Bad Interviews: A Guide For Aspiring Lawyers

For many years, I worked at a large law firm in Kentucky.  For 10 years, I was on the hiring committee, which was known by the much haughtier “Professional Personnel Committee.”  It was a thankless position which drew criticism from people who wanted to hire their relatives and children of their friends.  I don’t know how many people I interviewed, but it has to be several hundred.

Most of the folks I interviewed were law students, some looking for summer work and others for full-time employment.  I saw a little bit of everything over those years.  I learned that you can’t really learn much about someone in a twenty or thirty minute interview.  We hired people who seemed perfectly okay, only to find out they were social misfits or wholly unpleasant people.  Fortunately, many such people had risen to important positions in our firm over the years, so there was always a place for them.

The truth is that it’s hard to wow people during an interview.  This is especially true if that person is interviewing numerous people on the same day.  Hopefully, your resume’ is impressive and you have at least rudimentary social skills.  After that, it’s a crap shoot.

While wowing the interviewer may be difficult, repulsing the your prospective employer is not.  That’s what this post is about.  Below, I offer you several basic ways to ensure that your interview goes well–or not.  One caveat:  This is just from my perspective.  Some things that annoy me might be downright charming to someone else.  Hopefully, you can find some freak like that who is hiring.


This is directed primarily to men, because they are the ones who don’t know how to dress themselves.  Young men, in particular, struggle.  I don’t know why, but it’s true.

Dressing for a professional interview is pretty simple.  A nice suit, tie, shirt and shoes.  How can you go wrong?

Well, how about getting clothes that fit?  I interviewed a very nice and impressive young man whose shirt sleeves were too long.  They almost covered his hands.  It was probably his dad’s shirt.  We hired him anyway.  He worked for us all summer with his damn hands half-covered by his shirt.  By the way, he did a good job, but the shirts just wrecked it.

Years ago, silks ties weren’t that easy to find.  Now, you can buy them at Walmart.  Just get a silk tie.  Oh, and learn to tie it.  Maybe your dad can help you.  If not, give a vagrant a couple of bucks and see if he can help.  Just don’t screw it up.  Interviewers will never tell you this, but if the knot in your tie is a disaster, they won’t stop staring at it.  It’s like having a face tattoo.  Here’s a bad one:

ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge is well-known for his outrageous knots.

ESPN football analyst Merril Hoge is well-known for his outrageous knots.

Hoge is an excellent analyst, but I wouldn’t hire him.  By the way, I met him one time in an airport.  Nice fellow.  Fortunately, he wasn’t wearing a tie.

Ronald Reagan is best known as the patron saint of all things conservative.  I, on the other hand, admired his neckwear:

Reagan tied a hell of a knot.

President Reagan tied a hell of a knot.

It’s simple:  Reagan “Yes.”  Hoge “No.”

What about shoes?  Wingtips and cap toes never fail you.  Loafers can work, too, as long as they’re not too weird.  Fancy tassels and weird two-toned colors are off-putting.  It goes without saying that you should wear socks. Actually, it doesn’t go without saying.  I interviewed a guy who didn’t have on socks.  NEXT!

Here are some shoes that will do you in before the interview starts:

I don't know what you call these, but I don't like them.

I don’t know what you call these, but I don’t like them.

A guy wore these to an interview with me.  I couldn’t quit looking at them, thinking “What the hell is wrong with this guy?  You can’t wear those with a suit!”  Later, when our committee met to discuss the interviews, everyone LOVED this guy.  I just said, “Hey, did you see his shoes?  There’s a problem here.”  Oh, how they scoffed at me!  So, I was out-voted, and we hired him for the summer.  It was a disaster, of course.  The guy couldn’t follow rules and was just generally annoying.  The shoes told the story.

One final thought on clothes:  Just wear something normal.  If you have the urge to make a statement with your attire, resist it.  You may fancy bolo ties and cravats in your personal life.  Good for you, but I don’t want to see that.  Don’t be, as a colleague of mine once said, a “glitzy bastard.”

Here’s how I deal with this in my life.  My wife picks out my clothes.  Try that, except use your own wife or girlfriend.


This is a tough one, because you may be weird.  If you’re in law school, the chances are pretty good that your are.  You have to tamp that down for your interview.

