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Useless Interview Tips

Vivia Chen

June 29, 2010

I'm well aware that early interview season is coming up, and that law students are schlepping around town in the summer heat looking for that right interview suit. I sense their anxiety, so I've been scouring the Web for tips that they can use. 

Most of the advice out there is rather prosaic, which is to say, quite obvious and boring. It's usually along the lines of, "look people in the eye, give the interviewer a firm handshake, and be prepared."Fotolia_5697028_XS

But The Wall Street Journal takes some of those obvious interview pointers to heights of absurdity in "Big Blunders Job Hunters Make." So absurd are the examples of interviewing mistakes, that they might be considered almost insulting if they weren't so ludicrous. I have no idea to whom the advice is directed--probably not lawyers or bankers, or most people who read the WSJ. But under the assumption that there's always a lesson to be learned, let's see if lawyers can glean some wisdom from the mistakes.

In the WSJ piece, author Sarah Needleman lists rules for interviews. One of her rules is not to be rude. No quarrel there, but consider the example: One human resources executive told the WSJ that a job seeker made a big blunder when she dragged her toddler to the interview. "She didn't try to make any excuses or apologies, such as her babysitter backed out," says the HR official, who nonetheless proceeded with the interview. (The applicant didn't get the job.)

Now, I know that life/career balance issues are on the front burner these days and that law students are no longer shy about asking firms about their family policies. But would anyone actually bring a visual aid--like your own baby or your tort professor's--to drive home the point?

Then there's the inevitable set of tips on corporate fashion. As you'd expect, the WSJ offers some of the usual cautions: "It's never appropriate to wear jeans, cleavage-revealing tops, flip-flops or skin-tight pants."

Beside that time-tested advice, there's this nod to recent fashion trends: "You should also take out all your funky piercings and hide your tattoos," says career coach Cynthia Shapiro. "Even if you wear a business suit, if you have a piercing through your lip," it might not look right.

So note to tattoo fiends: wear long shirts and high collars, or lots of pancake makeup to cover up. Allow some intervening time when you take out multiple piercings, as those irritated pin marks tend to be rather unsightly.

Another topic in the WSJ article is the subtle art of brownnosing--in this case, how interviewees can express their gratefulness for the interview. In one example, the interviewee sends the interviewer an expensive Tiffany bowl. "That was a real big faux pas," recruiter Erika Weinstein told WSJ. "It's trying to buy yourself a job." The only really appropriate gesture, reminds the WSJ, is a simple thank-you note.

Could law students make the same mistake? I doubt it. While brownnosing is not unknown among law students, in my observation, they tend to be quite cheap about it--usually, law students offer nothing more extravagant than an extra copy of their law review note.

But the most priceless piece of advice offered by WSJ is to present yourself as a grown-up, rather than a man/woman-child who's still attached to your parents' apron strings. Accenture Ltd.'s senior director of recruitment John Campagnino told the WSJ that he's received e-mails from parents inquiring about the status of their adult children's job interviews. "There's a significant lack of judgment when you have your parents intercede with a potential employer," he says. "We expect individuals to be able to represent themselves and sell themselves." Worse, some "moms and dads accompany their offspring to job interviews and try to intervene in salary negotiations," reports the WSJ.

Of course, plenty of people go to law school because they were nudged (or pushed) by their parents. But parents of law students tend to be much more savvy than to sport an obvious harness. The chains that bind law students to parents are heavy but invisible. To be on the safe side, though, may I suggest that you not divulge the hiring partner's name to your parents?

So, there, you have some advice that's probably perfectly useless. But like stupid pet tricks, dumb advice is addictive. Has your career office given you any useless tips you'd like to share?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected].

Photo: Fotolia.com


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Whoever came up with the idea that handwritten thank-you cards to an interviewer are a good idea belongs buried under a pile of those cards. I find them to be most annoying, insincere and wasteful. I did not interview you out of the goodness of my heart, and you did not enjoy the interview any more than getting a root canal, alright? At most, send me an email if you must, but don't kill any more trees.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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