Do you hold an exempt (not paid overtime) or nonexempt (overtime is paid) position?
What salary are you seeking?
Would you be interested in a temporary to permanent position? If so, what is the hourly rate you are seeking?
What was your total compensation?
We start all our entry-level paralegals at $ per year. (You are expected to respond.)
Can you work overtime? (Requires a yes or no answer only.)
We offer a bonus based on merit. (You may be expected to ask a few questions here.)
Are you open for negotiation regarding your salary requirements?
Can you work weekends?
Are you available for the night shift?
What would you like to be earning in 5 years?
What position do you expect to hold in another 2/3/5 years?
What are your plans to achieve that goal?
What other positions within the firm are attractive to you?
Are you planning to attend law school or grad school?
What is your 5-year plan?
What thought have you given to your professional future?
Have you joined a paralegal association?
Tell me about your dream job.
Temporary Employees and Assignments
Are you seeking full-time (permanent) employment?
Can you commit to the end of the assignment?
Can you work overtime?
What are your computer skills?
Have you ever worked in a temporary position?
What skills do you have for this position?
Do you take direction well?
What hourly rate are you seeking?
When does your current assignment end?
What guarantees do we have that you'll finish the assignment?
Do you need an office?
Can you manage others?
Are you available on the weekends?
What agency do you work with?
Can you start tomorrow?
Describe an instance where you were required to make an important decision related to a temporary assignment. How did you handle it?
Have you ever had an assignment like this before?
Can you travel to the document production site?
Can you get here on time?
When is your time card due?
Who is supposed to sign your time card?
What would you do if you completed your assignment early?
What would you do if you didn't understand the assignment?
Are you available to work overtime?
Are you available to travel?
Can you complete this temporary assignment by the deadline?
How much notice will you give your present employer?
When are you available to start a position?
Can you start any sooner?
When do you graduate?
Are you available for work before graduation?
Can you relocate?
Are you available for training in our corporate office?
Are you available to meet with the rest of the staff on Tuesday?
Are you available next week for a second interview/lunch with colleagues?
How would you rate your computer skills?
What are your computer skills?
Tell me the software in which you are proficient.
Do you know how to use spreadsheets? Which ones?
Can you use a MAC? a PC?
What do you know about networks?
How experienced are you on the Internet?
What do you know about videotaped depositions?
How extensive is your knowledge about imaging and scanning?
Can you design databases?
Have you ever coded documents?
What legal forms software packages do you know?
Do you know Windows 98? Windows 2000?
Do you know Office 99? Office 2000?
Are you familiar with SQL?
Are you familiar with graphics packages?
Tell me about your technology expertise.
Tell me about your litigation support expertise.
Are you a fast learner?
How many year's experience with computers do you have?
How did you use the computer on your last job?
Do you have good data entry skills?
Tell me about your legal research skills.
Are you familiar with WordPerfect or Word?
Do you have a computer at home? A modem? Fax? DSL?
Do you own a laptop computer?
Do you consider yourself computer literate?
How up-to-date are your computer skills?
How do you keep yourself informed about the latest technology changes?
Are you familiar with EDGAR?
What is HTML?
Have you ever used Lotus Live Notes?
What is Explorer?
What do you know about Java?
Yahoo is not a term used by cowboys. What would you say it is?
How have you used these services?
Are you comfortable asking for help when learning a new program? Or do you tend to "tough it out"?
What experience do you have with E-mail?
What is LAN/WAN?
What is your opinion regarding copyright, privacy, and First Amendment rights concerning the Internet?
Do you think the Internet is misused?
Where do you think technology in the legal field is headed?
What do you know about computers in the courtroom?
How has technology impacted billable hours?
What is a browser?
What technology periodicals do you read?
How did you first learn to use a computer?
Can you use the redlining features?
Do you know how to burn a CD?
Did you take any computer science courses in paralegal school?
Are you familiar with any of the latest litigation support software? Which ones?
Americans with Disabilities Act
1. Is there any reason why you cannot perform your duties?
This question should not be asked any other way. The question requires a yes or no answer. (See illegal questions.)
