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April 20, 2011 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Give me your best behavioral/situational interview questions!

I'm interviewing this week for a job that I would very, very much like to be hired for. It's an in-house attorney position with a large corporation, so I'm anticipating *lots* of "behavioral" or situational questions (ex: Tell me about a time you had to overcome conflict with a co-worker..., etc.) I haven't gone thru a lot of interviews with these types of questions, so I'm looking for examples of behavioral/situational questions you've been asked in interviews. Bonus points for questions asked by attorneys or toward attorneys during corporate interviews.

Thanks in advance!
posted by elquien to Human Relations (15 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Tell me about something at which you failed.

Tell me your life story.

(I've been asked neither of these, but know someone who's asked the first and someone who's been asked the second. The latter was during an interview for a job as a lawyer. I think it's a totally ridiculous question., but there you go. The first question, though, always caught people off guard and produced interesting responses.)
posted by Dasein at 6:10 PM on April 20, 2011

First question on a grueling 6 hour interview: "What is your first memory?" And yes, the next question was, "What is your second memory?" It kind of went on from there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:13 PM on April 20, 2011

For bonus points, those questions were asked by Lucasfilm's head legal counsel.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:15 PM on April 20, 2011

I was once asked to describe something I deeply regretted. Explicitly not "What did you regret but then learn a valuable lesson from that makes you a better candidate for this job" - just "What did you do that you truly regret?" Threw me for a loop, but was really interesting to work through.
posted by sestaaak at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2011

I've talked to HR folk about this in the past, and the stock response to these stock question should be one that follows the S.T.A.R. pattern: Situation, Task, Action, Result.

That is, if they ask you about a time that you overcame a problem, your response should be:
S: Give them the background, tell them what led to the situation and your role.
T: What you needed to do: "successfully reach a solution without dissapointing either party blah blah etc."
A: What you did to acheive that.
R: What happened when you did it.

I hate the HR games as much as the next guy, but I find it easier to know exactly what they're seeking so I can give it to them*.

*Questions that deviate from the standard 'tell me about a time when...' format may be designed to figure out how you think on your feet, and in that case a stock response may not be so hot. Also, it's better to ask for a moment to consider the question instead of jumping in with the first thing that comes to mind.
posted by twirlypen at 6:24 PM on April 20, 2011 [9 favorites]

What is the riskiest thing you have done so far?

My answer didn't get me the job, but the satisfaction I gained from having the interviewer reply "I guess I won't ask how that is working for you so far" was so worth it.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 8:09 PM on April 20, 2011

Do I look fat to you? (asked by a fat man)
posted by persona at 8:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is a little off topic, but as you're preparing for your interview, make sure you have some questions in mind to ask your interviewer as well (either in response to them asking, "Do you have any questions for us?" or to fill a lull in the conversation.) I recently interviewed a few people and couldn't believe how unprepared they were to talk about themselves or ask questions about the position.
posted by lucysparrow at 8:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The following applied to technology consulting organization interviews. Dont know how applicable this is for legal jobs:

-Give me an example of how you have managed conflicts with a client /with your team member(s)? (this one seems to be a part of every interviewer's list!)
-How do you deal with high level of ambiguity in a project that you have been handed?
-Tell me of a time when you did strong value-add (increase revenue/cut cost et al) for your organization or for a client organization completely on your own (and outside of your defined activity area)

Twirlypen has it right. I have found that narrating the story/situation through a good story helps. Dont assume knowledge of background on the part of the interviewer ...they are not necessarily looking for examples where you succeeded completely (obviously that helps), but for how you sized up the situation and what was your thought process for addressing it. At least that is the theory. I think it is good to take a bit of time to choose the best example that you can think of, rather than the first or second example. I have found spending a bit of time with my resume' / project summaries helpful in at least identifying all the messy stuff that situational interviewers like to hear about.

Once you have appeared in a few of them, you tend to get the hang of them and they become simpler to crack. But if you havent appeared in one for a very long time, doing a bit of dress rehearsal on your own can't harm.

Good luck.
posted by justlooking at 9:02 PM on April 20, 2011

Most of the examples offered above are not situational or behavioural questions. Behavioural questions are of the form "Tell me about a time when..." or "give me an example of a situation in which you..." - as per the examples given by justlooking. The interviewer is looking for real world examples of how you behaved in particular situations in order to assess whether you acted appropriately / effectively / professionally / in a manner consistent with their corporate values / whatever. They want to hear about the situation (and what was at stake), your internal thought processes, your actions and the result (as it concerned what was at stake).

The classics are handling difficult relationships, influencing / negotiating with others, achieving results under pressure, balancing competing priorities, discovering new information / learning a new skill and dealing with ambiguity.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:26 PM on April 20, 2011

elquien: Check your mefi mail.
posted by justlooking at 9:41 PM on April 20, 2011

How about:

"Tell me about a time you broke the rules."

As an insight to someone's character, such a request could yield more fruit than the standard HR pop-psych bullshit. It might also be fun to answer.
posted by cool breeze at 2:51 PM on April 21, 2011

Tell me something you dont like about your current manager?

I was just asked this question last week......very very tough one.
posted by The1andonly at 3:59 PM on April 21, 2011

I work for a giant corporation that prides itself on this type of interview format. It's a pretty rad place to work. 300+ people applied for my job. 4 made it past the phone screen. The first question I was asked was, "Tell me about a time when you failed." They also asked about how I'd feel working for a different division within the same company, and how I'd convince that division that I belonged there (even with no experience).

I've never heard about the STAR approach twirlypen mentioned, but it sounds spot on - essentially, they're looking for you to illuminate how you think and act in difficult situations. Remember to acknowledge a difficult situation, but cast your response to it in a positive light.

I recommend practicing about 15 of your top brag-worthy stories with a friend. Like obiwanwasabi mentions - stories that demonstrate how you influence/negotiate, achieve results under pressure, balance competing priorities, etc. You can pull out whatever story best fits the question you're asked and tweak as necessary. Make a bullet point list and bring it with you in case you need a quick reminder of your story choices. Time yourself so you balance including important details without rambling. Learn how to answer the question and then stop talking.

I actually have a word doc with a giant list of sample questions of the type you mention. Memail me and I'll email it to you.
posted by red_rabbit at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2011

Here are some:

Tell us about a time when you had unrealistic expectations place upon you, and how did you manage through it?

Tell us about a time when you had a plan in place, and it didn't go as expected. How did you recalibrate/recover and move the goal forward?

What accomplishments are you most proud of from this past year?

How have you articulated or communicated a vision, and encouraged others to support and advance your vision?

Give us a recent example of a time that you were inventive or imaginative when solving a problem or responding to an opportunity.

Within your business experience, what do you specifically do to prepare and appropriately handle cultural differences?

Share a time when you stepped into a role or project without a roadmap - a situation in which you had to discover on your own what you didn't know. How did you go about gathering the necessary information for success?

Tell about a time when resources were scarce or unavailable, what creative steps did you take to meet your objectives?

Tell us about a time when you took a risk and it resulted in a negative outcome. What did you learn? Give an example of how you applied that learning.

Describe a situation when your ability to stay calm under pressure was tested. What was the situation and how did you handle it?

Have you had a situation in which clues in an individual's body language indicated for you that you should change your approach or tact? What new approach did you take?

Tell us about a presentation/speech that didn't go well. What went wrong and what did you learn?

Tell us about a time when doing the "right thing" wasn't the easiest thing.
posted by red_rabbit at 5:31 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

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