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An interview is a two-way conversation, and both the candidate and the employer are consumers in this time-constrained process. Asking the right questions to garner information in making an important career decision should not be left to chance. Planning and preparation are key. Take time before each interview to prepare a set of questions that will help you determine if the firm is a good match.  

Prepare questions specific to your career goals.

As you approach the interview, “begin with the end in mind” as to what you want from an employer, both in the short-term and long-term. Ask yourself, “What is important to me?” and “What employer and which people will I trust with my professional and personal development?” Consider the kinds of questions that will help you solicit this information. The specific questions you ask will depend on your personal career goals, but some examples include:

  • What is the level of responsibility afforded to an associate?  
  • Is the work interesting and sophisticated?  
  • How much client contact is there?  
  • Are mentoring and feedback readily available?  
  • What training and development opportunities does the employer provide?  
  • Is the environment supportive and challenging?  
  • Are individuals well regarded in their practice areas?  
  • Is the culture collaborative or competitive?  
  • Do the attorneys like and know each other?     

Dig into what it’s really like to work at the firm through behavioral questions.

Many employers use behavioral interview questions to gather information on candidates. The theory is that these questions are good predictors of a candidate’s future actions and behavior. The open-ended questions typically start with “Tell me about a time when you...” and “Could you give me an example…” What would happen if you used this approach with interviewers? It typically takes them off script and garners more of an authentic response rather than canned answers, giving you greater insight into what it is really like to work there. However, be mindful that this is not an interrogation or cross-examination, so keep the tone conversational. It is also not a script that you have to stick to in a regimented way. You should gently probe through curiosity and ask follow-up questions when appropriate. Some examples of behavioral questions that may be useful during a summer associate job search include:

  • Will you tell me about a time when you felt that you had too much responsibility as a new associate, and how you handled it?   
  • Could you give me an example of how you interacted with a supervising attorney on one of your recent projects that you worked on? How would you describe the leadership styles of other attorneys in your practice group?
  • Will you share with me the ways the firm has supported you in your career thus far? 
  • Tell me about a time when those around you had low morale. 
  • Tell me about a time when you had to adapt and flex to a situation at work, and how you handled it. 

Be an active participant and observer throughout the interview process.

Gathering the information you need to make an informed decision requires effort. Ask the question and then listen. Actively listen to the response, paying particular attention to nonverbal cues such as eye contact, pitch of voice, and body language. Also, pay attention to your surroundings and how people in the organization greet and treat one another. Are the office doors open or closed? What is the vibe of the office as you walk down the hall? Picture yourself a year from now sitting across the desk as the interviewer. Do you see yourself in this environment? What is your gut telling you? 

Do your research and practice.

Practice asking open-ended questions with colleagues, friends, and relatives. This will build confidence and will keep you from sounding rehearsed in the interview. Also, take time to thoroughly prepare for each interview; don’t merely scribble down a few questions in the minutes before your interview. Instead, take time to do your homework on the employer and the interviewers. Create a list of questions and tailor them to the firm and the interviewer (if you know the specific attorneys you will meet). Study the website and make notes about recent deals, recognitions, and accolades. A good rule of thumb is to learn and remember ten facts about the employer. Find three to five characteristics they look for in a successful attorney, and use them in your responses to their questions about why you would be a good fit. Review LinkedIn profiles. Obviously, you should be tactful and respectful as you research your interviewers, but showing you have done your homework speaks volumes.  

Be genuine.

Finally, bring your energy and enthusiasm to the interview. Convey your sincere interest even if you ultimately decide on a different employer. “It’s a small world after all” holds true. One day you may sit across the table as opposing counsel or serve on a non-profit board with one of your interviewers.  

Interviewing for a new position may be stressful at times, but investing the time upfront on identifying the right questions to ask will give you more control in making the best career decision possible.   

This is a sponsored blog post by Bracewell LLP. To view the firm's full profile, click here.