Lawyers: How to Handle Behavioral Job-Interview Questions

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Behavioral interviewing is becoming more and more common among employers, career website The Ladders reports. What's behavioral interviewing, you ask? Even if you don't know what it is, you've probably experienced it before.

"Tell me about a time where you had to complete a project on a deadline" or "Talk about how you would tell your boss he made a mistake." That's behavioral interviewing, which focuses less on abstract questions and more on getting specific examples of your qualifications.

Here are some techniques you can use at your next behavioral interview:

1. Cite Concrete Examples.

Behavioral interviewing cuts down on nebulous, pre-programmed baloney responses. I've interviewed people using the behavioral interviewing method, and let me tell you: You can instantly tell who's qualified and who isn't.

A qualified person instantly has a detailed story about a specific incident that directly answers the question asked. Someone who's not qualified? That person will speak abstractly about their qualifications, or about how they have something kind of like what you're talking about, but won't have a concrete example of the quality you asked for.

2. Tell a Story.

Every part of the job process is an incremental step toward the next step. Your cover letter is there just to get you an interview. And your first interview is a step toward getting a second interview. At the first interview, a prospective employer wants to make sure you actually have all the skills you claimed to have in your cover letter and resume.

People like to hear stories, and a "tell me about a time..." question is an invitation to tell a story. Make the story detailed (but not overly so; there's only so much time) in order to sufficiently convey what happened in that situation and how you dealt with it. The Ladders advises that you have a story to tell for every skill the employer is looking for.

3. Look Out for Tricks.

While it might seem like these are open-ended questions, sometimes they have a "right" and a "wrong" answer. Mark Murphy, writing in Forbes, advises employers to craft questions so as not to give away the answer. For example, instead of asking, "Tell me about a time when you adapted to a difficult situation and how you did it," an employer should ask, "Could you tell me about a time when you faced a difficult situation?"

The difference between the two is that the first question cues the interviewee on what the right answer is: I should say something about how I adapted to face a difficult situation. The purpose of this is to separate what Murphy calls "problem-bringers" from "problem-solvers." You want to be a problem-solver, so whenever there's an open-ended, story-time question, make sure your answer focuses on how you acted constructively and positively.

Any more tips on how to handle behavioral job-interview questions? Let us know via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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