Interview Questions to Evaluate Candidates’ Potential Fit With Your Firm’s Workplace Culture

By Jamy J. Sullivan, JD

Managers understand the importance of hiring legal specialists who have the necessary interpersonal and technical skills to excel on the job. Just as important is something that’s more difficult to evaluate: their fit with the culture of your law firm or legal department. 

You could hire the most brilliant and experienced legal professionals, but if they clash with your organization’s work style and don’t get along with existing staff, they’ll drag down morale and productivity. The price of a bad hire can be surprisingly high, ranging from grumbling employees to dissatisfied clients. 

To avoid this costly scenario, ask these four questions when interviewing job candidates: 

1. Describe your perfect workday. 

Find out what aspects of their previous roles candidates have enjoyed the most. Then see how much of their ideal day overlaps with your culture and the regular duties of the position. Listen for potential clashes between their preferences and the realities of the job, such as their desire for a quiet workplace when your law firm bustles with noise and activity. An unhappy employee is an unproductive employee. 

2. Tell me about your work style.  

Even seemingly insignificant professional preferences can matter if they’re at odds with your workplace style. For example, when looking for a paralegal manager, you want someone who is organized but a candidate who is too rigid will not be a good fit if your company prides itself on its culture of flexibility. 

3. Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? 

The right answer depends on the position, of course. File clerks will naturally work much more on their own than, say, paralegal managers or general counsel. Still, the ideal candidate is someone who’s comfortable and productive in a variety of group dynamics. Look for applicants who can adapt to many situations, ranging from solitary hours of legal research to all-hands-on-deck interdepartmental collaborations. Do watch out for lone-wolf answers such as “I like working by myself because others don’t pull their weight” or “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” Such people can set their colleagues on edge and harm teamwork. 

4. Why did you leave your last job? or Why do you want to leave your current position? 

People move on to new employers for a variety of reasons, such as relocating for a spouse’s new job to a poor relationship with their supervisor or a bad fit with their previous workplace culture. While you want to be on the lookout for those who were fired for ethical lapses or poor performance, many candidates will most likely not feel comfortable telling you about their past in an unflattering light. (This is why background and reference checks are important.) However, avoid people who badmouth former employers or coworkers, tend to blame others and indicate they have a history of locking horns with colleagues. They would not likely be a good fit with your workplace culture, and it’s better to find out sooner than later. 

A poor workplace fit wastes time, goodwill and resources. In the worst-case scenario, a bad hire can drive away valuable clients and top-performing employees. So, when reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, be mindful of the essential role that workplace cultural fit plays in your hiring practices.