Fourteen Open-ended Questions to Ask in an Employment Interview

As discussed in our last tip, when hiring a new employee, take time to prepare. That preparation should include designing questions to ask each job applicant. Open-ended questions tend to elicit broader responses from job applicants. Questions that reveal behavior, personality and character are more productive than questions that just reveal technical skills. Try to ask each applicant the same core questions to provide the best comparisons.

These 14 questions should help:

1. What is important to you in a job?

2. When you are under a lot of stress, what is your typical reaction?

3. What motivates you the most?

4. Have you ever made an error in judgment that you had to address with your
employer? How did you handle it?

5. What do you expect to find at this law firm that you don't have in your
current or last job?

6. How do you measure your own success?

7. What are two examples of tasks that you do not particularly enjoy doing?

8. How were you motivated enough to complete those tasks?

9. Tell me about your software skills - the programs you know and what you can
do with them.

10. Tell me about the best boss you ever had. Now tell me about the worst boss.

11. What made it tough to work for him or her?

12. Have you ever been in a situation where a document was returned due to
errors? What effect did this have on you?

13. If you took out a full-page ad in the newspaper and had to describe yourself
in only three words, what would those words be?

14. Have you ever had to resolve a conflict with a co-worker? How did you
resolve it?

Hiring an employee can be one of the biggest investments a solo can make. The key to hiring the right person is in the preparation. Proper preparation helps you make the right decisions on whom to hire. Whether you are hiring a secretary, law clerk, paralegal or associate, here are eight proven steps to a successful hire:

1. Prepare or review the job description to make sure it accurately describes the duties and responsibilities of the position.

2. Write a persuasive advertisement, being careful not to oversell the job; advertise the position in publications that attract quality candidates.

3. Be flexible about scheduling interviews. A good candidate may have to be scheduled after his or her normal working hours.

4. Review the resume or application in advance to learn the basic information about the person.

5. Conduct the interview in a quiet area, free from interruptions.

6. Set the tone for the interview by making the applicant feel at ease. Use his or her name. Take a few minutes to break the ice by talking about an item of interest from the applicant's resume.

7. Don't oversell your practice or the job. If the job is not up to the expectations you create, your new-hire may leave sooner than you'd like.

8. Ask open-ended questions. Try to ask the same questions of all applicants. Listen carefully to the answers and take notes. (If you take notes about an applicant, it is best to take notes for all--you never know when you may need them.)

If you are starting a new practice, or you are not enjoying the type of cases you are presently getting, work on focusing, or re-focusing, your practice. This is particularly important for new lawyers, who run the risk of either being overwhelmed because they try to handle everything that comes in the door or doing nothing because potential clients don't identify them with any particular area of the law.

Once you select a focus area, or two areas which will complement each other, do market research to determine whether that practice niche is already filled in your community. If not, begin to identify the clients you want. Define them by geographical area, gender, age, education, occupation, financial and marital status. Then determine where you can expect to find such people and the best methods to make them aware of your services. Review your state or provinces rules of professional conduct before designing your marketing efforts. Develop a marketing plan with qualitative standards, pursue it steadily, and review your results frequently.

For assistance in developing and evaluating your marketing plan, contact your bar's law practice management section or practice management advisor. Or check out the marketing books available from the ABA at