An ever-increasing number of firms are utilizing behavioral interview assessments to identify the best candidates, while simultaneously reducing implicit bias, during on-campus and callback interviews. At its core, behavioral interviewing is a technique in which interviewers ask candidates to give specific examples of past behaviors that they believe are predictive of certain job-relevant skills and competencies. Because behavioral questions elicit a narrative of past experiences from applicants, this interview methodology can be considered a form of “story-telling.”
There are two main reasons why firms are choosing behavioral assessments over the classic “fit interview.” First, behavioral interviewing is comprised of job-related questions and seeks to hone in on core competencies that the employer finds valuable for success in the job. It also helps minimize unconscious bias and enhance objectivity. Rather than a free-flowing, unstructured fit interview, behavioral interviews are centered on questions related to competencies and give all candidates an equal opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications without relying on a “gut feeling” from the interviewer.
On the surface, behavioral assessments might seem intimidating and overwhelming. But that doesn’t need to be the case. In reality, this interview format gives structure and order to an otherwise uncertain process. Behavioral interview questions offer you a roadmap for showcasing your job-relevant skills and competencies.
Interviewers will often use your resume as a basis for formulating behavioral questions about prior work experience. So, it’s imperative to study (and reflect upon) your resume so that you can speak intelligibly and in detail about each and every experience listed. While it’s not possible to know which specific behavioral questions might be asked, knowing your resume and experiences well enough will prepare you to answer any question that comes your way.
A common behavioral question will look something like:
Tell me about a time during your summer internship when you made a mistake. What steps did you take to identify and resolve the situation?
Although each firm will have a slightly different set of competencies that it’s assessing, the above question provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate that you possess one of the most universally important skills of successful lawyers: resilience.
Below are 10 tips for approaching this, and any other, behavioral assessment that you encounter during your interviews:
1. Take time to think carefully about the question before you respond. It’s completely normal to request a few moments to collect your thoughts.
2. Answer each part of the question. Many behavioral questions will include multiple parts. To demonstrate that you possess the target competencies, answer each part of each question.
3. Sometimes the conversation will naturally go off topic. Always be sure that you’ve fully answered the question at hand before moving on to new questions.
4. When asked about past experiences, don’t be afraid to draw upon college and law school experience. Students who went directly from college to law school may have less work experience to discuss; however, examples from class, student groups, or leadership positions are just as valuable.
5. Ask the interviewer for clarification if you don’t understand the question being asked. It’s much easier to clear up any confusion at the beginning than having to go back and re-answer the question.
6. Be yourself. Behavioral interviews aren’t necessarily more formal than other types of interviews. The interview may shift back and forth between behavioral questions and general conversation. In addition to your job-relevant competencies, you want your personality to shine as well.
7. Communicate clearly. In addition to the competencies unique to each firm, you’ll be assessed on your communication skills throughout the interview.
8. Just like other types of interviews, don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer questions during behavioral interviews. You’ll likely be given this opportunity toward the end of the interview. Asking questions shows that you are engaged and genuinely interested in the firm—and substantive questions can further demonstrate several job-relevant competencies.
9. Think about the assignments you completed during your 1L summer (in any industry), and create a list of the skills and competencies you developed in the process. Your 1L experience will be the freshest in your mind and can serve as a primer for identifying competencies in other experiences more distant in your memory.
10. Practice behavioral interviewing with other students. Give other students your resume, and have them ask you behavioral questions based on the experience on your resume.
If you find yourself with some down time this holiday season, you just might consider picking up a book for fun. After all, lawyers don’t often get the chance to read “just because”—the legal lifestyle of poring through dense materials all day, every day doesn’t exactly leave much time or energy for extra reading.
There is one question you can always expect during your legal job interview: Do you have any questions for us? Preparing thoughtful, well-researched questions for this part of your interview is a great way to show your interest in the legal employer and that you have done your homework.