Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Friday, October 31, 2003

The A-to-Z Guide to Callback Interviews. (Is this a long enough post for ya?)

A is for ANSWERS -- After all of the on-campus interviews, it's easy to have a good sense of the kinds of questions that you're going to need to have answers to. I found that the callbacks were generally pretty similar in that way to the on-campus stuff -- the questions I was asked were pretty much the same as they'd been, and I found myself going back to a lot of the themes and responses that I had given on campus. Of course, there were questions I had better and worse answers for on-campus -- not "trick" questions, just stuff on my resume I liked talking about (writing stuff, for example), and stuff I didn't, and didn't really have an articulate, good answer for ("what's the journal article you're working on about?") -- and it was pretty much inexcusable that I hadn't gone back in between the on-campus stuff and the callbacks and come up with some solid sound bites. Given that people had asked certain questions, I should have figured they'd come up again in the callbacks, and solidified my responses so I didn't sound like a moron. I didn't really do that in a couple of cases ("sorry, what's that journal article about again?"), and ended up feeling a little silly.

B is for BIG -- Some of these firms are huge. Like "7 people named Goldberg" huge. I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn't have been) that a lot of the times, when one interviewer was taking me to my next one, they didn't know each other, and in fact had never met. Or the lawyer had trouble navigating the hallways and finding a certain room number. Or didn't seem to know anyone we passed along the way. Obviously you can't know everyone in a 500-person law firm. But if nobody seems to know anybody, it makes me wonder how friendly the firm is, just a little bit. Is it a place filled with strangers, or a comfortable, collegial environment? ALTERNATE CHOICE: B was going to stand for bathrooms, since given the hours lawyers work, it's inevitable you'll be using them, probably for at least two different kinds of things (although there may be more...). It would be nice if they were clean.

C is for CAFETERIA -- Like the bathrooms, this is important stuff -- and in fact, there may be an inverse relationship at work. The better the cafeteria, the less time you'll spend in the bathroom. I asked about the cafeteria a couple of times -- usually in the elevators, if I saw someone bringing up a box of particularly grotesque-looking cafeteria food (can we outlaw the sale of lima beans, please?), I'd ask the lawyer who was taking me to the next interview how the food generally was, and if people ate in the cafeteria. Mostly got pretty negative answers. Even from the firm that bragged about it in their brochure. Hint: if you brag about the food in your recruiting brochure, at least tell the associates to lie when people ask about it. Actions in one case spoke louder than words: cafeteria in the building; fast food wrappers on at least a bunch of desks I saw. Subway? Wendy's? Come on, you earn enough money for at least KFC....

D is for DESKS -- At first, I couldn't believe how much paper these people had on their desks. Piles and piles of paper. On the desk, under the desk, coming out from all sides of the desk. The myth of the paperless office. One guy who interviewed me had literally not a square inch of desk visible, and not only were papers pouring out from underneath his desk, but I saw a box of tissues, some paper plates covered with half-eaten food, and a family of small rodents (I'll skip the lawyers as rodents joke analogy here...). Some people's desks were clean and their offices lovely. It's not that hard. And it's awfully intimidating to have to talk to someone over stacks and stacks of paper. "This is your life," the piles seemed to be screaming. "Run. While you still can."

E is for ELEVATORS -- One of my classmates, as we both waited in a firm's lobby for our interviewers, mentioned that he'd been making it a habit to ask, "What's the worst thing about working here?" I thought it was a great question, and stole it from him for the rest of the process. Although I only used it when it felt right, or I was out of other stuff to say -- it was my "please don't ask me any more questions" question. Some of the answers I got were predictable -- "the hours," "the long hours," "the lack of free time," "the long hours and the lack of free time," and "the long hours, lack of free time, and overall miserableness" (really) -- but three times (not just once, I tell ya -- three times!), the answer I got was "the elevators." Either they're slow, or they're crowded, or you have to go all the way down to the lobby and switch... it was a great answer, actually -- because if the elevators *really* are the worst part of the job, it must be a great job. But let's get real -- the elevators cannot, absolutely cannot possibly, be the worst part of any job except for elevator operator. And even then, it's probably the people more than the elevators.

