Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of “Notes from the Breadline,” a column by a laid-off lawyer in New York. Prior columns are collected here. You can reach Roxana St. Thomas by email (at email@example.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
The news that filters down to the breadline these days can be confusing. “The recession is over!” some sources promise blithely. The recession may not be over, warn others, but “even stagnation would be better than recent history.” (Anecdotal evidence of stagnation — blessed, welcome stagnation — follow, substituting for tales of hope.)
In the legal press, though, the forecast is decidedly more circumspect. Bloodletting may have slowed at the nation’s law firms, but, between rumors of the billable hour’s demise and free-floating anxiety about the future of associate pay, the recession is far from receding into the distance in our collective rearview mirror.
I have been seeing a new recruiter, one in a string of casual liaisons which — like online dates — offer much promise initially, but usually stall after the second or third encounter. (Like the others, she was relentlessly positive and showered me with complements, and … well, I ended up showing her my résumé on the first date.) I decide to ask her whether she thinks the end of the recession has come to our corner of the professional world.
“Well,” says the recruiter (whose name, fortuitously, is Faith), “a lot of my clients are back to running ads and soliciting resumes. But they’re not necessarily hiring.” A long pause follows, and she adds, “Yet.”
“Are they interviewing?” I ask. She answers carefully, telling me brightly that, yes, “some people have gone on interviews, here and there!” In other words, I translate silently: no.
Later, thinking about our conversation, I realize that it has been many, many moons since I went on an interview. Indeed, I have to dig through my psychic archive (pushing aside the song lyrics, Big Lebowski trivia, and random New Yorker articles that clutter my mental hard drive) to remember the last time I actually donned a suit and appeared before a potential employer to have my tires kicked.
Of course, I find myself thinking, this dry spell cuts both ways. On one hand, I don’t particularly enjoy interviews; in fact, they can be downright excruciating. And the interviews with employers who are not hiring are even worse — exercises in frustration that leave you feeling like one of the dishes on a buffet from which the employer has no intention of actually dining. I could probably go over to Bloomberg and interview right now, I think defiantly … but for what? At the end of the day, I would have nothing to show for it, except maybe blisters from the now-alien experience of wearing of high heels, and a painful case of interview blue balls.
On the other hand, interviews offer a sense of affirmation. No matter how ultimately fruitless they are, they feel like progress, or tangible proof that your job search is something other than an ephemeral pastime.
In the midst of contemplating these imponderables, I receive an email from a friend of Notes from the Breadline. Our friend, a lovely Southern lady we’ll call “Sara Beth,” begins by telling me, “Yesterday I interviewed for an in-house employee relations counsel position that I reeeeeeally want. I’d previously had two telephone interviews and this face-to-face was the first and last time I’d meet the decision makers in person.” Sara Beth was so hopeful about the job, and so determined to put her best foot forward, that she “bought an entirely new outfit from shoes to suit to bag…. even a new bra. Spent hundreds of dollars that weren’t in the budget but I was just convinced this was the perfect job and I needed to look good.”
“The interview itself went … well, I really couldn’t tell,” she said. “I interviewed with 4 people. I think I said some good things. The general counsel said they were concerned with my level of experience (7 years), but I think I said good things to allay those concerns … Frankly, that’s the one thing I worried about: that I’m too young (we are, after all, in one of the few professions where gray hair is a good thing).”
How, then, did it turn into what she describes as a “nightmare job interview”?
Well, she tells me, it was quite sudden. “I had finished all of the interviews and was wrapping up with Bill,” who, she thinks, “will really be the decision maker on who they hire.” As an aside, Sara Beth says, while she “got along great” with Bill on the phone, at the in-person interview she “just wasn’t feeling the love.” But, she notes, “he also seemed really busy and distracted, so I wasn’t sure if I should take it personally. So Bill walked me to the lobby, I turned in my security badge to the security guard at the desk, and we shook hands. I did my best ‘Thank you for inviting me in, I’m really excited about the position’ handshake,” and then turned to walk out the front door.
It was there — just inches away from a graceful departure, and freedom — that things went terribly awry. “For some awful reason,” she laments, “I selected the revolving doors in the middle instead of the regular doors on either side. From the corner of my eye, I saw Bill sort of open his mouth to say something and then not say anything, which did not register until later. I stepped into the little glass revolving door wedge, pushed …and nothing happened. Pushed again. Nothing.” Assuming the door was locked, Sara Beth turned to walk back in the lobby, planning to try a side door. Then, she tells me,
SUDDENLY: I heard the sound of a motor starting up and the door started to revolve all on its own. And disturbingly fast, I might add. Before I knew what happened, my bag had wedged itself between the back side of my little glass wedge in the revolving door and the door frame, causing the whole thing to grind to a stop and trapping me inside.
