I was inspired to write this post by an article I recently read on how to exit an insulting job interview gracefully, called “Why Don’t More People Walk Out of Bad Job Interviews?” I started thinking, how can we avoid bad interviews in the first place? Interviews are a necessary part of finding and filling legal positions. What can we do as both interviewees and interviewers to improve the job finding process, especially in the current legal market?
Interviewing for any job is very stressful, but particularly so for new law grads. Many have massive law school debt and the market is still pretty bleak. I meet with a lot of new unemployed lawyers or lawyers that are in-between jobs. Anecdotally, I've witnessed that the average time for a new lawyer to find a law job is between 6-12 months. That’s a long time. These lawyers feel like their lives are on hold. They also sometimes get excited about a job and after months of waiting and follow-up interviews find out the position went to someone else. They start the job-hunting process over again. With these added pressures lawyers are going into interviews already super stressed.
And, being the interviewer can be equally stressful. Especially if this is the lawyer’s first time hiring an associate or law student. They will be spending a lot of time, energy, resources, and money on this individual, what if they choose the wrong candidate? Also, the associate or student will be working under the lawyer’s firm name and a brand the lawyer probably spent a long-time building. Can they trust the candidate to represent their firm?
I half-jokingly tell people I have my own law practice because I’m just really bad at interviews. I’ve had a few good ones, but I have also had some that were extremely embarrassing.
For example, in law school, during a full day of on-campus interviews I developed this nervous tick of licking my lips. Every. Few. Seconds. I. Would. Stop. To. Lick. My. Lips. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop! I probably looked like a lizard.
Then, later in my career, I once ended an interview with: “Thank you for this, I love talking about myself!!” What?!? “I love talking about myself?” Where did that come from? Who says that? I was mortified.
I’ve also had interviewers behave poorly. I was once interviewed by a panel of three people and the lead interviewer began by holding up the written component of the application, saying: “You do know that if you worked here I would have re-written this entire thing.” Another member of the panel would snort and roll her eyes every time I gave an answer. When they gave me a “situational” question involving a “big, burly client” I referred to the client with a male pronoun. The lead interviewer held up her hand and said: “I didn’t say the client was a HE, gender stereotype much?” The two women looked at each other, laughed, and started writing furiously in their notes. I was so confused by their behaviour. The third interviewer seemed just as puzzled and he kept giving me sympathetic looks. I knew I had absolutely no desire to work for these toxic people. I should have exited gracefully by thanking them for their time and telling them I didn’t think it was the right fit. Instead I sat there politely listening to their snorts and put-downs for a full hour trying to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I was holding back tears by the end. To this day I’m not sure if it was an interview technique to weed out people who couldn’t handle hostility or whether they genuinely thought I was completely useless.
Besides abolishing interviews altogether (is that possible?) what can we do as both interviewees and interviewers to avoid negative interview experiences and improve the process of finding a job? Although I am not an expert (as evidenced above), for what it's worth, here are my thoughts:
Do you have any tips for improving law job interviews?
Erin C. Cowling is a freelance litigator, researcher & writer at Cowling Legal Freelance and President and Founder of FLEX LEGAL, a network of freelance lawyers.