I interviewed a young man who had quite the impressive resume’.  He was an outstanding student with an impressive work history.  After we exchanged pleasantries, here is how the interview started:

HIM I was just in the bathroom and noticed that I have this big zit on my face.

He was correct.  He then explained that his face breaks out when he’s nervous.  I couldn’t focus on anything else.  I was checking his face to see if there would further eruptions.

Then, there was the guy who held his tie between his index and middle fingers and flipped it up and down when he talked.  Finally, he looked down at his tie and said:  “I keep doing that, don’t I?”

A young lady had to take a break during our interview for a snack.  It was okay with me, but it did make the interview drag a bit.  She answered my questions between handfuls of chips.

I could list a dozen more similar tales, but I won’t.  The bottom line is that you may have to hide your true self during the interview.  I used to tell interviewees:  “If you spend a lot of time wearing Spock ears and playing Dungeons & Dragons, just keep that to yourself.”


Although being a pompous ass may well go hand in hand with being a lawyer, most people don’t like pompous asses.  Here are just a few things NOT to say in your interview:

  • I’m a perfectionist. [Oh, good.  We all want some over-achieving jackass around us all day].
  • Your firm has a great reputation. [This means nothing to me.  My firm had a reputation at one point of being a miserable sweat shop.  We knew that.]
  • I’m interested in International Law. [Good for you.  Go find an International Law Firm].
  • I enjoy working hard.  [No one enjoys that.  If you do, I don’t want to be around you.]
  • I’m a self-starter [Really?  As opposed to a sloth who has to be kicked to get moving?]

The simple truth is that you aren’t that impressive.  Yes, a work ethic and baseline intelligence are necessary, but if you’ve made good grades you likely meet those requirements.  Remember:  Your goal is to come across as reasonably normal.  You can’t really impress a pompous ass like me anyway.

Oh, don’t carry a brief case.  That just makes me want to beat you over the head with it.


Again, this applies to men only (usually).  Take it easy on the odd facial hair.  Here is a photo of one of my sons:

My son's facial hair is a non-starter for an interview.

My son’s facial hair is a non-starter for an interview.

I love my son, but if I were interviewing for a new son, he wouldn’t get a call back.

The basic beard or mustache is fine.  Mutton chops are not.  The same goes for the classic Fu Manchu.  The soul patch is definitely out, too.

Here’s my advice:  Just shave before your interview.  That way, you take out any possibility of your taste in facial hair being a problem.  For women, it’s even more important.


Closely related to facial hair is head hair.  GROOM YOURSELF APPROPRIATELY.

Back in the 1990’s slicked back hair was all the rage for the aspiring young professional male.  Thank God that was short-lived or we’d be kowtowing to an army of Jerry Lewises now.  If you think you should be the one to bring back that look, think again. Then wash your hair.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is unkempt hair.  Hey, you might be a hipster or gadfly of some sort.  Your hair may be your calling card.  That’s your choice, of course, but  I won’t overlook it.  Check your hair in a mirror.  Is there a part in it?  If not, start comb it until a part develops.  That’s a good start.

It’s also good time to check out your hair care products:  gels, sprays and the like.  While I don’t like unruly hair, don’t go too far.  If your hair looks like it could deflect a hockey puck or is in danger dripping on your impressive resume’, back off a tad.

Hair color is important.  I’m not suggesting for a moment that you change your natural hair color, but, if you do, go with a natural color.  I don’t mean just any color found in nature, such as violet, orange or bright red.  I mean a color of human hair.  I grew up in a small town where women had an affinity for blonde hair–really blonde.  I know that it is easy go way over the line with it.  Like any healthy man, I appreciate a nice blonde look, but don’t over do it.  Ric Flair is not the look we want.

Ric Flair has nice, but the hair needs work.

Ric Flair has a nice suit, but the hair needs work.

If you do go blonde, steer clear of Stripper Curls:

This isn't the image you want to impress upon your prospective employer--or IS IT?

This isn’t the image you want to impress upon your prospective employer–or IS IT?

If this is all too overwhelming for you, just shave your head.  A word of caution to women:  That’s usually not a good look for you.  Use your judgment.


