Scenario-based interview questions are interview questions which ask how you would react to a specific situation. They are best understood in contrast to the more common type of interview questions which seek to discover the candidate’s general competency for a role – examples might include ‘why do you want to be a solicitor?’, or ‘why does this Chambers interest you?’.
The key difference with scenario-based interview questions is that you are not able to prepare an answer in advance. As a result, scenario-based interviews are essentially designed to test your ability to think on your feet rather than pre-memorised content. In many ways then, candidates who went through the Oxbridge admissions process will have encountered similar challenges during the interview process.
These types of interview questions are also useful in allowing employers to gauge aspects of the candidate that are not easy to judge via more traditional questions. For example, a candidate might provide a meticulously researched answer to the question of why they think they suit a particular law firm, but the interviewer will still want to know that they possess the emotional intelligence, for example, to deal with a difficult client. The testing of these ‘soft skills’ are where scenario-based interview questions really shine.
It is also worth noting that there is a significant overlap between the scenario-based questions you are likely to encounter at interview and the questions often included in pre-interview screening tests within the application process – namely SJTs (situational judgement tests). SJTs often work on a similar basis, providing you with a practical scenario and measuring how you respond. In this way, relevant skills and best advice is often shared between SJTs and scenario-based interview questions.
However, SJTs are usually multiple choice, and may provide greater thinking time, whereas with scenario-based interview questions, you need to be ready to create your own answer on the spot. Remember also that many organisations (e.g. Allen & Overy) have been known to include both SJTs in the early application process and scenario-based questions at interview (the two are not mutually exclusive).
Scenario-based interview questions are common across the legal industry (and even beyond, though we will retain a focus on legal roles in this article).
It is first worth noting that you cannot prepare for scenario-based interview questions in the same way that you can (and should) for more predictable fixed questions. However, there are some points that you should consider both before and during an interview in regard to scenario-based questions.
This is, of course, easier said than done, but it really is a crucial point. Employers are not looking for the candidates who panic and blurt out the first answer that comes into their head. Instead, try to remain relaxed, think the problem through logically, and (within reason) take your time in delivering your answer.
This is a classic piece of advice issued to Oxbridge interview candidates, and applies here too. If you’re not entirely sure of the best answer, be prepared to at least vocalise your thought process so that the interviewers can understand that you are engaging with the question – sitting in silence is not a great look.
Your answer to a scenario-based interview might actually differ based on the organisation interviewing you. For example, if you’re presented with a scenario where the two options are clearly one favouring individual graft and another favouring turning to a large team for assistance, an elite US firm’s business model might mean that the interviewer in that context might prefer the first answer (and the opposite for, say, a British, Magic Circle firm with large teams relying heavily on teamwork).
The best answers for scenario-based questions are rarely those at the extremes of the spectrum. Instead, think of an answer which shows balance and an inherent ability to demonstrate that you can understand the pros and cons on both sides.
Again, easier said than done, but it is important – clients want direct, clear advice, and so aspiring lawyers need to be concise in the answers they provide.
Your supervisor at your law firm has asked you to work on a project over the weekend, but you have a close family member’s wedding to attend. What will you do?
The best answer here would probably be one which is balanced and honest. Of course you’re not going to miss the wedding (it would be a red flag in the interviewer’s mind for you to lie and say you would), but it would also be highly concerning if your answer is one which pushes aside all work responsibility.
A middle ground answer would perhaps suggest asking another trainee in the same team if they could cover the extra workload for you this weekend, and in return you could promise them to do the same for them the weekend after.
Two members of senior staff have given you work to complete at the same time, and your capacity is currently very limited. What should you do?
In this scenario, there’s less a single answer to give, and more a thought process to talk through. Steps that you might take to manage this situation include prioritising which work has a shorter deadline (time management skills), communicating your capacity to both supervisors in order to manage expectations (a mature approach to communication), or being willing to stay a little later if that’s what is needed to get everything finished (work ethic).
You realise you have made a big mistake on a project you just completed within your Chambers. What do you do next?
In the legal industry, integrity is absolutely crucial. A mature candidate will be able to take responsibility for their errors and be confident enough to inform senior staff immediately. This will also have the benefit of allowing your employer to take appropriate steps to limit any possible repercussions (e.g. potential litigation or liability). This is the kind of question where you need to be direct and avoid too much waffle or sitting on the fence.
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