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Interviewing as a law school student for a new associate position in a large firm, as I did back in the late 1990s, is not normal. Typically in the interview process, I would get passed around like a serving dish at Thanksgiving: the recruiting coordinator would first make sure I was warmed up and ready to serve, and then a half-dozen or so attorneys – usually a few partners and a few associates – would each get a taste of me for 30 minutes, so they could decide whether I was palatable enough for the firm to devour me entirely.  Among the interviewing attorneys, there would be one or two who were on the firm’s hiring committee, and thus more or less adept at and invested in the interview process.  The rest were often just folks who happened to have free time in their schedules.  Thus, more often than not, I was being interviewed by people with whom I would not be working, who had no interest in or knowledge of the kind of work I would be doing, and who had only the most tenuous professional stake in my success or failure.

Once I was invited up to Boston for a round of interviews with a big firm there.  Being from Massachusetts, I was excited by the possibility of returning, and I felt that I showed and shared this enthusiasm right through my first three interviews.  The fourth interview, though, was a different story.  I was brought to the office of an associate who had been with the firm for four or five years, and he quickly made it clear that that had been three or four years too long.  He was polite enough, though somewhat morose, as he scanned my resume for tidbits to ask me about.  But when I asked him what it was like to work for his firm, he gave answers like, “Ah, it’s okay, I guess.  If you really want to be working for a soulless organization.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  This place isn’t any worse than any other big law firm.  Or at least not that much worse.”

My confusion and apprehension must have been apparent, because he tried to backtrack.  “Oh, don’t listen to me.  I’m not going to be here in a few weeks.”  It wasn’t clear to me if he would be leaving by choice or not.  I wanted to believe that he was planning to give his notice as soon as I left his office – even if that made me look like such a horrible candidate that I was actually driving my interviewers away – because I couldn’t believe the recruiting coordinator would have had me meet with someone she knew was on his way out.

I never got an offer from that law firm, and I don’t know if it was just because I wasn’t succulent enough to begin with, or because I had been so thrown by my fourth interview that I botched the rest of my meetings.  What was clear was that I had been rattled by someone else’s lack of fulfillment – and by his employer’s apparent lack of awareness of it.