Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Worst. Interview. Ever.

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)'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.


  1. wow, I've actually had a couple interviews like that. Now while I don't have a JD, I do have a MA an apparently that automatically disqualifes me from some jobs because IT makes me seem over qualfied. Seriously people, you really can't do anything with a MA in Poli Sci. I actually considered going back for an HR degree, basing it on my type of experience which is all administrative/clerical, and thought if I decided not to go the law school route (lsat score sucks) then that was something to consider. Not sure if it is the right path I should take, but if I do, I'd like to think I would show a little more respect and tact then that guy showed you.

  2. Been there done that. I flew 1200 miles for an interview with a law firm only to have the guy interviewing me tell me i should never have been called for an interview due to my lack of experience. Someone obviously didnt read a fucking thing in my cover letter and resume

  3. Amy...I briefly entertained the notion of enrolling in an online LLM program with the hope of upgraded my corporate status. But that would have gone against everything I've been preaching -- that the notion of career advancement via formal higher education is largely a scam.

  4. you can rent a room with internet in the suburbs/outskirts of guadalajara for $100 a month. Many gringos go down there to live and smoke the cheap weed and drink cheap beer. With food and computer that is 2000 a year.

    Got 30K dollars? That will support you for 15 years down there....then come back up here for 5 years and work your ass off when the economy is booming. Save 50K and go back down there forever....

    once you hit 62, go on early SS and that is it....

  5. What a bunch of losers. Maybe you should have opened up a book in law school. Oh well the world needs click monkeys.

  6. Wow. This is a terrible story. I honestly cannot believe the lack of common courtesy and consideration on the part of HR peeps and interviewers. I almost wish I could become an HR person just so that I could start a movement for common kindness, including not calling people to interview who you are not serious about and responding to all reasonable inquiries post-interview.

    Esq., Never- maybe you should just try to get the guy on the phone and ask him nicely if there was a particular reason you were not selected or why the interview was so short. This is ridiculous!

  7. 7:44, even though you're a troll, I'll still respond.

    First of all, there are plenty of perfectly good students who struggle to get work out of law school. Secondly, in my case, I don't even want a legal job, so my academic record is largely irrelevant.

    In any event, plenty of hot shot, Ivy Leaguers got canned by the big firms during the recession and are now struggling in the NYC doc review tanks.

    I wouldn't be so proud of your law school accomplishments; you could easily be a recession away (if the economy double dips) from finding yourself on the streets as well.

  8. As a lawyer, and a hiring manager, I can see both sides... In the 2001-2002 recession, I went through 23 interviews before I found a job. Several rude and unprofessional partners, but in most cases they were (justifiably) reluctant to hire a young attorney with minimal experience who would need tons of hand holding and training.

    Now that I'm a manager doing the hiring, I see the other perspective-- HR priorities shift from week to week. Budgets for new positions can vanish overnight in this economy. The hiring timelines can stretch out for months.

    "A" candidates are few and far between. Most of the people I interview are "Bs" and "Cs". I'm not talking about grades-- I couldn't care less about them. I'm talking about intelligence, education, and experience. When companies don't get back to you, it's because you're a B or C candidate-- they might like some things about you, but face the truth-- you're not a shinning star.

    In retrospect when I was young and looking for my first few law jobs, I was horrible at interviewing. I see now all the mistakes I made. They were correct in not hiring me.

    The best advice I could give is to get yoursef a position (McDonald's manager?) where you are interviewing and hiring people--you will improve greatly in your own law interviews.

  9. Amy, don't bother with an HR degree! Those people are taking a massive hit. Almost every job posting I've seen requires 5+ years of experience, and they can easily get those people because many highly experienced people were laid off.

    Esq. Never: That sounds like the typical armpit that is small business. You shouldn't interpret what they do as a reflection of you, as much as it is a reflection of them. I know it's a bit flip for me to say that you are better off not working there, however, based upon my very unscientific straw poll, the attitude employers have towards their staff is usually reflected in the job ad or in the interview. If you were lucky, you would simply be miserable but able to hold on while you looked for another job.

  10. 7:17 - that actually sounds like a good idea

  11. 11:07 is dead on re: getting a job where you interview others. Even though I didn't get paid to interview people for my own business, doing it has made me a far better interviewer. It's also allowed me to see things from the interviewer's perspective.

    That being said, someone told me something interesting about myself lately. Basically that I don't give a shit what anyone thinks of me & that's come into the search for a steady paying day job.

    I'm quite direct & pointed when I send in anything + will not waste my time going to an interview for a non-legal job unless I'm being given fair consideration. I won't even send in a resume unless the person handling the position tells me to do so after hearing about my overqualification for many of the paying positions I look at. If you have evidence of humor & a personality, I've found some people to find that kind of thing charming or at least a curiosity worth learning more about. I think it must be such a variation from the desperate beggars that it becomes noticeable. It's no wonder I've tried pursuing a career as a recruiter or an agent--recruiters have told me I could do the job but am overqualified.

    In closing, let me tell you about a worse hiring situation: You get hired by a company that purports to have paying work. A few days into working, the boss says he'll pay you "when the business takes off." The boss tells you about a former embezzling employee & later goes to court to resolve the issue. You're paying your own transportation costs & don't get a check for months. B/c he's a tad frightened of you, you get small amounts of money & other things covered once you raise a fuss. Later, you learn the business is a sham & the boss is a con artist who's done this all around the country. Your only recourse is small claims court or filing a claim w/the Department of Labor. You've wasted time working for free & if you'd stayed any longer, could have lost your license for lying to potential investors + participating in this scheme. There's no court record of the alleged embezzler.