In closing, here are few more deal-killers, all based upon my real life experiences:

  • The only men who wear white dress shoes are pimps.  If you are interviewing for a pimping position, that’s fine.  Otherwise, it’s a no go.
  • Asking questions is fine.  Asking a hundred isn’t.  You’ll know you’ve overdone it when the interviewer says “SHUT THE HELL UP!”
  • Eye contact is good.  Staring isn’t.  I don’t need you to look into my soul.  I won’t hesitate to ask “What the [expletive deleted] are you looking at?”
  • Your controversial political or religious views are probably fascinating to some people.  I’m not one of them.
  • Pinky rings on men and dozens of bracelets on women:  These are distracting, and I don’t like them.
  • If you sweat profusely, just stop it for the interview.  It’s only decent.
  • Talking is a plus.  Mutes struggle to make an impression.
  • Zip up your pants.
  • And your skirt.
  • I have an Eastern Kentucky accent.  Unless you have one, too, don’t make mine a point of emphasis.

Good luck out there.  The good news is that most people don’t like doing interviews and barely pay attention anyway.  Of course, I’m not one of those people.  The better news is that I’ve retired from interviewing.  Aren’t you glad?

© 2013

Hands Off: A Touchy Subject

I’m not a touchy person.  By that, I don’t mean that I’m not sensitive.  I’m damn sensitive.  I mean that I’m not one of those types who touches other people.  I just assume that you don’t want me to paw all over you.  God knows that I don’t want to be molested by people.

I’m probably in the minority on this, but I just don’t care much for all the touching.  Why?  I’m not sure.  I’m not autistic or mental or anything (as far as I know).  I don’t have any particularly severe fear of germs.  Oh, sure, I don’t like breathing in public restrooms or touching doorknobs.  I used to wash my hands all the time like Howard Hughes, but I stopped doing that several years ago.  Even though you’re probably all germy, it’s not that big a deal.  It’s really just the touching.

Let’s be clear about one thing:  I’m not talking about sexual touching or any touching you might do in the privacy of your own home.  That’s your business.  Such groping is best left to one’s discretion.  We certainly do not need to hear about the details nor do I have any advice in that regard.


The most basic form of social touching is the handshake.  What a weird custom.  I can understand why some cultures just don’t do it.  I read somewhere that the ancients Greeks started it as a gesture of goodwill to show that they weren’t carrying weapons.  They also had sex with children.  Why the Hell would we want to follow their customs?

I have no issue with the basic handshake–a quick, firm grab of the hand followed by two pumps.  I guess it’s an okay way to greet people.  Of course, there are the people who always shake your hand.  I have a good friend who always shakes my hand when we see each other.  It’s like we’ve never met.  I suppose it’s his way of saying:  “Hello, old friend, I now grasp your hand to show that we remain on good terms.  And that I don’t have a damn gun.”  Then again, I do the same thing when I meet someone I’ve never seen and will never see again.  It’s confusing.


In case you are a total dimwit, here is a simple schematic on appropriate handshaking.

What I don’t like is the two-hand shake.  You know this one.  It’s the regular handshake coupled with the other hand grabbing the outside of my hand.  It’s like the shaker wants to make sure I can’t change my mind and pull away.

double shake

The dreaded double-grip shake.

I don’t like the Bone-Crusher.  Many years ago, I met the Governor of Kentucky, a gregarious fellow named Julian Carroll.  He crushed my hand.  I still remember the bones mashing together and the gristle popping. Always remember if you shake hands with a man like me–a man with delicate girl hands–take it easy.  More importantly, remember it with old people.  They aren’t strong and often suffer from rheumatoid arthritis.  Let them dictate the appropriate grip strength.

Hand shaking is fine.  Hand-holding is not.  Walk up and try to hold a stranger’s hand.  It never works.  So, remember:  Shake=Good.  Hold=Bad.

Fist-bumping is a form of handshake.  It’s certainly more sanitary.  I’m cool with this, too, but it’s reserved for people I already know–and only men.  It’s too awkward upon an initial meeting.

Nothing good can be said of the high-five.  Call me racist if you must, but white people must stay away from this.  We lack the coordination to make it work consistently.  There is nothing more embarrassing than whiffing on the old high-five.  Needless to say, women don’t high-five.  Ever.


