I've decided to take a hiatus from my hiatus in order to bring you today's post. What's the occasion? Well, I actually (somewhat) recently had an interview. This is rare enough of an event that I would probably take the time to blog about it regardless of the circumstances.
Unfortunately, instead of being able to use this occasion to either encourage my readers or to offer some additional insight into the job search process, the only thing I learned based upon this experience is that there's yet another layer to the frustration of trying to find a job with a JD in this economy.
I'm not sure how many of my readers read (or are at least familiar with) ESPN.com's Bill Simmons, one of the website's better known sports columnists. I have mixed feeling about his columns. There are things I find aggravating about them - such as his ubiquitous references to television programs that are geared towards teenage girls, not middle aged sports columnists - but some of his pieces are fairly insightful.
One feature that appears in his columns from time to time is his rubric for the "Levels of Losing": That is, how hard it is for a fan base to grapple with their team's loss in an important sporting event.
If the defeat leaves you feeling like somebody just punched you in the gut, you're somewhere on the far side of the spectrum. If you're literally crying after you watch your side go down in flames, you're probably at the terminal point of athletic despair. (You also probably take sports a wee bit too seriously.)
The reason why this is a recurring topic in his columns is because every once in a while a city faces a defeat so monumental that a new category has to be added to appropriately capture the anguish of the despondent fan base.
The same revelation also seems to be applicable to the job search. Just when you thought you couldn't possibly see a new low in this miserable process, something new crops up to make you question whether the gulags and mass shortages in the former USSR were a fair trade off in order to have a guaranteed job.
I'm not creative enough to develop a full blown "Levels of Losing" for the job seeker, but here's my abbreviated version (from least depressing to most).
Category 1: Sending out well tailored resumes and custom made cover letters to jobs in which you're both interested and for which you appear to be qualified and never hearing a word back from the employer.
Category 2: Being asked to come in for an "interview" with a recruiter for a position. Of course, the interview is scheduled for two days after you've applied. The recruiter gives you a full blown interview, but he/she is only "interviewing" you to submit you to the HR representative who will make the actual decision as to whether or not to give you a real interview. While all this is going on, the company in question hires somebody else. (Uh, more on this in a future post.)
Category 3: Being asked to come in for a real interview with a company after months without getting any responses. You have a great interview and conversation with the interviewer who works on the marketing side of the company.
Following this, you have a less impressive interview with a guy who works in the tech division. It turns out that they're looking for somebody with a stronger programming background - even though they don't have the courtesy to bother telling you this. Instead, they make up some excuse about the third person who was going to interview you being "unavailable" and claim they'll be in touch. They never call back and refuse to respond to your follow up inquiries.
I thought that was as bad it was going to get - spineless and discourteous interviewers unwilling to let you know they're looking for somebody else and hoping that you'll go away if they just ignore you.
Unfortunately, my recent interview experience introduced me to a fourth category:
At first, things looked quite promising. I had taken some time off from blitzing the jobs boards to focus on reaching out to my network and going to some job fairs (more on this in later posts). I applied for the position in question during a brief spurt of submitting my resume for five jobs. I received no response from the first three, a rejection from one, and a request for an interview from the last - a pretty impressive ratio based upon my past experience.
The job for which I received an interview looked great. It was tangentially related to the law - and I even mentioned the JD in my cover letter, professional summary, and body of my resume - the salary was quite good (at least based upon my low standards), and the position was even respectable enough to divert attention away from the fact that I wasn't actually practicing law.
I recognized that this was possibly my one chance to land on my feet after the entire JD debacle, and I set forth to do everything I could to secure the position. If I was going to miss out on this opportunity, at least I would be able to say I tried my best.
I promptly responded to the request for an interview as politely and (reasonably) eagerly as possible. I then began preparing for all potential questions that may come up. I highlighted my most relevant experience. I researched the company's website to develop intelligent questions and buttress my likely responses. I wrote everything out and rehearsed my "talking points". I even skipped out on another (albeit minor) opportunity in my career search to prepare for the interview.
On the day of the interview, I left my house early to make sure there was no chance that I would get there late. When I arrived, I was about 40 minutes early, so I decided to head into a local coffee shop before the interview.
I usually try not to arrive too early for an interview because it can create an awkward situation. Either they'll sit you down in a waiting area near the receptionist, who would probably rather attend to her work without somebody else sitting directly across from her, or if they put you in a separate conference room, there's pressure on the interviewer to attend to you quickly even though he wasn't expecting you until later. Plus, there's always the risk of the ladies being too distracted to get any of their work done with someone with Esq. Never's good looks hanging around the office. (Well, okay, maybe that last point isn't exactly the world's biggest concern.)
In any event, I ended up leaving the coffee shop about 20 minutes prior to the interview. After the brief walk and going through security, I was about 15 minutes early. This seemed reasonable to me because most employers value promptness, and an employer probably should be prepared for an interview within that time frame.
Despite being in a pretty nice building in the downtown area of the city, the office seemed a bit disorganized; there wasn't really any reception area. Instead, the office manager led me to an empty and somewhat cluttered sub-conference room. To my surprise, despite being a bit early, the interviewer quickly arrived to conduct the interview.
The first bad sign was that he didn't even bother to take the time to print my resume. At the time, I chalked it up to my early arrival and perhaps the disorganized nature of the office. In retrospect, if the guy didn't bother printing out my resume and marking it up, he probably wasn't too intrigued with my candidacy to begin with.
The interview started off well enough. He took the time to give me more background on the position, and I agreed that I would be able to perform the tasks assigned and that I was excited about this opportunity.
Following that, he asked the general "catch all" question, "Tell me about yourself". I picked out three major accomplishments from my experience that were directly on point with what the job description called for. He seemed impressed. So far, so good.