    Feel better?

  12. nojob4u - That's what I have been hearing a lot lately. There was even an article a couple weeks ago that interviewed a girl from my region, and hasn't been able to find a HR job because they want 5 yrs experience and such. I currently work as a temp to hire admin assistant for a law firm, for the last 6 mos. Im not sure if I am going to get hired on or not. After a conversation with one of the attorneys I felt good about the possibility, but then I talked with the other one (the one I'm under) and didn't feel all that great about the conversation. Almost like he expects me to leave when I find something better (even in the interview they didn't think this would be challenging for me - all because oh I have a Masters degree) He's been holding back training me because he doesn't want to train someone thats gonna leave. I understand that I do, and granted this isn't what I envisoned myself doing and I have no paralegal experience. So maybe if I do get hired on, I get that experience, work for a couple years then maybe move up to a bigger law firm or something (just thinking out loud there) but honestly my gut is telling me that they won't because I have an MA, and this isn't challenging enough work for someone with an advanced degree. It's all so very frustrating.

  13. Amy, I got the exact same "OK, we'll hire you, but we're not going to even bother training you to do anything because your presence is a waste of our time" routine at my last job.

    It sounds to me like, since the job is "temp to hire" that they don't actually want anybody to stick around until to receive the prize. They were probably hoping that you would disappear on your own with a fabulous job, and they would simply go back to the "temp to hire" pool and get away with not having to pay benefits or employment taxes for another 6 months. Now, they've got a problem because you haven't gone anywhere.

    Granted these people may simply be flaky individuals who enjoy terrorizing their staff, or they felt compelled to hire you because there was no reason not to give you the job and now they feel threatened that there is somebody who is a quasi-equal to them.

  14. NoJob4U, I'm kinda wondering that. The conversation with Attorney A was all about how much was I getting from the temp agency (apparently they are paying a lot more to them then I am seeing) He asked me what I thought my salary should be, he also gave a ballpark # which surprised me cuz I make crap right now. Also asked if I get insurance through the temp agency (i do but it cost a lot). He had to talk to Attorney B and all day Tuesday it was like they kept missing each other. Finally just about 4pm Attorney A went into Bs office and closed the doors. I assumed they were going to discuss hiring me because that's the only thing either of them talked about with me all day. They were only in there for like 10 mins. I can't be completely sure the conversation was me or not because they both do have depositions next week, but the events of the day lead me to believe I was the topic of discussion and if that was the case, 10 mins doesn't seem very long. And neither of them have made any comments to me today or yesterday about hiring me as a full employee. So I'm kinda just in limbo. I really don't do anything to be honest. I sit at the front desk, answer the phone, do letters, and sometimes Attorney B gives me request for admissions or notice of depositions. I don't know if I should ask Attorney B if they have discussed hiring me on full time or not. But I really do need to know something, because all it is going to be is a temp, I have to find something else (and I have been applying for other jobs mostly state and fed which I know are highly unlikely but it cost nothing to apply so why not)

  15. Companies are now making candidates go through 3 or 4 interviews for a chance to get hired. Yeah, but the economy is improving - according to the pencil-neck establishment shills and their "economist" counterparts.

  16. Wow, that was a bad interview. My guess is that they already filled the position but were too lazy to cancel the interview.

    And I wouldn't worry about 7:44. He just wrapped up his first year of law school and is still in his "conquer the world" stage. Pretty soon he'll be clicking away...

  17. Hey, if you took any tax law courses/have a business background you might want to try getting a job at an accounting firm. It's not practicing law, but at least it's a job in a profession that looks favorably upon the law degree.

  18. I had an interview where the interviewer probably didn't even know I was coming for an interview. I had to wait 20 minutes until he was ready, then he asked me for my resume because he didn't have it, then he looked it over for a minute asked two cursory questions about it, then answered a phone call during the interview, and during the phone call he told the other person on the phone that he's giving an interview but it would be over soon and he would call him back in five minutes. So he then hung up the phone and asked me if I had any questions about the position. Needless to say I was pissed off, so I proceeded to ask him every question under the sun just to waste his time. The interview ended an hour later, I asked for his card, and he said just send any correspondence to his secretary, and he walked me out without giving me the secretary's information. Never heard from them again even after sending a thank you letter, by mail!

  19. "What if I was black or a woman? This would have had EEOC suit written all over it."

    Lol. I remember interviewing for a position in 2004 that was just as rushed. The HR rep was insistent that I fill out their in-house application before I left; he basically stood over me to make sure I completed it.

    I later found out that they had a in house lady that had the position in-hand before I knew about the position. Best I can tell I was file filler to show the EEOC that they don't always hire white men.

  20. In Canada, we do things slightly differently; after graduation, it is a requirement to "article" with a lawyer for about a year (the specific duration depends on the Province) before one is allowed to write the bar exam. This is basically an aprenticeship/practical training course. Receiving an articling position depends in large measure on decent grades and/or personal connections.

    In one interview I had for an articling position, I had the lawyer ask me directly "You're not Roman Catholic are you?". Technically this is an illegal question and I could have complained to the Law Society. I did not do so as this would basically blacklist me and I still had hopes of becoming a lawyer.

    About 14 years later, I have moved across the country and changed professions and I can now (almost) laugh at this experience.

    Another time, I had a telephone interview for a "copy editing" job that magically became data entry (paid at a piece rate!!!) when I arrived to start there. I lasted all of one day.


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