Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Tables Turned

It's interview season- OCI, callbacks, offers, and job fairs abound in campuses and law firms all over the country. Admittedly it's not the best time to be emerging from the Ivory Tower and thrust into the real world, but companies are hiring. I feel lucky to be part of a firm that actually added schools to their OCI list and is planning to grant more offers this year than last year. Our halls have been teeming with flyback interviewees and because my time is considerably less valuable than a senior associates, I think I've either interviewed or gone to lunch with every one of them. It's odd to be on the other side of the table. After my first interview I had to select whether the candidate was "exceptional," "strong," "adequate," or "poor" in different areas. I agonized over it until I remembered that 9 other people were ranking this guy- it wasn't like my decision would make or break him. So I went with my gut and so far every person I've really loved has gotten an offer and the only two I've dipped into "adequate" for did not. So at least I feel like I'm in line with everyone else.

When I was going on callbacks I always wondered how I came across to others. Did my questions sound forced? Did I talk too much? Did I talk too little? Did I seem intelligent? I think what I've learned the most from switching roles is how little a lot of that matters. I pretty much walk out of the room thinking, "I'd like to work with him/her" or "There is absolutely no way I would want to be stuck in a room doing due diligence with that person for more than twenty minutes." And that gut feeling maps pretty well on to all the categories in the evaluation I have to fill out. So yes, questions do sound forced or fake, but they do for pretty much everyone and that's okay- I'm just happy to fill silence in an interview and tell you why I chose to work here. (That said, there was one guy who managed to ask insightful questions in a way that seemed like they were a totally natural part of the conversation, he was the most impressive person I've interviewed and he received the first offer.) You didn't talk too much, that's what you're supposed to do. You probably didn't talk too little either, unless you are the one guy who allowed huge voids of silence to dominate our lunch, making no effort to answer my colleague's and my questions beyond a simple yes or no. He did not get an offer despite his perfect grades at a top school. Almost everyone has come across as smart, I think you're given the benefit of the doubt that you are intelligent (given the resume you need to make it past the screening interview) and as long as you don't act like a total idiot, I'll assume you are probably smarter than me.

I think the most important thing is to sound excited about work, the firm, and the summer. Don't ramble or repeat certain phrases I can tell you've memorized (a la Sarah Palin)- some memorizing is fine and expected, like the "why do you want to practice law?" question, but using the same string of words 10 times in an interview does make me question your intelligence. Address both attorneys meeting with you. Be yourself. We're all normal people who remember going through this, we don't want things to be awkward or difficult, we just want to talk with you and figure out if you'd be successful in our office (and getting along with your colleagues is a big part of success).

One of my favorite things has been hearing people's stories. One girl I interviewed took 10 years to complete her undergrad. She was the first person in her family to attend college and got completely overwhelmed, earned a 1.8 GPA, and dropped out after one semester. She worked full-time for a few years, re-enrolled at U.T., and worked her ass off to bring that 1.8 up to 3.4, which basically means she got an A in every class once she came back. Her forthright and unapologetic answer about what happened that first semester really impressed me, and I was even more impressed that she came back and worked her way into the top 10 law school she now attends. She got an offer. My other two favorite people taught for a few years (one 5th grade the other 9th) before going to law school and it was interesting to hear their stories and decisions to become a lawyer (both of them also have offers). So my advice, for what it's worth, is to not try to hide who you are- everyone took different paths to get here and coming straight through from undergrad with a jam-packed prestigious resume isn't the only way to get in the door.

I really enjoy recruiting but was worried about interviews. I thought it would be hard to jeopardize someone's offer by ranking them too low, but that turned out not to be an issue. Most people are great and I comment accordingly. Two people were not- it wasn't that they were nervous and accidentally rambled or were awkward, it was that they were rude and seemingly uninterested. One guy pulled out his cell phone and texted back and forth on the elevator ride to the parking garage and the entire drive to lunch. Unless you really need to be in touch with someone (and if you do, tell the people you're with as a courtesy) there is NO reason to be texting away in the backseat of a car next to an attorney who is taking time out of his or her day to take you to lunch. You are still on your interview, act accordingly. I know that sounds minor, but it was really annoying when I was trying to talk him and he wouldn't look up from his phone keypad. (He did not get an offer.)

And now in the spirit of interview season, I'm taking off part of the afternoon to give my sister a mini professional working woman makeover. She recently changed her major to accounting and is attending a career fair tonight. She has no resume, no clothes that could ever be worn into an office, and yesterday asked me if she could wear red patent leather shoes to the event (NO). We have a lot to do in very little time, but it should be fun!


  1. I'm in the middle of all my callback interviews right now (just came from one this morning, actually), so this entry was really helpful. It's really refreshing and comforting to see you start such an exciting career with a home life that seems so fulfilling. I think I found a firm that will make it easier for me to have that balance - hopefully I didn't come across as a complete idiot at my callback and I'll get an offer!

  2. as a regular reader and as someone who just graduated from law school, went through this process, and has recently started working at a firm - this is a really interesting post. I'm glad I don't have to relive the process and am in the working world (although I miss being able to sleep!)

  3. It's so cool that you're on that end of callbacks now! I would be nervous, but I think you're totally right with your advice... I sort of realized the same thing this summer when I saw how my fellow summers were judged by attorneys... Everyone assumes you're smart by the time you're there, so they basically just want to make sure you're not an asshole who they could never stand working with.
    Two people didn't get offers this summer at my firm, and they both had great resumes and went to top 5 schools... it's just that they couldn't be socially normal (or even just non-offensive) to save their lives. It makes me wonder how they slipped through the callback process, so it's good that you're honest in your evaluations!

  4. Thanks for the post! It's good to hear someone out there is increasing their hiring! I've got a callback tomorrow and one on Monday. But I've been rejected from my first two, which has left me pretty demoralized. I thought they went well. I didn't text; I'm never rude. I've got an interesting story. I talked about my interest in their firm. I don't know. Folks have assured me it's the economy. I did a mock interview with my career services office - hopefully that will help.

    At any rate, I appreciate your candor about the process from the other side.


  5. 'Tis a good thing you do for callback interviewers and for your sister.

    I was a little shocked when, at a lunch for minority college interns at large law firms, only a small handful were dressed appropriately. Skintight skirts are not office wear, ladies. Boys, no T-shirts! Glad to hear that you are putting your sister on the path to professional appearance.