Common Behavioral Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Open-ended interview questions can be difficult to manage in job interviews. Aside from your legal expertise, employers need to know you have all the necessary skills and mindset to thrive in your position. Here is a list of common behavioral interview questions and how best to answer them.
“Tell me about yourself”
What they sound like they are asking: Give me a summary of who you are in general.
What they are really asking: Give me a summary of your experience as it pertains to this position.
They are interviewing you for a specific set of skills and experience and want to make sure your summation of those assets is in line with theirs. Take some time to compile a succinct list of traits and events to touch on that will help you outline why you are the ideal candidate.
Pro-tips: Keep your answer “high-level specific” and only go into detail about the requirements that are most important to the position. If the position covers a wide range of your skills, you can always ask, “Where would you like me to start?”
“Why did you apply to this position?”
What they sound like they are asking: What do you like about this position?
What they are really asking: Checking to see if you’ve done your research.
As a legal professional, you might be used to doing your research. However, this question is a trust checkpoint that allows you to demonstrate that you’ve taken this opportunity seriously and have researched the company and personnel thoroughly. They are looking to see if you can pick up on the pace and mission of the company and why they are looking for someone to fill this particular position.
Pro-tips: Do not be afraid to show your passion for the role and the company’s product/service. Enthusiasm runs side-by-side with experience. In addition to researching the company (using resources like Crunchbase or Mattermark), get to know your interviewer(s) if possible. Understand their background and how they came to their position to help build rapport.
“What are your salary expectations?”
What they sound like they are asking: How much do you want to make here?
What they are really asking: Are we compatible?
This question is a disqualifier. It’s designed to save time. The interviewer knows the salary range that is acceptable for the position, so if you ask for something higher, you may receive a handshake and a friendly walk to the door. In order to receive the reaction you are hoping for and set yourself up for an offer, your answer needs to be carefully phrased. First of all, understand your worth. With this in mind, research the market value for this type of position and given the company’s history. You can use websites like Salary or Glassdoor to anticipate your salary both in your city and at a particular company. You can use the Legal.io pricing tool to calculate what it would cost to engage outside counsel for the same amount of work. Lastly, think of other factors involved; your current salary, cost of living, commute, and relocation if the job is in another city. With all of this in mind, your answer should be honest and provide the interviewer with a range to leave yourself open to negotiation.
Pro-tips: Even if you are positive of what they will offer, it’s best to avoid a concrete number if you can. This allows for the discussion to continue and not get hindered by a number. And no, it is not better to suggest a lower number than is appropriate.
“Why are you looking to leave your current position and company?”
What they sound like they are asking: What don’t you like about your position/company now?
What they are really asking: Show me how you value your relationship with your coworkers/employers/position.
It is never a good idea to badmouth your current employer even if you are quite unhappy in your current role. Employers will think it’s only a matter of time before you will do the same in this next position. Instead of talking about what you don’t like, stick to more objective topics like:
- Why you came to work there
- What has changed since you began your position
- What your goals are now, and how they might have changed (leading you to apply for other positions)
Pro-tips: Always keep your answers realistically positive. It’s important that you do not use this time to vent or complain.
“What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?”
What they sound like they are asking: What are you good at and what do you need to improve upon?
What they are really asking: How do you think about yourself and approach your own growth?
This question is almost always asked and should be approached with a high level of organization and preparation. Interviewers are looking for you to address the following concepts:
- Are you self-aware and reflective?
- Have you invested in your own growth?
- Are you a good culture fit?
- How do you handle your weaknesses?
It’s important to be honest with your interviewer, which is why it’s also important to think about this question ahead of time. Prepare instances that demonstrate your ability to progress, as well as moments that illustrate what you must continue to work on. Your attitude must both project confidence and acceptance of yourself. Now is not the time to forget your strengths or diminish your weaknesses either.
Pro-tips: You should keep a running list of turning points in your career and personal life (as appropriate) that help to illustrate both how you approach yourself and how you learn/grow. Despite what you might have been told, it’s never a good idea to use faux weaknesses like “I work too much”. This will come across as disingenuous and dismissive. Also, show you are proactive in your growth and mention at least one aspect you are currently working on.