Full disclosure:  I’m not a hugger.  Maybe you are.  If so, I don’t judge you, but I also don’t understand you.  The hug is the handshake’s amorous cousin.

Huggers will hug you whenever they see you.  Oddly, they don’t hug when they first meet you.  The handshake suffices.  After that, though, the hug is the preferred method of greeting.  Normally, it involves one arm and a delicate lean with a lead shoulder.  You, then, are required to hug back in a similar fashion.  If you’re like me, this is awkward, and you look like nothing so much as a man hugging a cactus.

One thing you don’t do is use the two-armed bear hug in return.  This is too aggressive and could be misconstrued as an assault.  It’s equally important to release the hug after a brief, impersonal embrace.  If you hold the hug even slightly too long, the situation becomes uncomfortable quickly.  This is especially so if you say something like “Mmmm” or “Ohhhh.”


NBA star Tracy McGrady demonstrates an inappropriate hug on Chinese giant Yao Ming.

If you must hug, I suggest the Man Hug.  This consists of a quick upper-body embrace followed by one brief pat on the back.  DO NOT REACH UNDER THE ARMS FOR THE MAN HUG!

The reverse hug is nothing more than a sexual assault.

Related to the basic hug of greeting is the conversational hug.  Typically, this is a man who puts his arm around you while talking to you.  I can’t put too fine a point on this:  NO ONE LIKES THIS.  It’s just weird.  Don’t do it.


I’m not talking about sexual kissing.  After all, who among us doesn’t appreciate a vigorous make out session?  This kissing is the non-sexual Greeting Kiss.  This is the man or woman who, while shaking your hand or hugging you, gives you a big, wet kiss.  It’s not on the mouth–usually.  It will be on the cheek.  I’ve never seen two men do it, although it makes as much sense as two women.  Come to think of it, I think French men kiss each other, but they’re French.  Need I say more?

Truth be told, we have too many rules in our own country to worry about bizarre and possibly socialistic customs of foreigners.


Even our own President can be caught unawares by bizarre foreign kissing.

Why, oh, why do they do this?  This isn’t like your Grandma or Aunt kissing you, either.  They’re your relatives.  Kissing is a really intimate thing with non-relatives.  The next time you are in public, take a look around and count up all the people you wouldn’t kiss under any circumstances.  It’s probably 90%.  We reserve kissing for those we want to kiss or, again, our relatives.  And, let’s face it, we’d rather not kiss or be kissed by most of our relatives, but it’s expected of us.


This photo depicts a nightmarish scene of hugging, kissing and groping.

I think of myself as a fine fellow, but I don’t kid myself–I’m not a handsome man.  Women do not look at me and desire to kiss me.  So, if you kiss me as a form of greeting, it’s almost like you’re sympathetically kissing an animal.  I am not an animal.

I try my best to avoid the Greeting Kiss.  I’ll abruptly turn my head.  Sometimes, I’ll kiss back–on the neck.  That’s usually the end of it.  Usually.


Some folks like to rub.  Oh, I’m not talking about strippers or masseuses.  This is the guy who will rub your back while talking to you.  Worse, he may walk up behind a woman and rub her shoulders.  He is a lawsuit waiting to happen.  It’s just a matter of time.

I once worked with a woman–a very nice woman–who would do this.  She wasn’t unattractive, but I didn’t like it.  It’s too familiar.  Rub someone you know well–very well.


Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all this touching is that there are very few areas on the human body that are acceptable to touch on another person.  We all know that genitalia are off-limits, at least most of the time and always in social settings. In fact, almost the entire human body is off-limits.  “But,” you say, “we know the hand is acceptable because of the handshake.”  Oh, really?  How about the back of the hand?  When you meet someone, caress the back of his or her hand.  You won’t be introduced to anyone else that evening.

Let’s examine the human back.  Certainly, the buttocks area is off-limits, except in sports where it may be slapped as a form of encouragement.  How about the lower back?  Hmmm.  It doesn’t work, does it?  Imagine the Hugger’s reaction when you grab her lower back and pull her toward you.  Security will remove you shortly thereafter.  The mid-back is perhaps acceptable; however, it makes for an awkward hug.  The upper back is generally okay, as is the shoulder area.