QUESTIONS CANDIDATES CAN ASK DURING THE INTERVIEW
No matter what, be sure to ask questions. After the interviewer explains the position, benefits, and history of the firm, he or she may ask if you have any questions. If the candidate says "no," the interviewer may think the candidate does not go beyond what is presented or shows little interest. Of course, if you have had an extensive dialogue and the question is really asking, "Do you have any further questions?," you may be better off not extending the interview.
However, if you have talked a little about yourself, then listened as the interviewer explained the position, it's probably better to ask at least one or two questions. Make certain the question is related to
Information about the firm that might affect your position, such as expansion plans, new specialty areas, new laws
Other areas of the firm that may affect your position, such as MIS, litigation support, word processing.
In this phase of the interview, stay away from "what's in it for me" questions such as
"When do I go on vacation?"
"When are salary reviews?"
"Do you pay for parking?"
"Do I get an office?" "Does it have a window?"
While these are questions that eventually need answers, now is not the time. You must first sell the employer on your skills and abilities to do the job. You'll find out quickly enough what goodies the firm will bestow upon you. This information will be important to you in order to negotiate the total compensation package.
Stay focused on what has been said, no matter how nervous you might be. Come prepared, armed with background information on the firm as well as questions to ask the interviewer. Don't take out a list though! Many attorneys and law office staff find a list suspect. Interviewers prefer to participate in friendly conversation rather than an inquisition. Here are a number of appropriate questions. Two to four questions should be more than enough. The time to ask about benefits such as vacation, parking, or tuition reimbursement is during a second interview or toward the end of the first interview and before salary negotiations. Asking too soon about benefits risks a hidden message, "OK, enough about you, what about me?," which doesn't exactly help to get the job.
What is the structure of the firm or in-house legal department?
Who is the person paralegals report to?
How long has the firm/legal department used paralegals?
What is the history of the firm/company?
How many attorneys are in the practice specialty?
What is the ratio of paralegals to attorneys?
What are the practice specialties of the firm/legal department?
How many employees does the firm/corporation have?
Do paralegals work with senior partners?
How are paralegals assigned work?
Is the paralegal program a profit center?
What are the number of required billable hours?
Does the firm/corporation handle pro bono work?
If so, are paralegals involved?
Does the firm/corporation have branch offices? If so, where?
What is the firm's philosophy regarding technology?
Are paralegals responsible for administrative time? If so, what kinds of duties are involved?
Will I have an office?
Tell me about secretarial support for paralegals.
Paralegals in the Firm/Corporation
How many paralegals are in the firm/corporation?
Have paralegals been promoted into other positions within the firm/corporation?
How many attorneys or paralegals have been promoted to vice president in this company?
Do paralegals meet on a regular basis?
Are paralegals included in department meetings? Client meetings?
Who supervises the paralegal's work?
Where do I go if I have questions?
How do paralegals receive assignments?
Do paralegals use the Internet?
Do paralegals perform legal research?
Do paralegals draft documents in this firm/corporation?
Does the firm/corporation offer continuing education or in-house training?
Do paralegals attend trial?
Do paralegals attend depositions?
Do paralegals have access to secretaries or word-processing support?
Does the firm/corporation have a litigation support department?
Does the legal department work separately from other departments in this company?
Can you tell me how paralegals receive updated information regarding laws, technology and clients?
Does each paralegal have a computer?
Can you describe the culture of the firm?
What are the long-term plans of the firm/corporation?
Has the level of paralegal assignments progressed over the years?
What is the average tenure of the paralegals here?
Does the firm have a career path for its paralegals?
Can you describe a typical assignment?
Can you describe a typical day in the life of a paralegal in this position?
Does the position have a full pipeline of work?
How many attorneys and paralegals will I work with?
Why is this position open?
How many paralegals have held this position in the past 5 years?
What are the computer skills required for this position?
If the senior partners retire, does the firm continue on?
What do you expect this paralegal to accomplish?
Will I cross-train in other practice areas of the firm?
What access do paralegals have to word processing?
What access do paralegals have to the law library?
How long has this position been open?
What are the precise characteristics to be a successful candidate?
What is the skill level required for this position?
