Interviews Are Not Fun

One of the interesting things I've learned over the course of interviewing with various employers is that there are certain qualities of a job that you, as a job applicant, are not allowed to talk about in a job interview.

For some subjects, this is pretty obvious. If you're interviewing with, for instance, a firm that has a reputation of working its junior associates to death, to the point where 90% of them leave within 2 years, you should probably not mention this fact to the interviewer. Not even in the form of a question about the job at the end of the interview. On wrapping up the interview, the foremost thought in your mind might well be "I have a question. If I take this job, will it significantly increase my chances of killing myself within the next 18 months? Because if so, I'd like to know now so that I can buy more life insurance and maybe take some home repair classes. You know, to make the fire look like an electrical thing." Nonetheless, it is considered impolite to ask, even if phrased very delicately.

It's also, for whatever reason, considered a little gauche to ask firms about money, or to mention money as the reason you want to work for them. This leads to a lot of polite fiction. When the interviewee says something to the effect of "I want to work at Simmian, Clarke, and Feldstein because I love document review. The thought of paying very, very careful attention to the details of boxes upon boxes containing ten thousand corporate documents in search of the few dozen that are responsive to the opposing counsel's document requests fills me with excitement," what she actually means is "I want to work at Simmian, Clarke, and Feldstein becaues I love money, and am willing to put up with tedious, brain-numbing boredom in order that I might spend the few free hours of my life rolling around in it."

Then there are the things that the interviewer is allowed to talk about, but the interviewee is not. This includes all things related to the work-life balance or culture of the law firm. The nut of the problem is that if you say you want to work at a place because of how fun you've heard it is, you are sending a signal to the interviwer that you want to work there because you think it's a fun place to work. It's this whole sort of reverse-Groucho Marx thing, they don't want anyone joining their club who would want to be a member.

Two examples will perhaps prove illustrative. First, a work-life balance discussion that redounds to the interviewee's benefit:

Interviewee: "I want to work at McFarland, Ross, and Miller because I love document review, and can't wait to do a lot of it!"
Interviewer: "Well, one of the great things about McFarland, Ross, and Miller is that we occasionally allow junior associates out of their gilded Document Review Comfort Cages for fifteen-minute water-breaks, an industry record, plus we put free apples in the break room!"
Interviewee: "Well, that sounds very generous of you, though I can't imagine needing more than five minutes for that water break and I certainly wouldn't want to waste time eating apples on the firm's dime."
Interviewer: "I see you'll fit in well around here!"

And here's an example of an interviewee botching the whole thing:

Interviewee: "I want to work at Deering, Gibson, and Fender because I've heard you give free apples during water breaks, and I love apples."
Interviewer: "Oh, so you're just after us for our apples, are you? Well, just so you know, we fired a summer associate last year for taking too many apples. Sometimes as many as three in a day! So don't think we're all apples and sunshine. We work hard and the apples are just a happy bonus. Unless the apple budget gets cut next year."
Interviewee: "Have I mentioned how much I love documents, and the reviewing of same?"
Interviewer: "Looks like our time is up. We'll get back to you in two to six weeks, depending on how long the post office takes with the rejection letter."

Hopefully this will prove helpful in your future legal interviewing endeavors.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on October 29, 2007 1:53 AM.

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