I pride myself on having a typical human back:


The red line is the line of demarcation indicating the border of acceptable touching area on my back.

The front of the human body is completely off-limits.  There is no way you can rub the tummy of co-worker without violating every sexual harassment rule.  The chest?  C’mon!  No way.  Chest touching is appropriate only for getting to second base or picking a fight.

The side of the torso is a gray area but should be avoided.  It carries with it the connotation that you are grabbing the other person.  Not good.

Below the belt line is also completely taboo–front, back, sides–it doesn’t matter.  There’s no way to do it without causing a scene.

The face and head are out-of-bounds, too, unless for the Greeting Kiss.  Pawing around on someone’s face or head is creepy.  Don’t do it.

What of the neck?  Do we even need to discuss this?  What kind of weirdo are you?

This leaves us with the arms.  They are mostly okay, I suppose, but be careful.  Touching someone’s arm while talking to him or her is usually not offensive or suggestive.  Rubbing that same arm is bad news.

Once you consider the human body and its many untouchable spots, there is no point in all the touchy behavior.  You are tip-toeing around disaster the entire time.  Why take the chance?  You know that the basic handshake is safe. Stick to that.


At this point, you’re wondering about my psychological well-being.  That’s probably a legitimate concern.  I don’t really have problems with so-called “personal space,” although I will admit that I don’t like crowds, either.  It’s just the touchy stuff.  Before you say “Lighten up, Francis,” consider that I may not be so unusual.

I’ve never been one to engage in public displays of affection, so it’s understandable that I would be reticent to paw around on strangers or mere acquaintances.  Nevertheless, should we ever meet, extend the hand of friendship, and I will gladly shake it.  It’s my way of saying:

I am pleased to meet you and now gladly mash our hands together with no idea whether you’ve washed your hands in the past few days.  I am, however, glad to see that you do not have a weapon. Now, excuse me, while I look for some hand soap.”

© 2013

Turtles Shells and the Art of Small Talk

“Ethiopians worship turtles shells.”  That was the ice breaker one evening long ago when I dined with a young lady and her mother and step-father.  The step-father’s simple statement about the religious practices of Ethiopians illustrates one of my life-long struggles:  How to successfully chit-chat.

Being a young man at that time and rather unworldly, I had no response.  I stared at my plate, briefly glancing at my date and trying to avoid both eye contact and sudden laughter.  I must admit, though, that I pondered the possibilities: Do Ethiopians, in fact worship shells?  If so, why?  How did he come across this information?  Had he been to Ethiopia?  My poor social skills prevented me from pursuing the topic further.  My prospective relationship was no doubt ruined by my inability to engage in stimulating small talk.

In the years since, I have been forced to attend various dinners, gatherings, cocktail parties, receptions, lunches and chance encounters where I have, fortunately, honed my chit-chatting skills to a fine edge.  We have all had those painful moments when someone ham-handedly tries to “shoot the breeze” and instead offends or bores those around him.   As a service, I offer my pointers on how to approach these most awkward of moments.


As a general rule, I oppose lying.  It’s just not good.  Plus, I usually get caught.  Chit-chat is an exception.  Sometimes, we must—in the name of polite conversation—lie in order to keep the ball rolling.  An example:  You’re at a cocktail party and a chit-chatter is prattling on about a drunken bender that he was on several years ago:

Chit-chatter:  “[blah, blah, blah]… and the next morning who but Peter O’Toole himself had a case of champagne delivered to my room with a note reading: ‘I told you we could have a good time for $50.’”

You haven’t been listening, and the speaker has concluded his story with some outrageous anecdote about noted actor Peter O’Toole (a lie, no doubt).  What shall you do in response?  You can’t just awkwardly blurt out:  “That is a damned lie!” and reveal yourself as a clod. Try this:

You:  “I’ve always loved Peter O’Toole’s work.  My uncle was his understudy on Broadway several years ago.  Fabulous chap.”

You have now commandeered the conversation to your fictional uncle’s acting career.  (Note:  Don’t say that YOU had an acting career.  That’s too easy to expose as a lie).  Now, you can regale the listener with your own second-hand stories of Peter O’Toole and any other actor you decide to include in your fantasy world.  You are almost as fascinating at the Chit-Chatter, plus you now have common ground on which to bond.


