Interviewing for a paralegal role is less stressful when you are prepared. While it’s valuable to read up on interview tips regarding how you should dress, respond to questions and follow up after the meeting is over, what is most important is understanding the type of questions you should prepare to answer. Although each attorney will come up with his or her own list of questions based on the expectations for the position, you can expect to field questions that pertain to your education and experience, the skills you have to offer and, for certain types of employers, your interest in and knowledge of a legal specialty.
Questions About Your Background
The interview is about getting to know you as a candidate and determining whether you would be the right fit for the position and the company culture. It makes sense, then, that many paralegal interviews begin with prompts like “Tell me about yourself” or “Tell me why you’re here.” Although very general, these popular questions can trip up interviewees who are nervous or haven’t prepared for the interview. It’s best to give a concise but enthusiastic answer that briefly highlights the most impressive aspects of your candidacy for the job, such as your education, past experience and sincere interest in the position.
Beyond these introductory questions, paralegals are often asked further questions about their background. You may be asked to elaborate on what your main job duties were at your most recent paralegal position and how you have kept up with changing technologies and professional expectations throughout your career. The hiring attorney may ask you to recount how your work affected the outcome of one of your most memorable cases.
Since there are different pathways into the paralegal career, you should be prepared to answer questions about your education, such as what your formal paralegal training entailed or why you are transitioning from a different major to a paralegal career.
Questions Assessing Skills
Before an attorney can delegate a task to a paralegal, he or she must feel confident that the paralegal has the skills to handle the work. To gauge the skills of a job candidate, the hiring lawyer will often ask questions to learn about the skills you have and the training you would need if hired.
For paralegals, many different kinds of skills matter. An attorney may ask you questions about more technical skills, such as your experience in legal writing and legal research and whether you are familiar with the software the firm uses to manage electronic case files. However, you may also have to answer questions that speak to your “soft” skills – things like communication skills, organizational skills and time-management skills. Often, questions that test your skills take the form of behavioral questions. Your interviewer may ask you what you would do in a hypothetical situation that reflects the challenges you would encounter if chosen for the position. For example, you may be asked how you would handle a large inventory of cases, a demanding opposing counsel, an anxious client or preparing for a big trial.
Behavioral questions often give your interviewer the opportunity to hear your thought processes and attitudes as well as the content of your answer, which can provide insight into how you would fit in with the team and the culture of the law firm or department.
Questions About a Legal Specialization
For jobs with certain kinds of employers, including in-house legal departments and law firms that specialize in an area of legal practice, you might encounter questions about a legal specialization. Your knowledge of criminal law might not hold much relevance to an employer who deals primarily in tort claims, corporate law or intellectual property, while years of experience handling these civil matters are not necessarily valuable to a prosecutor’s office or a defense attorney. If you are interviewing with such an employer – which is something you should make an effort to find out long before you meet your interviewer – then you should expect and prepare for questions about the relevant specialization.
What questions you should expect will depend on your level of education and experience and the expectations associated with the position. A recent college graduate may face only the question of what about the specialized area of law appeals to him or her, while more experienced workers may be asked to elaborate on their familiarity with specific tasks used in this area of law. Some of these questions may take the form of behavioral questions about what you have or would do in a situation, while others may assess your knowledge of the specialized area of legal practice.
Job candidates may also choose to tailor their own questions to the hiring attorney’s legal specialization, asking questions like “How did you decide to get into family law?” or “What is your favorite thing about practicing personal injury law?”