He then inquired about whether I had specific experience in a similar role. It was a bit of a curve ball because I did not, but the job description specifically said "No experience necessary" and nowhere on my resume (that they ostensibly read) did I claim to have such experience. I conceded that I did not, but quickly described my related experience, and he also seemed satisfied and reiterated that specific experience wasn't necessary. I felt like I was still holding on and that once we continued with the series of questions, my intense preparation would start paying off.
He then asked a somewhat irrelevant question about my undergraduate experience, which I answered with a couple of lighthearted (but professional) anecdotes hopeful that I was beginning to establish a connection with the interviewer.
He then looked down at my resume, and I began contemplating which direction he would take the interview. Would he want to talk about my work experience? My computer skills? Why I moved back to my home state?
And then...he stood up, shook my hand, and started heading towards the door. Yes, folks, that's right. This interview into which I had dumped all of my effort lasted for THREE questions and for five (maybe ten) minutes!
I stood up in disbelief. Was this guy serious? He had me drive out to his office for this? As he left, he said he needed to talk things over with his boss and they would get back to me to schedule a second interview. I had a brief optimistic feeling that perhaps they had just called me in to verify that I was the "chosen one" for this position; however, once he quickly added the condition, "...if we're interested," I realized that I had a better chance of getting a call from the Abominable Snowman than ever hearing from this guy again.
Yes, I had come to play and leave everything on the field in order to snag this position, but it seems like I had lost before I even arrived at the office that day. I have to assume that they already knew they either were affirmatively going to hire a certain candidate or they somehow recognized that they didn't want me for the job after scheduling the interview.
I don't know how else to explain it. He didn't bother asking me the "Why law school?" question or about my former job or even the almost obligatory "Do you have any questions for me?" query. He didn't even offer me a business card, which essentially says, "Don't bother wasting your time with a thank you/follow up." (I sent one to the office manager anyway.)
Of course, following in the fine tradition of HR discourtesy, he also didn't bother to tell me that they were looking for somebody else nor did he respond to my follow up a week later - sent via the office manager.
As an aside, if any of you end up in recruiting/HR, could please keep your own experiences in mind and perhaps treat applicants with some modicum of respect. (For anyone currently in this field who reads this blog, perhaps you guys could keep in mind we're not just some lousy products that you don't want to buy at the store. Besides, if you'd like to live a life of evil, there are probably some law school administration jobs that are more lucrative and require less stress.)
Back to the subject of this post: I hope this company isn't this tactless in all of their candidate searches. What if I was black or a woman? This would have had EEOC suit written all over it.
Nothing about this really makes sense. If say they met a candidate (or candidates) who had experience but was (were) willing to accept underemployment in a tough economy, wouldn't his (their) resume(s) have indicated this? If so, why bother bringing me in for an interview before having the chance to vet such a clearly superior candidate (or candidates)?
Aside from somebody with experience, I have a hard time believing that they already interviewed somebody who was so good that it wouldn't even be worth the time to give me a full evaluation. How good does somebody (particularly without any direct experience) need to come across that they could decide beforehand that nobody else even deserves a hearing?
Maybe some of you think that I'm being too generous to myself and that I'm unwilling to accept that I blew the interview. I honestly don't think it's possible. If I had a full interview and didn't come across that great, that's one thing, but only getting three questions? I don't think so. Unless I simultaneously broke wind and insulted the guy's mother, I don't think there's any call for dispensing with me with such a cursory "evaluation".
Also, while I have many weaknesses, I think I'm actually pretty good at interviewing. When I graduated college, one interviewer called me back for a second interview because she said I "brought a lot of energy to the first interview."
Folks, there are many ways to describe me (some of them probably not very nice), but energetic is not one of them. You can think of Esq. Never as kind of a more laid back version of Al Gore. Nevertheless, I am somehow able to make myself comes across as far more engaging during job interviews than I am in most other settings.
In any event, whatever charm I may be able to muster for these interviews clearly couldn't overcome this disaster of an experience.
Maybe somebody's cousin needed a sinecure or I inadvertently ran over the interviewer's dog at some point in the past.
Regardless, there you have it, a category four job search defeat: Finding the "perfect" job - getting invited for an interview - diligently preparing for it - walking into the interview without knowing you're already disqualified - and then being dismissed without even the pretense that they took your candidacy seriously. Oh, and then having them continue to string you along while also ignoring your requests for further information.
I don't know what could possibly qualify for a category five experience. I assume it would include a kick to the groin and being throwing down an elevator shaft, but I really don't want to know for sure.
This blog post is based upon a sports analogy, so let me conclude with another sports reference.
In Major League Baseball, just making the playoffs is somewhat of an accomplishment. This is in contrast to the NBA where half the teams end up in the post season. In baseball, if you make the playoffs, it means that you're only one of four teams in your league to extend your season into October. After slogging your way through a lengthy season, you either ended up as the best team in the division or as the best out of all of the other teams in the league.
When a team clinches a playoff berth, there's obviously celebration both in the clubhouse and in the team's hometown. Nevertheless, the real work is just beginning. Sure, it's nice to be in the post season, but getting wiped out in the divisional series isn't going to impress anybody, and years from now, nobody besides hometown fans and baseball nerds are going to even remember the initial accomplishment.
I've learned that it's pretty much the same thing with first interviews. Sure, after sending out reams of resumes, its nice to have some proof that somebody actually read yours and that they're even interested in considering you for the job. You feel happy for a couple of days, but it's almost meaningless.
Yes, you can't win the World Series if you don't get into the playoffs to begin with, and you can't get an offer if you're not getting interviews. Nevertheless, just as a team shouldn't start making room on their trophy shelf in anticipation of a title during the first round, the job seeker should realize that a first interview is a step toward getting a job, but it's only a very small one.