F is for FACE TIME -- Apparently, face time refers to the need to stay in the office even when you have no work to do, just because you feel like you're expected to be there. The "right" answer, I suppose, is "there's no face time -- if you have nothing to do, no one expects you to be here." This answer's loveliness is dulled when any of the following caveats are added: "...although if it's early, like 7 or 8, people usually stick around because it looks bad;" "...but usually I'll come in on the weekend, just so people see that I'm here;" "...but it's not like any associates leave before all of the partners have;" " as long as you explain why you left early the next day when a partner calls you into the office to question you, you'll usually be okay."

G is for GRADES -- I got asked about one grade, once. I have one grade on my transcript that doesn't quite fit, so it made sense for someone to ask me about it, I guess. I gave an honest answer, which was that honestly I don't know exactly what happened, other than I just didn't give very good answers to the questions on the test, and must not have had a great grasp of the subject, but oh well. I have no idea if there are better answers out there, but I kinda liked it. I expected more people would have something -- anything -- to say about grades, but I guess they all pretty much speak for themselves on paper, and everyone's look kinda the same anyway. ALTERNATE CHOICE: G is for GOOGLE. As far as I can tell, no one Googled me. In a moment of food-induced guard-down edge-teetering, at one lunch Google somehow came up, and I found myself saying, "I don't think anyone's googled me throughout this whole process." Of course, the reply was, "oh -- maybe we should then." And maybe they did. Who knows. I'm cool with it either way, but just thought I'd report on the fact that I don't think anyone did, since no one mentioned finding this thing, and if I googled someone and found 200,000 words they'd written, I'd probably bring it up. ANOTHER ALTERNATE CHOICE: G is for GHASTLY THINGS THAT INTERVIEWERS TELL YOU WITHOUT REALIZING EXACTLY WHAT THEY'RE SAYING. "On the day of the blackout, I had a big project, so I carried my laptop with me down the 45 flights of stairs, and then got a ride into Jersey with some co-workers, just so I could plug in and get my work done." That wins the bronze medal. With the silver: "What's the best thing about working here? Well, the hours suck, the work's pretty boring, and I have no time to spend with friends and family. But what makes it all worthwhile is that when someone asks me what I do for a living, I can tell them that I work for one of the top law firms in the world. And that makes up for all the rest." And the gold medal goes to: "I don't think anyone here, if they could have looked ten years into the future, would have chosen to come here. I don't think they would have chosen this lifestyle. And if they say anything different, I think they're lying."

H is for HOURS -- Apparently they're long. Apparently the code word for long hours is, "we are not a lifestyle firm." Everyone said that. Better yet, "this is not a lifestyle career." Better yet, from one hiring partner: "This is not a friendly place. We work hard. I used to have friends. I haven't seen a friend since I started working here. I don't see my family. I don't spend time with my kids. I cancel vacations, I work weekends, I'm here well into the night. When you work for a firm like this, you make sacrifices. You're at the mercy of the clients. If they need you, you're here. If something gets in the way -- friends, family, outside interests -- well then that's tough... but the work comes first."

I is for IGNORANCE -- Read the websites. The answer to "what do you know about us?" is not "not that much," or so I've been told. I found myself relatively uncomfortable when I found myself unsure how many lawyers the particular firm had and was asked "What size firm are you looking for? Really big, or not that big?" Or if I was asked whether I knew how their summer program worked and couldn't remember if it was this firm's website that talked about the rotation and the other firm was free-for-all, or the other way around. Ignorance looks bad, and feels bad. Take the time to read the websites, do some Lexis searching... I found all of the time I did spend doing that stuff definitely paid off, even if just in comfort level.