Sara Beth panicked. “My internal monologue,” she writes, was “oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit.” She continues:
I made eye contact with a guy who had been sitting on a couch in the waiting area this whole time. Then he stood up, and he and the security guard came rushing over. She was trying to tug my bag free, which I didn’t understand at first so for a few moments we might have been playing tug-o-war with the bag, I really don’t remember. Then she got my bag free.
It gets worse. The motor continued, the door began to revolve again and ran over my big toe. Took a chunk right out of my brand new Calvin Klein (not on sale) shoes. I got my foot free from the door and before I could even register the pain, the door continued revolving and I was expelled from my wedge and out the front of the building (because that motorized revolving door was determined to make its full revolution notwithstanding my bag, my toe, my ego, etc).
For an agonizing, confusing moment, I was standing outside of the building by myself, no bag. The security guard and the guy in the waiting room rushed to the side door and she handed me my bag, asked if I was okay.
Despite the foregoing, Sara Beth hoped that she could escape with a scintilla of dignity. But seriously, folks: what are the chances of that happening? At the very least, she tells me, “I guess I thought (read: prayed) that I’d been trapped in the door for so long that Bill had time to leave the lobby before knowing anything was wrong. But naturally, he’d heard the commotion and come back over.”
After that, things went something like this:
SECURITY GUARD: Are you okay?
SARA BETH: (looking down at my tattered left shoe). Oh, I’m fine. (Fake smile.)
BILL: You’re probably not even the first person that’s happened to today. That door is awful. I never use that door.
SARA BETH: Oh, well…. gosh, I…. (frantically looking for sign that might have said: “Caution: revolving door is motorized” but not finding one). I just didn’t expect it to move…. I…
BILL: Are you hurt?
SARA BETH: (in severe physical and emotional pain) I mean, it hurts a little bit, but it’ll be fine. (Fake smile.)
SG: (also looking down at my tattered shoe) Do you want to fill out an incident report?
SARA BETH: No, no, no, no, of course not. It’s just a shoe! (Fake smile, starting to feel lump in throat.)
SG: Are you sure?
SARA BETH: Yes, I’m sure (read: I don’t want to hassle the company with which I’m trying to get a job as a lawyer). [To Bill]: I just wish I could have made a more graceful exit!
BILL: [smiles] Well, we certainly will remember who you are!
Upon reaching her car, Sara Beth called her husband. Darling Husband, she reports, “laughs until he realizes that I am sobbing.” At least, she says, “I didn’t cry in front of Bill.” On the bright side, she notes, “my new bag wasn’t damaged, and I’ve already searched youtube today for ‘girl stuck in a revolving door’ and as far I can tell, they didn’t post the security video.”
Sara Beth tells me that her putative employers “said they’d let me know either way by the end of next week. I’ll be surprised if they actually do decide that quickly, but I hope they do to put me out of my misery.” Then, she adds, “It’s not that I think they would consciously reject me solely based on the door incident, but I was already worried that I’m too young and my whole big-girl act I worked so hard to have all afternoon was dashed in 5 minutes, and that’s the last thing he’s going to remember. And it’s all I will remember about the day so when I inevitably get rejected, I’ll always blame that damned door.”
Sara Beth wonders whether I have heard, from other readers, about similarly uninspiring experiences. I think about it, and then talk it over with Lat.
“I love nightmare interview stories!” he says, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “If nothing else, they remind you that, no matter how badly an interview goes, it could always be worse. It could end with you stuck in the revolving door, battling the security guard for possession of your bag while your toe is mangled beyond recognition!”
And, of course, like all thoughtful chin-stroking, Lat’s insight led to another suggestion. To wit, dear readers: it’s time for another Homework Assignment from the Breadline. Since you did such a beautiful job with your responses to the last such assignment, we want to hear your stories about the best, worst job interviews you’ve been on. Think of it as a public service: those of us who can’t remember our last interview need something to be grateful for, and those who have been on bad interviews of their own need some perspective.
I look forward to reading your responses. Spare no detail — I want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a message on Facebook. Thanks!
Roxana St. Thomas is a laid-off lawyer living in New York. You can reach her by email (at email@example.com), follow her on Twitter, or find her on Facebook.
Earlier: Prior installments of Notes from the Breadline