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How A Great Recruiter Can Reframe Interview Questions

In addition to helping candidates land the job that they want, I also work with clients to hire the right candidates.

Building the right team(s) is tougher than it may seem (that’s why HR and Recruiting are bona fide professions with entire departments in some industries). Teams that place little or no value in how they attract, recruit, and hire talent hit obstacles that drain them of their time and resources that can otherwise be applied elsewhere.

Recruiting and hiring is about more than creating a great checklist and making sure all the boxes are checked. You don’t just draft a list of questions to ask. You have to decide:

  • Whether you really know who you are hiring?
  • Whether you understand how the candidate thinks?
  •  Whether you trust your judgement of whether the candidate will fit with the firm’s culture?
  • Whether, once the interview is over, the candidate will make the right decision if hired?

For the most part, these questions remain “unanswered,” which can lead to an avoidable hiring mistake.

A skilled recruiter can utilize a few techniques that can help an interviewer to dig pass the surface and look deeper into a candidate.


Asking a candidate to tell a story, throwing the candidate off script, enables the interviewer to gauge who the candidate is under pressure.

For example, prepared candidates are ready to deliver a great, compelling answer to “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses;” but asking them to “tell a story about the best chapter of your career” and the “worst chapter” requires them to answer the question from a more vulnerable, truthful angle. In that story, was there a particular character or plot twist which truly tested them or rewarded them? Is the candidate portraying him or herself as a victor or a victim?

Changing the structure and tone of the question grants the candidate an opportunity to tell you an authentic story. It also gives the interviewer an opportunity to learn about the candidate in deeper ways: how does the candidate view their professional history? How does the candidate view the setback? Is the candidate self aware? What themes indicate what the candidate is truly passionate about?


In any legal practice, an attorney will be expected to exercise their best judgment and arrive at a decision. Most interview questions are not designed to reveal this critical process that is key to the legal profession, which leaves an interviewer to gamble on an intuition of how a candidate might make a decision upon hiring.

“Tell me about a really difficult decision you had to make” isn’t just NOT a great question, it is also one that savvy candidates have a practiced and polished answer prepared for. Change it up by presenting the candidate with one of your decisions and asking them to talk about it.

For example:

I decided to leave XYZ firm for this firm at a very early stage in my career. What do you think were the pros and cons of my decision? What other options I should have considered?

I felt pushed over the edge when I had to advise my client to take (this step). How should I approach that decision? What should I have done differently?

In this case, the interviewer gets to choose the decision for the candidate to analyze. The candidate is challenged to reveal their decision making process under pressure. The interviewer gets to observe whether the candidate has a reasonable decision making process and whether they will hold up under the firm’s culture or practice.


Every lawyer performs well when things go according to plan—but realistically, that isn’t why clients hire lawyers. Change is the status quo. Our profession thrives on ambiguity. It is our job to put out fires and clean up messes.

Asking a candidate about how they overcame a challenge is likely to land you with a canned, prepared answer (that’s something we ask high school students when they apply for college). After years of schooling and applications, a great legal candidate will have mastered a well-choreographed response to this question. Reframe your line of questioning to dive deeper into your candidate’s head.

For example, first, ask the candidate to explain how they would feel if they heard that their client, who had such a great case, just lost their lawsuit and was going to go bankrupt. Then, poke around a bit to ask how the candidate thinks the rest of the people in the office might feel? How might they explain this to their spouse or significant other? A supervising partner? An old classmate? What will they do differently the very next morning? In the following year?

In today’s competitive legal market, candidates are doing everything they can to maximize their preparation for their job interviews. Support and resources are available to help even the worst of candidates to hone interview skills and prepare great answers to challenging questions. To distinguish the wheat from the chaff, reframe some of your questions.

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