J is for JOKES -- One of the less charismatic interviewers I had said, "I like to joke around at work. I'm probably one of the more relaxed, fun-loving people here." This guy seemed about as fun-loving as Roger Clemens with a broken bat in his hands (aside: if I had dressed up for Halloween three years ago, that would have been my costume. This year? It would have been dressing up as Don Zimmer and periodically rolling around on the ground. Fun stuff.). I had a few interviewers say things that made me laugh. Some inappropriately (see second alternate G entry above), but some genuinely and legitimately. I liked that. Funny people are nice to work with. On the flip side: I had a few standard lines and stories that I used that theoretically I thought could elicit a chuckle. Some did, some didn't. Maybe it was me.

K is for KEEPING THE WEIRD ONES LOCKED UP -- At every firm, at least one interviewer admitted that there were some "weird ones" that they don't let interview people, and they keep locked in their offices during recruiting season. I found the consistency of this revelation to be interesting. Each firm would follow it up with something like, "...but I think we have fewer of those than a lot of the other firms," but it always kind of took me by surprise. I want to meet some of these people who have been deemed to be weirder than the ones actually interviewing. These people that have been deemed so awful that they can't be let out. What are their problems exactly? "Well," says the imaginary partner in my mind, "there's the horrifically ugly man-child, the hunchback, the spit-talker, the screamer, and the lice-infested beard guy, just for starters...."

L is for LUNCHES -- Don't let them schedule a lunch if you're (a) in a hurry, or (b) you've eaten already that week. I'm generally relatively frugal (read: cheap), and don't eat in places where lunch entrees cost $25 anyway... but if I did, I wouldn't be ordering $12 appetizers and $10 desserts too. But I'm not a lawyer yet. The appetizers seemed to be standard (I never ordered first -- I wanted to see what the lawyer people would order and copy them, basically), dessert was standard... these were big meals. They were good, but they were big. It was weird to go to lunch with two associates who didn't know each other. Because then conversation seemed kind of strained at times. Or with quiet people. "How do you like working at the firm?" "I like it." But sometimes it worked and it was nice, and pleasant, and useful. But long! (P.S. Order the fish -- no knives needed to cut fish. Bad things to order, while wearing a suit and on an interview: Ribs, anything crunchy, things with bones or eyes)

M is for MISTAKES -- During the callbacks, there are three things I said that I would call mistakes, either for inappropriateness or just out of generic stupidity. The bronze medal: " we'd have task forces, small seminar classes about a certain topic. Like one I had on children's privacy on the Internet. We talked about stuff like how certain websites would collect information -- one website for teenage girls, for example, was asking them when they first started menstruating, things like that." (What in the world possessed me to use the word 'menstruating' in an interview???) The silver: "Any more questions? Uh... hmmm... uh... is your training all in one clump at the beginning, or is it spread out over a long time? Uh, actually that's a pretty stupid question, uh, let me think of another one." (Smoooooth...) And the gold goes to: "Yeah, I worked for Senator Schumer for a summer. What was he like? Well, he seems pretty small on TV, but he's actually really fat. He's got a small upper body, but quite a big gut. He's a big guy, it's surprising. Oh -- you meant what was *it* like -- the job -- not what was *he* like -- oh, okay."

N is for NAKED -- Don't go to callback interviews naked. ALTERNATIVE CHOICE: N is for NICE. The views are nice, the furniture is nice, the lunches are nice, the glossy recruiting brochures are nice. Some of the lawyers are nice. It's nice to talk to nice people. It's less nice to talk to less nice people. I like it when the lawyers are nice. Friendly. Warm. Polite. Genuine. These are things that give good feelings and make me think it'd be okay to work there. Be nice. It's nicer that way.

O is for OFFER -- Self-explanatory. The first letter I filled in. Yet I don't have much to say about the offers. Either we get it or we don't. Some combination of the resume and transcript and these interviews I guess. I wonder how many offers these firms make to fill their ideal class size. With so many firms competing, I bet some of these places need to make quite a many offers to get the 50, 60, 70 people they're looking for in their summer classes. Would be interesting to see how that varies firm to firm and if the yield %s mirror the Vault rankings or there are differences.

