Great answers to tough interview questions

Nov 2017

‘Great answers to tough interview questions’

We are delighted to share with you specific interview guidance based on information that we have gathered over the years from interviewees, interviewers and the HR profession – we hope you find it helpful on your journey.

What do you think determines progress in a good law firm?

Your answer should include all the positive personality traits you have been illustrating throughout the interview. Include allusion to the listening profile, determination, ability to take the rough with the smooth, adherence to systems and procedures and the good fortune to be part of a firm that wants you to grow as well.

What are the reasons for your success in this profession?

With this question, the interviewer is not so much interested in examples of your success – he or she wants to know what makes you tick. Keep your answers short, general and to the point. Using your professional experience, personalise and use value keys from your personal, professional and business profiles. For example: I attribute my success to three reasons: I’ve always received support from my colleagues, which encourages me to be cooperative and look at my specific job in terms of what we as a department are trying to achieve. That gives me great pride in my work and its contribution to the department’s efforts, which is the second factor. Finally, I find that every job has its problems, and while there’s always a costly solution. There’s usually an economical one as well, whether it is in terms of time or money. Then give an example of your experience that illustrates these points.

Describe how your role relates to the overall goals of your department and firm.

This not only probes your understanding of department and corporate missions by also indirectly checks into your ability to function as a team member to get the work done.

What have you learned from jobs you have held?

The interviewer needs to understand that you seek and can accept constructive advice and that your business decisions are based on the ultimate good of the firm, not your personal whim or preference.

How do you feel about your progress to date?

This question is not geared solely to rate your progress; it also rates your self-esteem. Be positive, yet do not give the impression you have already done your best work. Make the interviewer believe you see each day as an opportunity to learn and contribute and that you see the environment at the company as conducive to your best efforts.

Have you done the best work you are capable of doing?

Say ‘yes’ and the interviewer will think you’re a has-been. Personalise your work history, for this particular question, include the essence of this reply: “I’m proud of my professional achievements to date, especially [give an example]. But I believe the best is yet to come. I am always motivated to give my best efforts and there are always opportunities to contribute if you stay alert”.

Describe a difficult problem you’ve had to deal with.

This is a favourite tough question. It’s not so much the difficult problem but the approach you take to solving problems in general, this question is designed to probe your professional profile, specifically your analytical skills.

In what ways has your job prepared to take on greater responsibility?

This is one of the most important questions you will have to answer. The interviewer is looking for examples of your professional development, perhaps to judge your future growth potential, so you must tell a story that demonstrates it. Other skills you may want to demonstrate here are listening skills, honesty and adherence to procedures.

Do you have any questions?

A good question. Almost always, this is a sign that the interview is drawing to a close, and that you have one more chance to make an impression. Create questions from any of the following:

  • Find out why the job is open.
  • To whom would you report? Will you get an opportunity to meet that person?
  • What type of training is required/provided if any?
  • What are the realistic chances for growth in this role?
  • Who will be the firm’s major competitor over the next few years?
  • What has been the growth pattern of the company over the last five years?
  • How regularly do performance evaluations occur? What models do they follow?

How did your boss get the best out of you?

This is a manageability question, geared to probing whether you are going to be a pain in the neck or not. Whatever you say it is important for your ongoing happiness that you make it clear you don’t appreciate being treated like a doormat. You don’t want to work for someone who is going to make life miserable for you.

Do you consider yourself a natural leader or a born follower?

How you answer depends a lot on the job offer you are looking for and the stage you are at in your career. With more professional experience under your belt, you may need to be a bit more thoughtful in your answer. You may want to acknowledge that being a leader requires motivating, disciplining staff, and moulding a team involves a number of delicately tuned skills. You may also want to acknowledge that leadership is a lifelong learning process. To address the learning curve, you should highlight that in integral part of the skills of a leader is to take direction from his or her immediate superior and also to seek the input from the people being supervised.

Tell me about an event that really challenged you. How did you meet the challenge? In what ways was your approach different from others?

This is a straight-forward two-part question. The first probes your problem-solving abilities. The second asks you to set yourself apart from the rest. First of all outline the problem. Having done that, go ahead and explain your solution, its value to your employer and how it was different from other approaches.

How have you benefited from your disappointments?

Disappointments are different from failures. It is an intelligent interviewer who asks this question; it is also an opportunity for an astute interviewee to shine. The question itself is very positive – it asks to show how you benefited. Note also that it does not give any specific details of specific disappointments, so you don’t have to open your mouth and insert your foot. Instead be general. Sum up your answer with “I treat disappointments as a learning experience, I look at what happened, why it happened and how I would do things differently in each stage should the same set of circumstances appear again. That way, I put disappointment behind me and am ready to face the new days’ problems”.

What kind of decisions are most difficult for you?

You are human, admit it, but be careful what you admit. Emphasise that having reached a logical conclusion, you act. You want to use an example that will demonstrate your consideration, analytical abilities and concern for the departments.

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