How to Know When a Job isn’t for You: Tales of Terrible Interviews

How to Know When a Job isn’t for You: Tales of Terrible InterviewsThis week we welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat to talk about some bad interview stories and why you should remember you are also interviewing your future employer, as well as being interviewed.

I sometimes wonder why the veil of naivety was so strong with me when I was in law school. I assumed, like many outsiders, that I’d go to law school and come out with a job. It was that simple. It didn’t really dawn on me until I graduated that finding a job might be harder than I thought – especially since I had no idea what area of law I wanted to go into and (at the time) was feeling quite repulsed by a career as a lawyer in general.

Since passing the bar in April of 2018, I have gone on a number of terrible interviews. Looking back, I understand that all of them taught me a valuable lesson – especially the two I’ve laid out for you below.

The Health Insurance Company

Last August, I was desperately searching for a job, but I was having a hard time finding one because I still lived in Florida, and my bar license would only be valid in New York. A friend sent me a job posting: a new insurance company was looking for a regulatory compliance associate.

A few days after I applied, I got an email asking if I wanted to have a phone interview. Over the course of five weeks I had four phone interviews with three different people, and then I was invited to come up to NYC for an in-person interview. I felt like royalty. I was flown from Boston (where I happened to be at the time), given an expense report to keep track of my car rides and food, and prepped by the company’s recruiter.

Now, it was 95 degrees in NYC that day. I am from Miami, and 95 degrees is nothing to us, so I had the bright idea to walk the 15-minute track to the interview. About three minutes in I realized this was a terrible idea, but I was afraid if I stopped and waited for a car, I’d be late. So, I showed up at the interview looking like a drowned rat. My blouse was matted to my back, my hair was drenched with sweat and sitting in the worst bun on top of my head, and my makeup had started to run. Couple that with the fact that I had walked around the city in Birkenstocks and had yet to change my shoes, and I walked in to the front hall all sorts of anxious.

The interview itself was okay. It was four hours of questions and a case study administered by four different people. The office was pretty, very millennial and Google-ish, and I fell in love with it. A week later I was asked to do another phone interview, and then two weeks after that I was told they went with the other candidate.

I was pretty bummed, and I started to see all the cracks in the company that I hadn’t noticed with my rose-colored glasses on the day I visited. So, the lesson I learned was: don’t be afraid to interview the employer. I think we get so caught up in the “I need a job” headspace that we forget to look for positions where we’d be happy with the corporate culture. Reflecting back, I think that company would not have been a great place for me. I’ve always done better with individuals older than me, and I don’t know if I could have worked well in a high school style setting where cliques and cafeteria gossip rule the roost.

The Immigration Attorney

Now this one, was much more recent. When I finally reached out for this one, I was sure I was going to get it. I had discovered (rather late in the game) that I could do immigration work in Florida, without a Florida bar license. I went in for the interview and let me tell you, it was interesting, to say the least.

I showed up on time but waited a half hour as she was with a client. While waiting, I started to get this pit in my stomach like I was not supposed to be there. My fight or flight response kicked in so hard my lower back started to spasm. I realized I was listening the attorney explain to a client how to lie on the stand to get a green card.

Again, the actual interview went fine. I was in a business suit, with jacket and she was in reindeer leggings and a smock shirt. She ate cold pizza the entire interview and most of it landed on her chest. I had to resist the urge to dust it off of her while she spoke. The attorney asked me if I had any interest in litigation. I said no, but I was willing to learn. Her answer, “great, you’re hired, can you go to bond court for me in the morning? The client is in jail and only speaks Hindi so it’s fine if you lose, don’t worry.”

In the end, I told her I had to crunch some numbers around her offer, and I would let her know. When I got in the car, I looked up her bar number and saw she had two admonitions and had had her license suspended for a period in 2014.

What I learned from this interview was to follow my gut. I got really good in law school at determining whether I was running away from something out of fear and laziness, or because it was actually something I didn’t want to do. I decided to keep up with that practice whenever the feeling of wanting to run away presented itself.

So, my advice when looking for a job is don’t be afraid to interview the employer. Ask questions, figure out if this position and company is a place where you can truly flourish, be picky (to a point), and don’t let the rat race of finding a legal job get to you. You will find something that is perfect for you and the path you want to be on – and if you are having a hard time figuring that out, give Career Dicta a try. Career Dicta is part of the Bar Exam Toolbox, Law School Toolbox, and The Girls Guide to Law School network and provides career related coaching.

Also, I am happy to report that after numerous terrible interviews, I did get a job I love, and I get to use my legal education in a way I hadn’t expected possible.


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About Alexandra Muskat

Alexandra graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 2017 and passed the UBE in all 29 states, not that anyone’s counting. She has a bachelors from Florida International University in English Literature with concentrations in Psychology and Creative Writing. In addition to working on her first novel, she works part time consulting in laboratory compliance.

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