What software packages will I be expected to know?
Does the firm/corporation have a structured paralegal program?
What is the hiring process?
Would you like a writing sample?
Does the firm have a training program for entry-level paralegals?
Is the relationship between managing partners and paralegals favorable?
What are the most important duties in this position?
What causes a paralegal to fail in this position?
How is my performance evaluated?
What opportunities are there for advancement?
I have some interests outside work. Will I be able to pursue these after hours?
Do you have any other questions regarding my qualifications for this position?
Since I will be working with (five) attorneys, is there a formalized policy for prioritizing the work?
Will I have client contact?
What are the most important goals of this position?
When will you make a hiring decision?
Does the paralegal in this position have an office?
Benefits, Perks, Vacations, Time Off
(Be careful about when you ask these questions!)
Can you describe the benefits package? (Includes vacation and parking.)
Does the firm/corporation offer a 401(k) or other retirement packages?
Does the firm/corporation reimburse or pay for continuing education?
Does the paralegal in this position have an office or secretary?
What is the vacation policy? How is it accrued?
Does the firm/company endorse participation in paralegal associations?
Does the firm/company pay for association dues?
Are year-end or holiday bonuses offered?
Does the firm pay for parking or offer a transportation allowance?
Can you describe the health benefits?
Does the firm/corporation offer dependent coverage?
Do employees pay any part of the insurance premium?
Does the firm offer long-term disability or life insurance?
Does this corporation offer profit sharing?
Will I be able to attend paralegal association seminars? Does the firm/corporation reimburse or pay for these seminars?
Technical Savvy of the Firm
Just because the firm may ask you questions relating to your technology skills does not mean that you are prohibited from finding out just how technologically savvy they may be! If you are a new paralegal or a veteran exploring a job change, here are sixteen questions you can ask to help you evaluate your potential new employer's orientation to technology utilization in the practice of law:
What programs are paralegals expected to know, and how are those programs used?
Do members of the firm use E-mail internally to communicate with each other? With their clients?
Are paralegals provided laptops? Are attorneys provided laptops? Do they use them?
Does the firm have a Web site? How often is it updated? Are paralegals included on the Web site?
Does the firm have a technology committee? Do any paralegals sit on that committee?
What ongoing training does the firm provide to maximize comfort level with new and existing technology?
What is the firm's attitude toward the virtual office? Do any paralegals in the firm work from home or a client's office?
Is the firm's computer technology compatible with clients'?
Does the firm have an MIS director, and if so, what is that person's relationship to the firm's management committee? How much interfacing is there between the MIS director and the paralegals?
What is the firm policy regarding the Internet and employee privacy issues?
If the firm has multiple offices, are they networked? Does the firm have an Intranet or Extranet?
What operating system does the firm utilize? (Is the firm still using DOS?) What are the plans for the future?
Does the firm have an in-house litigation support department? If outsourced, to whom?
How does the firm utilize imaging and scanning services?
How does the firm market its technology to clients?
Does the firm utilize computers in the courtroom?
(Timing is everything-don't ask about salary too soon!)
Is salary based on years of experience or performance levels?
When would I receive a performance review?
When would I receive a salary review?
Does the firm offer a bonus? What are eligibility requirements for the bonus?
Can you give me an approximate range of the bonus?
Does the firm/corporation offer compensatory time off in lieu of overtime?
Can you provide a salary range for this position?
How does the firm recognize and reward performance?
Does everyone in the firm/corporation receive salary reviews at the same time or on anniversary dates?
Since I would not have been with the firm for an entire year when reviews are given, will I be eligible anyway?
Since I would not have been with the firm for an entire year when bonuses are calculated, am I eligible for a bonus on a prorated basis?
Is this position exempt (does not pay overtime) or nonexempt (does pay overtime)?
About how much overtime can I expect?
