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Expecting Difficult Questions During a Paralegal Job Interview

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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.

Most interviewers assume you've read the current books and articles, gone to job search workshops, and have rehearsed standard, neat, pat answers. So they try very hard to throw you a curve- ball. Many of them avoid the general and obvious questions. Instead, they develop new methods of interviewing.



No matter what questions interviewers ask or what objections they may raise to hiring you, they are all pretty much after the same information: what are your skills, are you qualified for this position, does your personality fit, will you stay?

HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW . . .

In some industries, you have to explain why you stayed at a place for many years. In the legal field, even though people seldom stay for 10 or 20 years, job-hopping is still suspect in many firms. If you're a little jumping bean, the key to packaging your job history is to articulate why you left. Here is a list of organic explanations:

"I can understand how you feel. However, I followed the opportunities for advancement, which caused me to move up quickly in this field." A promotion shows both that you're valued and that you're managing your career aggressively.

"I followed the money." Few will argue with a move that gave you a salary boost-as long as money isn't the only reason why you left.

"I followed the rainmakers." Firms want people who bring varied experience to the table. For that reason alone, job-hopping makes you more marketable.

"I followed my spouse." Employers are typically understanding of this type of move. But they also want to know that your career matters too.

Most people have some gaps or false starts and phases of unemployment in the background. To some employers, the more changes you've been through, the worse you look. Downsizing has accounted for many stops and starts in otherwise stellar career histories. But if you are downsized several times, you are also suspect-even though none of it was your doing.

There's no easy way to get around this problem, but there are good strategies. The best one is to demonstrate how all of the stops and starts have led to this career and, particularly, this interview. Remember the key concern of the interviewer: Will you stay if you are hired?
 
  • Stress that it's not in your nature to job-hop. However, the one good thing about it is that job-hopping has given you a variety of expertise you can now bring to the firm.
  • Emphasize that you now have the knowledge to be absolutely certain about what you want to do. Be as strong and as determined as possible without overselling. Talk about what you have learned. But don't dwell on the topic. Move the conversation toward this job and the future.

GAPS, HOLES, OR VOIDS NOW BECOME HIATUSES, RECESSES, OR INTERIM PERIODS

If you are questioned about periods of unemployment and an uncomfortable pause arises, show how productive you were during the time frame. There is really only one way an interviewer can ask about a gap in your resume, and that is, "Did you work from blank to blank?" And, technically, you are only required to answer yes or no. The question is designed to protect stay-at-home parents or homemakers. But if you feel an explanation is required, you might say:

"During the six months I was unemployed, I spent a good portion of the time searching for just the right position in a downturned market. Rather than just sit at home, I organized my job-search time so that I could work as a temporary employee and volunteer the rest of my time helping inner-city youths get jobs. That's why I know I could be very effective in this job. I'm capable of handling several different kinds of tasks at once."

Low GRADES Do NOT EQUATE WITH Low PERFORMERS

Don't worry about low grades after you get your first job; worry even less if you have an advanced degree such as an M.B.A. or M.A./M.S. Employment surveys show that having good grades is among the least important factors in getting hired. Although associates are almost always asked for their transcripts, paralegals are rarely required to produce them.

Stress the reasons for having had low grades that explain how other vital activities took away study time. You could explain that you held a full-time position during the day while attending night school. Or you may have had a situation where you were busy supporting your children, holding a full-time position, and going to school at night. Instead of getting blasted, you should probably have won an award. Never sound upset, and above all, never apologize. This should not be a question of your intelligence. You just didn't have enough time to study. A good response might be

"I had a 2.0 GPA. As you can see from my resume, I also held a full-time position. This taught me how to burn the midnight candle and still succeed at the task at hand. I learned how to juggle many responsibilities, which is what interests me about this job."

On the other hand, if you simply weren't interested in school and actually did flake out, you may want to reconsider your decision to enter or stay in the paralegal field!

COMING FROM A FOREIGN STATE

If you have recently moved from another state, chances are you'll run into another kind of objection: "Gee, your experience looks great, but you don't know this state's laws." This kind of limited viewpoint surely must make you want to scream. Before you wail too loudly, realize what is actually racing around in the interviewer's little mind: "Hmm, her experience is good but may not be right on point. Therefore, it will take some ramp-up time to get her properly trained."

Well, if that's the major objection, then you're not in a bad situation. This is not a situation where you are incapable of learning, is it? You need to point that out (in a nice way) to this conceptually-challenged interviewer. Here is a good way to counter:

"If what you are concerned about is that I won't be able to learn quickly, let me put that fear to rest. I have already acquired a copy of the State and Local Rules and read it to acquaint myself with any differences in procedure. As you know, any new person coming into the firm will have to learn the firm's unique procedures. I also intend to study your form files and to ask lots of pertinent questions. I don't think you'll find that it will take me very long at all to ramp up to speed."

"WE REALLY HADN'T INTENDED TO SPEND THAT MUCH MONEY ON SALARY"

"And, I hadn't planned on taking that little." No, no, no. That's precisely the wrong answer. Objections to salary are quite common. In the paralegal field, you must immediately tie in your salary to three things:
 
  • The firm can generally ask for a higher hourly rate for someone of your experience and background.
  • You require less ramp-up time than would an inexperienced person and can probably be more efficient than a lower-level person would be.
  • You are the best qualified candidate for the job.

"WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?"

This has and will always remain the silliest question ever invented for an interview. If employers expect candidates to answer with, "Well, every time I form a corporation, I forget to include some of the documents," they are living in another world. The game is and always has been to turn this question into a positive answer:

"I am so fascinated with forming a corporation that at times I spend a little too much time making absolutely certain I have completed everything I can on the assignment."

Whatever the objection, stay positive. If confronted with a question you don't know how to answer, say so. If a weakness is pointed out, switch to one of your skills that is a strength. It's all in how you play the game.

See the following articles for more information:
 


About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of LawCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in attorney search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.

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