Most Chit-Chatters enjoy hearing themselves talk.  That’s why they are talking.  One tried and true method of competing is to simply repeat back to the speaker what he or she has just said with your own spin on it.  This is especially helpful when, like me, you’re often in the company of people far more intelligent and well-read than yourself.  Example:

Chit Chatter:  “I tell you, if we don’t get the Greek government to take a hard-line on its austerity measures, the entire Euro Zone will collapse.  The result will be catastrophic.  It will make the Icelandic Bank Crisis look like nothing.  We’ve already seen the effects in some of the Eastern Bloc countries. Newt Gingrich nailed it in last night’s debate: How do we get these people to the table?”

You are now in deep trouble.  You don’t know anything about the Greek government. You didn’t watch the debate.  You were watching your backlog of “Hillbilly Handfishing” episodes last night.  You thought Newt Gingrich was on Hee Haw.  Here’s your response:

You:  “Lloyd, no sensible person could argue with you–or Newt–on that point.  The Greeks, for all the good they may have done, have not stepped up when it comes to austerity measures.  I can’t understand why, when it is so important to the very life of the Euro Zone, that they don’t take a hard-line.  You’re right about Iceland.  We can’t afford a repeat of that fiasco.”

See what you’ve done?  Without a single original thought, you’ve engaged in lively political banter.  By merely restating the Chit-Chatter’s banal declaration, you appear to be “with it” and engaged.

Top This

Often, the whole point of chit-chat is to impress the listener.  This is especially true in business settings.  If, like me, you are not very impressive and have a modest list of accomplishments, embellishment or outright fabrication is necessary.  While this is closely related to the first point above, the purpose is quite different.  Rather than being a response, you can use this to your advantage as your own ice breaker.  For example, you are at a dinner seated with several people who are, by their very appearance, superior to you in every way.  Try something like this:

“I must share this story.  While on vacation, I was strolling the Champs-Élysées when I saw an old friend, Uqba ibn Nafi, whom I met in Morocco several years before.  When I asked what he was doing in Paris, he paused, stared me straight in the eye and said: “Rambwa yekh chalyem!”  Oh, we both had a good laugh at that.”

This one inane story, made up from whole cloth, makes you appear worldly.  The listener, by contrast, is likely to think his own education and, indeed life, are meaningless.  Little do they know that you’ve recounted gibberish which roughly translated means “the traffic circle has a hideous beard.”  One consideration:  Your listeners may have been to Paris.  It may be a good idea to read about Paris on Wikipedia or change the location of  your story to Qatar or Ethiopia.


Regardless of your nerves, there are three subjects to avoid at all costs.  They are summarized below:

Children:  If the listener has children, he or she will care nothing about yours.  If he or she has no children, it is likely that they hate children or are bitter over their sterility.  Think about when a colleague shows you a “drawing” by his 3 year old.  “It’s a horse!”  you’re told.  You say:  “Cute.”  What you think is:  “That ain’t no freakin’ horse.  What’s wrong with that kid?”  That’s how the listener reacts to small talk about your kids.

Health:  There is no way to make your gout or recent colonoscopy interesting unless you embellish them into gun shot wounds.  It is best to avoid the topic altogether as you may be in the company of someone with a truly loathsome condition, the details of which will horrify you.  The one exception to this is if your audience is all over 70 years old.  In that case, it will be the only topic of conversation.

Controversy:  Whether it’s as benign as the  Designated Hitter or as incendiary as legalizing child pornography, steer clear of controversial topics.  If such a topic is introduced, try to direct the conversation elsewhere.  This would be the perfect time to refer to item 2 above and dazzle the listeners with your erudition with a “top this” tale.


Had I known these simple rules, imagine how I would have handled the turtle story:

ME:  “That is very interesting.  My uncle worked in the mission fields of Ethiopia years ago.  Turtle shells were known as “ukajobu” or “shell of the Gods.”  They would grind them into a fine powder.  It was reputed to be an aphrodisiac of sorts.”

There you have it.  I have conquered the conversation with my own interesting retort.  Perhaps the young lady would have been impressed and changed the course of my life. Then again, my life is pretty fine as it is.  Maybe all this small talk is just a load of crap.

© 2012