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.
DON’T DRESS LIKE AN IDIOT
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:
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:
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:
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.
DON’T ACT WEIRD
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.”
NO ONE LIKES A POMPOUS ASS
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:
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.
GET A HAIRCUT, HIPPY!
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.
If you do go blonde, steer clear of Stripper Curls:
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?