Tags: Interviewing Articles
“So…do you have any questions for me?”
For candidates, this can be one of the most perplexing parts of the interview. For one thing, this part of the interview is completely open-ended. It’s up to you to steer the conversation. It could also come at any part of the interview, in the very beginning or in the final 30 seconds. So you need to be in a position to fire away questions for anywhere from less than a minute to 20-30 minutes.
You’ve heard the generic advice from Career Services: ask open-ended questions, and don’t ask something that can be easily answered with a Google search.
“So what am I supposed to ask about?” you wonder.
Here’s our approach
We welcome the opportunity to ask questions during the interview – we don’t see it as something stressful or perplexing. It’s a chance to take control of the interview.
Also, it’s critical to recognize the goal behind asking questions. You’re asking questions to show you’re a good candidate – NOT to extract information. By asking the right questions, you can distinguish yourself from countless other applicants.
Remember, the primary purpose of the interview, especially at the screener, is evaluate: for the firm to evaluate you. Sure, once you reach the callback stage, it makes sense to take note of whether it’s a firm you want to work for. But the only time that your primary purpose is to gain information about the firm is during second looks. Our mantra is to get the offer first, and worry about picking the best firm later.
An Example Question
Keeping all this in mind, what should you ask?
A typical question that an inexperienced applicant may ask is something like this:
I noticed on your website that your firm has a formal mentoring program where each associate gets paired with a partner mentor and an associate mentor. What are your thoughts on this program?
Great! I’m showing them I took the time to do my research, so it’s a great question, right?
While not a terrible question, it betrays a lack of understanding of the importance of formal mentoring in law firms. While it’s very possible that the person you’re asking has a terrific relationship with his or her formal mentors, this will often not be the case. Unsurprisingly, the best mentoring relationships tend to arise organically based on mutual interests, personality traits, and experience working together in the trenches.
So by asking this question, you could be putting the interviewer into a somewhat uncomfortable position: either lie or admit that a highly-touted formal mentorship program is not all it’s cracked up to be. If at all possible, you want to make it easy for the interviewer to be positive about his or her firm.
A better question would be this:
I noticed on your website that your firm has a formal mentoring program. The attorneys I’ve spoken to who work at firms say that while formal mentoring is great, they really value their informal mentoring relationships as well. Can you tell me about some of your mentors at the firm?
You’re conveying a lot by asking the question this way: 1) You did your research on the firm. 2) You’ve networked with law firm lawyers. 3) You have a good idea of how mentoring works in a law firm (and by extension, how things generally work in a law firm).
Best of all, you’re setting up the interviewer beautifully to gush about their favorite mentor. The partner can recount stories about the retired partner who took him under her wing and helped make him partner. The junior associate can go on and on about how this midlevel showed her the ropes from day 1 and they’ve become great friends.
A nice side effect of this question strategy is that you actually get more information about the firm than you would by asking generic questions.
The Law Firm Interview Bible provides sample questions and breaks them down just like we did above. The idea is not to parrot questions robotically, but to understand what makes for a good question and how to follow up with further inquiries so the conversation flows naturally. That way, no matter who’s sitting across the table from you, from the wizened managing partner to the wide-eyed first year associate, you’ll be ask the right questions to land the offer.