In some ways, it is the most important question of the entire interview. Particularly in a legal environment, the interviewer will look at how you answer this question as representative of your top priorities and how you differentiate yourself from other candidates. Prepare in advance, but, above all, you should answer it by applying what you have learned from the interviewers, and that are lively, rather than formulaic.
“Do you have any questions for us?”
As a law student or graduate, you should have the research skills not to ask any questions that you could have researched yourself before the interview. If you just respond with, “No, I have already heard what I need to know,” it makes you seem disinterested and complacent. Even worse, if you ask the wrong questions, you could immediately invalidate the rest of the interview (i.e. “How often are you allowed to work from home?” and “How long do you think I would have to work on this team before being eligible for promotion or secondment to New York?”). With these responses, you are unknowingly communicating that your top priorities are to avoid coming into the office as much as possible and that you really aren't interested in helping your team succeed.
The Right Way
The contrary side to all of this is that the question is actually a huge opportunity for you. If you ask the right questions, you can not only get the information to decide if the position is a good fit for you, but you can show the interviewers that you are a critical thinker and a problem solver - essential qualities for a lawyer.
The secret is to pose your questions in a way that will get those conducting the interview to talk for a few minutes, and then allow for you to respond to what they say. You should ideally have two or three questions prepared that all fit this pattern.
Questions You Can Ask
What can I contribute to right away?
One of the most frustrating things about hiring someone new is that it can take forever to get them trained and up to speed. When a candidate asks a question like this, they let the interviewers know that they will find a way to help as soon as possible, which is a major bonus. This again gives you the opportunity to sell yourself as someone who can help on those projects, and as an added bonus — it lets you know what skills you need to brush up on before your next interview or even before starting the job.
What is the immediate need on your legal team that you are hoping to fill with this position?
You know that their organisation has a need, because they have an opening. There is most likely a project or team about to get started or is expanding, or a required skill — set that they need but are lacking. Whatever they come back with, this is a perfect segue for you to explain why you are the perfect person to fill that gap. You can explain why your experience and expertise makes you exactly who they have been looking for.
Is this team empowered to find better and more efficient ways to do things?
The interview process is all about differentiation, and a question like this shows the interviewers that you are determined to be a rock star. Most companies have many folks who are perfectly happy to learn how to do the basic tasks of their job and then sit back and collect a paycheck. What they are looking for is someone who is driven to make things better, who won’t just be satisfied with the status quo. By not only identifying yourself as a big time horse, but making sure that the company will give room to graze, you are guaranteed to stand out.
Can you tell me how your legal organisation/law firm defines success?
It would be wise to save this question for the interviewing manager, and not for a peer/technical discussion. Nobody likes a kiss-up, but letting management know that you will communicate openly and honestly with them, always scores big points. The last part of the question can be a good barometer about how easy it will be to become a top performer. You can follow up with a discussion of how you have been successful in your previous jobs.
How would you describe a typical day on this team?
Last but not least, this question is more of an icebreaker, and should hopefully lead to some banter between you and the interviewer. If the interviewer relays struggles or frustrations, be sure to note how you will help them reduce their workload and make things better. If they respond positively, be sure to reinforce that you think it sounds like a great fit and you are excited for the opportunity to contribute.
Whether you use one of the above examples or not, please make sure that you have something planned for what you will say when asked this question in your next job interview. Rest assured, the question will be asked. It always is.
- Why did you choose to work here?
- What did you find unique about this firm/organisation?
- What are the firm's strongest areas at the moment?
- What is the nature of pro-bono work at your firm?
- How is a work/life balance encouraged in this firm/organisation? How do you achieve this balance?
- How often is feedback provided?
- What sort of induction and training do you normally offer?
- What is the firm’s policy on taking leave for further study, associateships etc.?
- What long-term career opportunities are available at the firm?
- What do you enjoy about your practice group? What led you to work in it?
- What sort of work would I be doing in your practice group?
- Are there any secondment opportunities for lawyers at this firm?
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