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Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Small town paralegal in the city. Once ran a law office, now being run by one. Med mal defense litigation. I think it's growing on me.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Best Worst Interview Ever

I was inspired by a recent Twitter conversation with Lynne DeVenny (your favorite author of that lovely paralegal blog Practical Paralegalism) to recount one of my favorite interviews of all time. I did not get the job, but within twenty seconds of entering the office, I knew I did not want it.

In a vain effort to move in what I believed to be an upward direction in my profession, I began searching for a job at a larger firm last Fall. After peppering the Birmingham, AL area with unsolicited resumes, and subsequently interviewing for three jobs which I did not get, I resorted to answering Craigslist ads. Now, I know Craigslist is reputable in other parts of the country, but that statement doesn't hold true all the time in Alabama.

So I received this call from a very nice guy working at a law firm in Birmingham. I have forgotten the name by now, but we can call it "Shady, Skip & Trace" if you catch my drift. I had a difficult time finding the place, as it is located in a post office building, upstairs, through a painted white door with no window. I rang a bell, and a girl in a t-shirt and khakis answered. She was very young, probably in her early twenties. Her hair was pulled into a casual ponytail.

The office was dimly lit with bad overhead flourescent lights on a low ceiling. There were no visible windows. The entire office space was filled with rows of cubicles. The girl directed me to the break area, which was really a half-room that opened straight into the office. It had a sink, a refrigerator, and one small table with two chairs. The chair I sat in reminded me of those plastic chairs made for children. I was given an application to fill out. They already had my resume and nicely typed cover letter. As soon as I realized that I was supposed to fill out an application, I decided I did not want the job.

The sight of a rough looking lady in casual clothes with a few exposed tattoos confirmed that this was not the type of law office I was interested in. Still, I couldn't just get up and walk out. Good manners dictated that I complete the interview process.

A few minutes later, the girl led me to one of the cubicles in the back, where she introduced me to the man I had spoken with on the phone about the job. He gave me a hard copy of a motion to type into a word document. I am not sure whether he was timing me, judging my accuracy, or just testing my entire demeanor. I will never know.

When I had completed the short test, he printed my page out, handed it to me, and directed me to the boss's office for the real interview. Upon looking at the test page, I realized that I had guaged the font incorrectly. Sigh. When I entered the boss's office, the door was left wide open. I handed him the paper with my sample motion and stated that I noticed I had made an error in choosing the font size. He looked at my over his small glasses lenses and did not crack a smile. His face seemed to say, "Oh god, another one of these people."

I shook his hand, sat down, and did not feel comfortable for one moment. As he looked me up and down without saying a word, I could feel my legs prodding the rest of my body to follow them to the door. And yet I remained.

Because I had responded to so many craigslist ads and because they are usually very vague and so few of them actually give the name of the law firm, I had brought with me my generic resume. The man on the phone had neglected to specify what type of job I was interviewing for. The boss was not impressed with my generic resume because it was not the one I had first sent to him. Obvious interview foul on my part. To this day, I have no idea which resume I sent to him. I searched for it on my computer over and over when I returned home. I am not even sure I applied for this job. I think the devil made them call me so he could have a little fun. I explained that I must have printed out the wrong one for that specific interview.

The boss did not seem to heed my explanation. Instead, he started grilling me with questions about why I would bring a paralegal's resume to an interview for a job collecting debt. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that nothing I had read about the job, nothing I could find about the law firm before the interview (and I looked), and nothing the man on the phone had told me had ever given me reason to believe I would be working for a collection agency. He still did not seem to understand. He continued explaining the job duties to me, emphasizing that I would have to do all of my own skip-tracing. If he had not already lost me at the front door, this is where it would have happened. I am 5'1" and 110 pounds.

Then he moved down to the salary request on my resume. He explained that I was asking too much for the position he had open. I repeated that the resume I brought was not written for the position at his firm, and I even stated that I had not realized I would be interviewing as a debt collector and skip-tracer. And again he ignored me to discuss in great detail what type of pay I could expect from this job. When I told him his compensation would be inadequate, he finally seemed to understand that the whole thing had been an accidental interview.

But rather than dismiss me from his office, he gruffly explained that I would rather be a skip-tracing debt collector than a professional paralegal because paralegals in big firms work such long hours preparing for trials and are forced to dress in business attire. I found myself at a loss for words. His description was exactly what I was looking for, yet he spoke of it with disdain in his voice.

The interview ended as he asked whether I would be interested in being considered for the position. With as straight a face as I could muster, I thanked him for his time, declined consideration, and escaped.

Perhaps that was the moment I realized how grateful I should be to have the job that I have working for Boss I have. Not long after that interview, I related the story to the Boss and eventually decided to stay in my small town law office. Thanks to Craigslist, I have never looked back.


  1. Girl, I started hyper-ventilating and broke out in a cold sweat just reading your description of the office "foyer" are way more polite than I am, because my unfortunate claustrophobia and as my mama describes it, "high strung ways", would have had me bolting for the door sans interview, Southern good manners be damned! What a great story!

  2. You're story brought back memories of my own best worst interview. ::shiver:: You had me hooked, this was a better read that the trashy romance novel on my nightstand. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I'm glad you decided to stay with your small town firm. The bright lights and the big city of Birmingham may hold many promises of important paralegal jobs, but as one who has been there and done that, let me tell you what that entails. Big law firms have turned into cubicle filled corporations where no one knows anyone anymore. Even the attorneys on one floor will barely know the attorneys on a different floor - and they don't see anything wrong with that. Sometimes (not always but more frequently true than it used to be) staff are regarded as fixtures, not evenly as highly regarded as the ultra trendy art work some committee purchased (at an exhorbitant price I'm sure). When was the last time your boss said "Good Morning" to you, asked about your kids, your cat or who you like on American Idol. Gone I'm afraid of those days of teamwork, where we were all in this together, where a lowly paralegal's opinion mattered. Now it has all be replaced by worship of the billable hour and maintaining that precious lawyer lifestyle. And sister, you'd better watch your back. Cause if your attorney doesn't have enough work, then he's going to find a way to keep from giving you legitimate work and billing those hours him/her self. I'm sorry to be so negative, but I've been down that road.

    Call me, "Been Burned"

  4. You know, my first law firm job was as a receptionist. They knew I was working on my BS in Paralegal Studies. They used to give me hard copies of motions, RFD, and 'rogs to type. I always wondered why... LOL And now I'm not there anymore! WOOT!