Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Interview question - overcoming a hurdle

Interview question – Describe a situation where you have been involved in a team and had to overcome a hurdle to achieve your aims.

This sort of question is probably every interviewees’ worst question. People who have been interviewed more than once or who have practiced interviews before attending any will have a stock answer ready and prepared for exactly this sort of question whether it be this sort of thing or something along the lines of describing a situation where you have had to achieve a result and overcome problems within the team etcetera.

The first thing to say is that you need to think of something that is actually in a team. You must listen to the question carefully because if the question requires you to describe a situation where you have to overcome a hurdle, you also need a hurdle to overcome.

One of the main let downs with this question amongst interviewees is that they don’t listen to the question and just hear the words team and situation. You must listen to the question carefully and tailor your answer to it, even if the answer is a stock one that you have already prepared.

The next thing to say is that the situation should ideally be work related unless you have a very interesting scenario from some interest or activity that you have. An example would be if you had competed in the Olympics or Paralympics and there were some interesting story you could tell. If not, I usually suggest avoiding stories about school or stories about any activities such as scouts or guides, or stories involving work places where you job has been casual such as working in a hotel as a waiter unless there is something particularly interesting.

I think the situation should also be something where there has been a genuine hurdle. Too many times I have heard answers to the question that have involved an interesting scenario at work, but there has been no hurdle to overcome. If there is no hurdle to overcome then you have not answered the question regardless of how interesting your scenario is.

One of the best things about taking commercial work placements is that there are almost always situations where you have been part of a team and you can give examples. Most work placements in the larger commercial practices involve team work exercises and similar so you have plenty of opportunities to give examples. If you have no legal work experience you will have to think of another work situation in a different environment to give an example from, but you will struggle with this as it does really need to be something work related and in order for it to be interesting to lawyers it ideally needs some legal element to it. Without this it will be quite awkward to answer the question.

I’m not sure what the interviewer gets out of this question. I think it is just the idea of putting the interviewee under a bit of stress to see how they deal with the question and whether they answer both elements of it. I don’t recall ever listening that closely to anybody’s answer without feeling extremely bored as not that interesting question and most answers tend to be fairly waffly and about scenarios that not very interesting.

In summary you need a situation or a scenario and a hurdle that you overcame. The situation needs to be ideally legally related and something from a work environment, and the hurdle needs to be a genuine one. Keep the answer as to the point as possible although it does not need to be extremely short and the object of the question is to allow you a bit of time to formulate a fairly detailed answer.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him by email on or by telephone on 0207 127 4343.

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