In-House Counsel, Interview Stories, Job Searches

House Rules: Interviewing Challenges

I have Irish Alzheimer’s; I forget everything but my grudges. As I read about the latest round of bar study and exams, I think back on my job interviews over the years. I cannot shake the remembrances of some of my more outstanding successes and failures.

There was the major domo partner at an unnamed firm (located in the Battery which had a really salacious sex harassment fiasco some time ago) who looked at the title of my journal piece and stated, “You know, there’s no such word as ‘normalization.’” Now, I could have informed this pompous ass that maybe in the Kissinger era there was no such word, but, I wanted a gig. So, I put the tail between my legs and meekly said that I would have to look into that.

There was an associate from a since disappointingly merged firm from Midtown who “took a call” during our OCI, hung up, and informed me that he’d just closed a multi-million dollar deal. I was totally unprepared for dealing with such a tool, but again, I wanted a gig. So, I said something to the effect of “congratulations.”

Finally, there was the bow-tie wearing fop with shoulder length hair from the firm with four names, who cradled his fingers under his dimpled chin, shook his mane and said, “Why would XXXX want to hire you?” Unprepared to deal with such an insipid question, I came up with an equally insipid answer.

And just so I don’t let the in-house interviewers off the hook, there were some real winners in my last search. Since I am heavily involved in the ACC and other ventures, however, it’s best not to describe anecdotes. Let’s just say that, contrary to the viral videos, it does not “always get better”…

Let me offer some tips on interviewing these days, with specific regard to the recent slump.

First, if you’re new, just accept that you’re new and that you have no real experience to discuss. What you do have are your accomplishments to date: high class rank, journal work, life experience, etc. Learn to discuss those with ease and never be afraid to talk yourself up. You’re not trying to befriend me, you’re trying to convince me that you would make a great addition to the team. Don’t try to make up answers, unless you’re asked a hypothetical, and if you don’t know, say so. There’s nothing worse in this context than watching an interviewee struggle to answer a question for answering’s sake.

As far as “toolish” interviewers, you just have to do your best. But I would advise against laying down in the wake of confrontation. To this day, I wonder if that guy from South Manhattan was checking to see if I had the cojones to argue my point, which I would have won. But I didn’t, and they dinged me. I will never know if the two were causally related, but it sticks in my craw that I should have done something differently.

And really, that’s the message: do your best. Not the “best” that someone tells you to do, but walk out of an interview knowing you did your best. If the ding comes, or if you never hear from them again, at least you will not hold yourself accountable. Of course, I am not advocating arrogance. I am arguing for you putting it on the line. You want the job, and you likely need the job, so bust your hump to get the job.

If you’re seasoned, you should get back in to practice with your elevator speech. And as unfortunate as it may be, you might be looking because you “have” to. There is no shame in this turn of events. There would be no instances of thousands of applicants for a single position if things were better. It’s not better, and telling someone why you’re looking does not need to be shameful. If you’re unable to deal with the truth in a positive light (because you’re practicing your answers, right?), then make a plausible explanation for your search. Lack of mobility in your position is a decent reason. But, have one. And be ready for anything. These knuckleheads at Google famously like to ask why manhole covers are round, and you should have an answer. These “new” questions are all over the internet — seek them out and practice them.

Finally, if you’re given one of these bulls**t personality interviews, just get through the damned thing. Accept that you have no control over the results and answer as truthfully as possible. I am sure someone will have a perfectly logical argument as to the efficacy of these, but I am telling you that the only benefit to these unscientific and borderline unethical tests is to the bank accounts of the “consultants” who design them.

As for me, I really do try to assess if you’re going to fit, if you’re going to work hard, and if you seem like someone with whom I would like to have a beer. If you have an error on your résumé, I’ll point it out to you. I won’t ding you for an error. I will ding you for making up answers. And if you’re sitting here talking with me, for God’s sake relax. Talk to me. You hit the lottery by getting a face to face in the first place. Don’t kill yourself trying to close the deal, but do your best. And go home and forget about this job.

I know that I started this piece by stating that I hold grudges, but the real target of those grudges is me. Because I know what I should have done differently. And I also know that living in the past is unhealthy. But dammit, normalization is a word, I couldn’t care less about what “deal” you just closed by taking a call during my short interview time, and if you don’t know why your firm would want me, then I don’t either.


After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at dmowry00@gmail.com.

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