“Tell me about a time your work got a little overwhelming. What was the outcome?”
What they sound like they are asking: When did something crazy happen at work and what was your reaction?
What they are really asking: How do you handle stress in the workplace?
This is an excellent time to show off your soft skills, including prioritization, leadership, and time management skills. Your answer ideally should include all three of these traits, and effectively help the interviewer understand the situation in which you had to bring them out. Being specific about your role, the project/issue, and the solution are important.
Pro-tips: In keeping with the “strengths and weaknesses” question, it can be very effective if you admit to any short-comings that you had to make up for/learn from within this particular experience. This will further highlight both your self-awareness and your ability to work well under pressure.
“Give me an example of a time when you had a disagreement with a team member. How did you handle that?”
What they sound like they are asking: Have you gotten into a fight with a coworker? What happened?
What they are really asking: How do you relate to your coworkers? And how attentive are you when issues arise?
You should break this answer into two parts:
- Go into detail about the project you worked on including the goals, scope of work, etc.
- Main focus: How you handled the situation with regards to your coworkers, the quality and eventual outcome of the project, and your reflective notes.
Your answer will tell the interviewer how you value and approach everything in a workplace; from your relationship with your coworkers to the actual duties with which you are tasked. Focus on the collaborative effort of your team and how this helped you all achieve success.
Pro-tips: In America, our culture is such that sacrificing your health and wellbeing in the name of career advancement can seem like the obvious stance to take in high-pressure situations at work. If in your answer you are addressing these sacrifices and displaying them as helpful or even noble in your experience, you must understand how your interviewer will receive this information. Ask yourself: Do you want your future employer to value your health less than your output?
“Tell me about a challenge you faced recently in your role. How did you face it? What was the outcome?”
What they sound like they are asking: Show me your strengths in your current position.
What they are really asking: How do you problem-solve and handle adversity?
You’ll want to break this answer into three parts:
- What was the issue/conflict? Provide context.
- What was your reaction and plan to resolve it? Demonstrate your proactive stance.
- What was the resolution and outcome?
Like all of these questions, it is important to be open and honest about your experiences. The goal of your answer is to highlight the reasons behind your actions.
Pro-tips: If you cannot think of an experience that demonstrates your problem-solving skills, then focus on your learning process and preparedness for the next time.
“Where do you want to be in five years?”
What they sound like they are asking: What do you hope to have/learn/focus on in the next five years?
What they are really asking: Do your goals align with this position?
Hiring is a big expense for any company, so they always want to make sure they choose the right candidate for the job. This question is designed to help with that effort by addressing how you might grow within your role, the department, and ultimately the company / firm. Here are a few things to think about within your answer:
- Set a realistic goal based on your career path so far and how this position fits within that plan.
- Be enthusiastic and ambitious! Even if you don’t have an exact position/goal in mind, explain your thought process about your career path.
- How does the position fit within your answer?
Ultimately, you want to project an ambitious but practical and congenial approach to your fit within this position and team. The interviewer wants to know how long you might be in this position and that you’re not just interested in using it as a stepping stone.
Pro-tips: Show you are dedicated to the position at hand. It’s important that your goals connect to the job and that you aren’t trying to skip over the value of the position and the team as a whole.
“Tell me about a time when you needed information from someone who didn't respond. What did you do?”
What it sounds like they are asking: How did you get information from someone?
What they are really asking: How effective are your communication skills and ability to address an issue with a coworker?
In any workplace, it’s important to be able to communicate with your coworkers and get what you need to do your job effectively. This question allows the interviewer to understand what communication style you employ to accomplish this. You can break your answer down into two parts:
- Describe a situation in which you needed information including the importance of the information and why you needed it.
- Outline your approach to getting this information.
The second part displays your ability to problem-solve without the aid of someone else as well as your relationship with getting a task done and attending to relationships.
Pro-tips: Show you understand and empathize with your coworkers' position just as much as yours in your answer. This will show high-level thinking rather than just your needs. It’s a good idea to have 2-3 steps in your outline.