P is for PART-TIME -- A couple of people who interviewed me told me they work part-time schedules. I asked one what that meant: "9-7 Monday through Thursday, occasionally a little bit on the weekend." Yeah, I guess that's part-time. Full-time would be all 168 hours of the week. I sleep part-time too.

Q is for QUESTIONS -- If I could give one piece of advice to someone, and only one (then this post wouldn't be nearly this long), I'd say that you should come up with tons and tons of questions to ask these people. General questions, specific questions, lots and lots of questions. More than in the on-campus interviews, a lot of the callbacks were just the person asking me if I had any questions. "I'm all questioned out" feels embarassing to say when you haven't asked a question. "What's the best thing about working here?" was a standard one I used to try and get them talking and hopefully leading to other questions I'd have or they'd have. But when the answer was "the work is challenging," or "I like the money" (heard both of those a bunch), I was often starting to run dry. "Worst thing about working here?" "Why did you choose this place?" "How's work assigned in the summer program?" "Cafeteria good?" "What do you think of the Yankees..." I sometimes found myself scraping the bottom of the barrel. Think of better ones. In advance. It's hard on the spot.

R is for REJECTION -- I've seen some weblog posts about rejection quickly vs. slowly, phone vs. letter, etc. I have no opinions. I don't need them to call me -- I'll get the hint. Letting me know somehow, relatively quickly, is great -- but if this is keeping people up at night, they deserve to have a long wait. I'm pretty sure everyone gets a job somewhere. It all works out. If it's the right match, they'll let us know.

S is for SUITS -- Yay for business casual. If only the interviews could be too. I feel funny wearing a suit, especially to the lunch, when everyone else is jacket-and-tie-free. I guess I'm not really that bothered by the suit, although it's warm under all the layers, but it'd be nicer to be able to skip it. I think.

T is for TAKING VACATIONS -- One interviewer said she wanted to "pre-emptively" tell me that she takes all her vacation time, because most people ask. I hadn't been asking. Then I started asking. Some do, some don't. Some firms seem to cancel vacations, some don't. I like the ones that don't better. All else being equal. One person told me the firm has a policy that if you work more than 4 hours on a day you're on vacation it doesn't count as a vacation day. At first that sounded good. Then I realized the mere fact they have a policy about this.... Uh oh.

U is for UNIQUE SELLING PROPOSITION -- "We're the friendly firm," "We're the laid-back firm," "We're the collegial firm," "We're the humane firm." Pick an adjective. They're on sale. Each firm seemed to have a message it was trying to convey. "We do important work," "We have smart people," "We work hard." No repeats. Find your own uniqueness. But not too unique.

V is for VAULT.COM -- I don't know what the Vault rankings are actually ranking. I can't find a methodology. But people seem to listen. I don't know if they're "right" or not, and what it all means. Does it matter? I don't know. Someone tell me. Unless I don't really want to know.

W is for WINDOWS -- Nice views, out every window, from every firm. They're all on the 57th floor somewhere, so you see something. It's cool. I enjoyed the views.

X is for X-PECTATIONS -- I found that the firms I expected to like the best, I didn't necessarily, and a couple that I'd been less interested in really surprised me. They all say to judge based on the "people," since the work's largely the same. But we meet 4 people. Yet -- yet -- I really did feel a difference in mood and personality between the firms. Random stuff, people smiling, were the doors open, how much light, stuff like that. At some places it clicked, at some it didn't. I think that's all we have to go on though....

Y is for YAWNING -- I sometimes couldn't stop. It's terrible, I know.

Z is for ZOOBILEE ZOO -- Can you think of a better Z? Zoobilee Zoo was a TV show where people dressed up like animals. We dress up in suits. Close enough?

That's a lot of words. If you stuck with me all the way to the end, thanks. You're probably ready for a nap. Me too.