Asking Open-Ended Questions in Interviews

open-ended questions in interviewsMost attorneys probably understand that they should ask open-ended questions on direct examination.  During cross-examination, that is generally the time to ask leading questions.  A job interview is much like a direct examination, so open-ended questions in interviews are preferable.

A good job interview consists of what, where, when, why, and how questions.  The purpose of the interview is to find out about the applicant. What are they looking for in a job?  What type of employment environment are they looking for?  Why are they interested in this job?  How much are they looking to make?  In their heart, why do they want this job?

Obviously, the questions need to be tweaked based on the job, the law firm, the specific requirements of the position, etc.  But it is vital in making a good hire to find out about the applicant.  It’s vital to make sure that the applicant speaks from their heart in terms of what they are looking for in a job.

Only then can the law firm come to a determination about whether the applicant is going to be a good fit for the position.  Law firms have to be honest with themselves about the nature of the position to determine whether the applicant is going to be a good fit based on what they said.  They need to hear what the applicant says in response to these open-ended questions in interviews.

Some employers may be tempted to lead the applicant during the interview process.  This is almost always a mistake.  Take questions like:

  • “We have a billable hour requirement of X.  Is this acceptable to you?”
  • “The job pays X amount per year.  Is this acceptable to you?”
  • If you are in a multi-office law firm, you might be tempted to say: “We have an attorney opening in X office.  Is this something you are interested in?”
  • “At our firm, we do things X, Y, or Z way.  Will that work for you?”

In the end, the possibilities are really endless.  But the reality is that these are leading questions.  For applicants who simply want a job, they are going to answer “yes” to all these questions.  The law firm may then be misled to believe the applicant is a good fit for the position, but this might not be true because the heart of the applicant was not discovered.

Instead of asking leading questions, re-frame the questions referenced above.  Think about asking your questions this way:

  • “What do you think are reasonable billable hour requirements at a law firm?”
  • “From a low to a high-end, how much are you looking to make per year?”
  • “In considering the offices we have, what offices are you most interested in working at and what offices would you not go to if we offered you a position?”
  • “In terms of X, Y, or Z law firm task, how do you think a law firm should handle these matters?”

By asking the questions this way, the law firm gets the applicant speaking versus leading them.  By getting them speaking, the law firm can truly discover the heart of the applicant, their personality, and what they are looking for in a job.  Then, and only then, can the law firm make a real assessment about whether the applicant is a good fit for the position at the law firm.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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