It's hard to believe, but illegal questions do get asked, even in law firms! You're probably aware potential employers cannot ask certain questions. But prejudices sneak in, whether knowingly or "accidentally." You can choose not to respond, tell the interviewer the question is illegal, or lecture to the interviewer about Title VII. While this might make you feel better, the end result is likely to be an apology, not a job offer. However, under no circumstances are you required to ever answer a question about:
Age (unless you are under the age of 18)
If you are asked an illegal question, your internal red flag should go up. No one has to take a position with a firm/corporation that jeopardizes his or her well-being. In light of that, it is important to consider the following questions, finding answers where possible:
Is this the person with whom I am expected to work? (Ask yourself: If so, why would I work alongside someone with this bias?)
Is this person responsible for evaluating my performance? Assigning work? Part of my team? Overseeing my assignments? Involved in the day-to-day operations of work flow?
Does this person represent the culture and/or philosophy of the firm/corporation?
Will I ever even see this person again if I work here? (Some corporations are so large that the first interview is all about getting past the Gatekeeper.)
How many employees in this firm/corporation carry the same attitude?
Is senior management aware of what's going on?
Even if employment with this firm means you'll never cross paths with this interviewer, be very clear this person does represent the firm. Taking a job with a company that discriminates is not necessary. Under no circumstances are you required to answer an illegal question. If, after the initial shock has worn off, you do decide to answer, it doesn't have to be directly. One of the best answers was given by a litigation paralegal with more than 20 years' experience. The question asked was, "How would you feel about working for a firm where all the senior partners are younger than you?" The paralegal's reply was immediate. "If what you are asking is, 'Do I have the energy for the job, the answer is yes.' " The key phrase is, "If what you are asking . . ." Get to the heart of the question. What is really being asked?
Another great response to an illegal question is taught by Susan Miller, a Los Angeles-based career counselor. Illegal questions may arise regarding children, child care, spousal approval, and family relationships. A typical question may be, "Tell me about your home life." This question is usually geared toward a woman of child-bearing years. The correct response, according to Miller, is, "Everything in my home life is supportive of my career." If you were sent to the interview through a staffing organization, be sure to report the illegal questioning to the agency. They need to know.
SAMPLE ILLEGAL QUESTIONS/COMMENTS
Do you live with your parents?
What does your husband think about your job?
What does your spouse do for a living?
Does your spouse approve of your taking this position?
What line of work are/were your parents in?
Does your wife/mother work?
Who is the boss in your family?
Do you live in an apartment or house?
What church do you go to?
What is your religion?
Do you take the Jewish holidays off?
Children and Child Care
What are your day care arrangements?
How many children do you have?
What time do you pick your children up from day care?
Is anyone home with your children during the day?
Were you born blind, or did you get that way later?
Do you have any health problems, like diabetes, that we should consider?
Have you ever been tested for HIV?
Is that a temporary limp?
Race or Ethnicity
Would you like to play on our basketball team?
Do you know any good Chinese restaurants?
Your last name is Herrera? Do you speak Spanish?
When you were in school, did you join an African-American fraternity?
What part of town were your raised in?
What area of town do you live in? (The question should only be asked "Can you arrive to work on time?")
Is English your native language?
Is that a (Filipino, Spanish, etc.) accent?
Where do you come from?
More of your people should be just like you.
We're looking for "front-office appearance."
Is it true blondes really have more fun?
Do you think you can lose a little weight before you start?
Could you get rid of that gray hair?
What is your date of birth? (If asked prior to hiring.)
Have your children left home yet?
What's it feel like to be in a protected class?
My parents/children are your age.
"When I was your age . . ."
"When I get to be your age . . ."
Did you ever think that at your age you would be changing careers?
"The girl . . ."
"We're really looking for a man for this position."
"We think a woman would do better in this position."
"Why would a guy want to be a paralegal?"
"I see you live in . Does that explain why you aren't married?"
Origins and Nationality
"Is your last name Italian?"
"Were you born here?" (The only question that can be asked is, "Are you a U.S. citizen?")
"Are your parents immigrants?"
"Where were you born?"
"Where did you grow up?"
"Are you pregnant now, or do you expect to be in the near future?" "What are your plans for having children?"
"Do you own your home, or do you rent?"
Political, Fraternal, or Other Affiliations Not Related to Your Job
"Please list all organizations you have joined in the past 10 years, including political parties, fraternal organizations and religious groups."