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10 interview questions that reveal the true personality of every job applicant

Interviewing job candidates is perhaps the most serious responsibility of management. A bad hire is a full-time disaster, because the lawyers, the staff, and the manager spend more time with that person than they do with their own families.

Interviewing is an artificial situation and managers get tricked by it. Everybody can have a pat answer to the standard questions of “what did you like the most and the least about your last job?” and “what do you want to be doing five years from now?”

Here are 10 questions to learn more about your job interviewees. A candidate can’t see through them. And the result is that the manager gets a true picture of every applicant’s personality and abilities.

Don’t look for any black and white answers to the questions. Rather, evaluate the whole picture the answers produce. When the overall view someone presents is positive, that is a candidate to call back for a second interview. Here are the questions:

Your experience please

1 Tell me about your past experience in the legal field, both good and bad.

The purpose is to find out if the candidate can handle both the good and the bad of a job and still enjoy it. Someone who emphasizes the positive side of a previous job will be positive about the new job. Conversely, someone who whines and complains about a previous job will probably have trouble.

An acceptable answer might be “it gave me good experience to go on to the next job” or “I didn’t like working in a not-for-profit office, but I wanted to work with lawyers.”

An unacceptable answer is a flat negative remark such as “I couldn’t stand working in the law firm.”

Your clients and your lawyer

2 Tell me about a situation in which you were able to help a client. How did you interact with that client?

The focus of the answer should be how the client benefited. Beware of an answer that comes across as “I did this wonderful deed.” A law office needs a staffer who wants to help the clients, not someone who will be telling the lawyers what a great person he or she is.

3 How did you interact with the lawyer at your last job? Tell me about your experience. What were your hours and tasks? How did you and the lawyer work as a team?

Whether the candidate got along with the lawyer or not, the answer should show that the individual made a continuous effort to make things better for the client. If the interaction was poor, look for two additional points.

First, what is the attitude toward the lawyer as employer?

Regardless of how bad the situation may have been, the candidate should show recognition of the fact that the lawyer owns the business and as such deserves respect from an employee.

And second, what is the person’s long-term attitude?

Someone who stays in an unpleasant job a long time could be a chronic complainer. Conversely, if the stay was short, look at how long the other jobs lasted. That person might not be able to get along with anybody.

What contributions did you make?

4 How did you personally make a difference to the office?

The candidate should be proud of some contribution, such as “the accounts receivable were better when I left” or “we outgrew those offices and I helped move us to another building” or “I was head of our OSHA compliance and I got all our forms in order.”

Every employee should be able to say “I made a difference because I did this.” Anyone should be able to show worth.

Your likes and dislikes

5 What types of people annoy you most?

Expect to hear references to parents. Many people say, for example, “I didn’t like that lawyer because he was too strong-willed, just like my dad.” But whatever the reference may be, compare that profile to the people who work in the office. If what someone hated most is what the office is offering, the candidate won’t be satisfied working there.

When people say something bothers them, it usually does. If the interviewee doesn’t like fussy and uptight people and the lawyer is particular about records order and arrangement of work stations, expect conflict.

The answer can also reveal positive traits. If the interviewee doesn’t like people who slough off work, that’s a clue the candidate isn’t like that.

6 Describe the best boss you ever had.

The answer shows what the individual expects a good working environment to be. More specifically, it shows what type of management that person is hoping to find in the new job. And the question then is whether the office can fulfill those expectations.

Beyond that, listen for an answer that shows the person appreciates quality work. A good response is “the lawyer was always on time for the clients” or “she was understanding about the amount of time it took to get work done.”

7 Describe the worst boss you ever had.

Beware of someone who takes that question as an opportunity to rip the former boss apart.

A tirade about the lawyer’s personality says the staffer is judgmental. A soap opera about the lawyer’s romances is an indication the person is a gossip and in most offices a significant amount of the stress comes from gossip.

The response should focus on the fact that the boss hampered the ability to produce good work or adversely affected client relations, such as “the lawyer made it difficult for us to keep the clients happy.”

About your tough times

8 What was the most difficult thing for you to learn at your last job?

This question illustrates the level of competence. If the difficulty was something simple or routine for a law office, the new job may be too difficult for that person.

The question also shows whether the candidate can handle the office’s workload. If the answer is “I couldn’t keep up with the large number of clients each day” and your office’s pace is equally strenuous, the staffer won’t last long.

A good answer is one that shows the candidate worked through some difficulty and still tried to do a good job, perhaps “we had a lot of new technology come in all at once, and I had a hard time learning it all and still giving quality service to the clients.”

It is also acceptable if the candidate cites a legitimate problem such as bringing in a new lawyer or adapting to a new practice area – as long as that person worked through it.

Your people skills and talents

9 How would you handle a call from an irate client?

Obviously, the answer should be that the candidate would respond with tact and understanding. An answer you do not want to hear is “when I can’t handle it, I give it to the lawyer.”

In a law office, staffers have to hear clients through and take steps to solve their problems. Thus, the candidate should say that the call should be handled with empathy and cite some pleasant way to resolve the matter.

10 Do you have any special talents that were never recognized in your previous job?

If the candidate doesn’t understand that question, be alarmed. If the candidate says “no,” be even more alarmed. Anyone looking for a new job should be looking for growth and should believe he or she has more to offer than the previous job required. Someone on the way up will mention potential goals such as “I went to a seminar and learned X, but they did not let me put that into practice” or “I speak two languages but I have never had a chance to use the second one.” Perhaps the candidate studied journalism in college and always wanted to write an in-house newsletter, but the previous practice did not want one. Look for an indication that the person wanted to do more and wanted to help office operations.

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