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Answering Difficult Questions about Paralegal Job

published February 26, 2013

By CEO and Founder - BCG Attorney Search left

( 18 votes, average: 4 out of 5)

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It is very natural to prepare yourself for handling difficult questions that are being shot on you at the time of interview. Below are some specific ways in which you can protect yourself without alienating the interviewer who poses questions that are illegal or border on illegality.

It can be a touchy, uncomfortable situation, particularly if the job looks attractive. So you may want to ask yourself if this person reflects the attitudes of the organization or is simply uninformed or inexperienced as an interviewer. At any rate, if you are confronted with such questions, try to respond in a way that will work to your advantage.

Below are some typical questions and answers that may offer you some clues on how to handle such questions if they are posed in your interview. One technique is to rephrase the question. Another is to provide as brief an answer as possible and then make a transition to another topic that is directly job related.

1. Family issues:

Q. Do you plan to have a family? (Men are usually not asked this question.)

A. At this stage in my career, I am committed to spending my time and energy to a full-time job.

Q. What will you do if your family becomes ill? (This is asked only when it has been established that you already have a family!)

A. Although my children (son or daughter) have a history of good health and regular checkups, if they require medical attention, I have made arrangements with (spouse, friend, and neighbor, relative) to be on call. In an emergency, of course, I would have to make contingent plans, but I have established a reliable support system.

2. Working overtime:

Q. How does your spouse feel about you working overtime?

A. We've discussed these possibilities and have agreed that our schedules are flexible enough to handle what the job requires. Of course, it's always easier to have advance notice, whenever possible, to make any necessary arrangements or reschedule something.

3. Availability for travel:

Q. Would you be available for traveling?

A. Depending upon the amount of time involved, I don't have any problem with traveling, if I can plan ahead. (Remember, you must decide if you want to travel. This is a good time for you to ask how much travel will be involved and then make your decision accordingly.)

4. Age issues

(Note: The age issue may come up in many forms. The basic question being asked here is, "Are you too old to handle this job?")

Q. How do you feel about working for younger people?

A. (Depending upon the context of the question): I've been around young people for most of my life, particularly my own children, and I've not only learned from them, but I've developed respect for them. I know I can bring that ability to this job, whatever the age of my supervisor or boss is! Age is never a barrier, as far as I'm concerned. It's the person's attitude towards age and how well he or she gets along with people is more important.

These are just some examples of how to approach difficult questions. Now list the toughest questions you think you might be asked, and prepare the answers. In doing so, you will be readying yourself for a successful interview.

Discriminating Questions

Federal Laws and Regulations Concerning Discrimination in Employment
  1. Executive Order, amended, prohibits discrimination in employment practices (hiring, promotions, benefits, training, salaries) on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex for all the employers with federal contracts over ten thousand dollars. Report violations to Office of Federal Contract Compliance of the Department of Labor!
  2. Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits discrimination in employment practices (hiring, salaries, and discharge). Report violations to the Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration of the Department of Labor!
  3. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment practices on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion for all employers with fifteen or more employees. Report violations to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission!
  4. Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in salaries, including most fringe benefits, on the basis of sex. Report violations to Wage and Hour Division of the Employment Standards Administration, Department of Labor!

Discriminatory Questions That May Not Be Asked on Application Forms or During an Interview
  1. Questions cannot be asked concerning the applicant's race, religious affiliation, birthplace, or the birthplace of the applicant's parents.
  2. An applicant cannot be required to submit a birth certificate, naturalization certificate or baptismal record. (Note: It is no longer discriminatory to require such records once an applicant is hired, since recent federal immigration laws require employers to document United States citizenship for employment eligibility.)
  3. An applicant cannot be required to submit a personal photograph with a job application. After a person is hired, a photograph may be required for identification purposes.
  4. Questions cannot be asked concerning an applicant's date of birth or age unless such information is needed to ascertain that the applicant meets minimum age requirements.
  5. Questions cannot be asked concerning an applicant's native language or the language the applicant commonly uses at home.
  6. Inquiries cannot be made about an applicant's military experience in forces other than the United States Armed Forces.
  7. Inquiries cannot be made about an applicant's draft status, although it is legal to ask whether an applicant has received any notice to report for duty in the Armed Forces.
  8. Questions cannot be asked about an applicant's memberships in any organizations other than professional, trade, or service organizations.
  9. Questions cannot be asked about an applicant's arrest record (although a conviction record may be requested.)
  10.  Inquiries cannot be made about an applicant's relatives, except for who should be notified in emergencies.
  11.  Inquiries cannot be made about an applicant's marital status, number of children, or plans for having a family.

Salary Negotiations

The question of salary is undoubtedly one of the most delicate points that you have to negotiate, but inevitably it will come up, and you must be prepared to bargain for what you feel you are worth and you can get. If at all possible, the discussion of salary and other employee benefits should be delayed until a job offer has been made, or at least until it has been made clear to you that you are being considered very seriously for the position. Obviously, this can happen only after the interviewer has had an opportunity to talk with you or even call you in for a second interview.

If the question comes up early in the interview (such as, "What is the minimum salary you will accept?"), your best strategy is to use some kind of delaying tactic. For example, you could reply, "That's difficult to answer right now. It would depend on the job and its responsibilities, and I'd like to know more before I can answer."

The purpose of postponing salary discussion is so that you can impress the interviewer with your presentation of yourself. Eventually, however, if both of you establish a mutual interest, you will have to confront the salary issue! And the more you know about salary ranges for paralegals in the area, the better prepared you are to discuss this topic.

Before the interview is the time to do your salary investigation, not during the interview. You cannot negotiate until you have some idea of what the general range is in the field. You must also know your own minimum requirements. Otherwise, you waste your time if the company cannot pay you what you need to earn. Salary scales are not usually available, but you can find information on salary ranges from a paralegal association in the area in which you want to work.

If there is a range within a company, bargain for the top of the range; the company will want you, of course, to agree on the lower part of the range. With persuasion on your part of what you have to offer the organization, the idea is for you to agree on what is mutually acceptable. If the salary is fixed, however (and ask if the salary offered you is a firm one), then ask what other benefits are available and when you can have a salary review. Doing so demonstrates your ambition as well as your initiative. Finally, only you can decide on what salary is fair and what is acceptable to you. Again, doing your homework is essential before you can make a decision.

See the following articles for more information:

Alternative Summary

Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.

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