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Adventures in Interviewing: true stories from Alpharetta to Zebulon (Part 1)

There are two sides to the interviewing process; one aspect involves the candidate and much has been written (including by this author) regarding appropriate interviewing etiquette.

The other side of the coin, however, involves the employer's perspective which is equally important but oftentimes neglected by the candidate. Ignoring the interviewer's counsel regarding his or her take on the interviewing process can easily impede your opportunity for landing the job.

In my fifteen plus years as a job placement specialist, I have heard more than my fair share of harrowing stories from both candidates and employers alike about their experiences in the interviewing arena. Some are cautionary tales, consisting of dire warnings pertaining to a candidate's inappropriate behavior during the interview or the employer's questions resulting in a violation of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regulations. Other stories may consist of more entertaining fare; regardless, it is advisable to take heed of the pearls of wisdom contained within these anecdotes.

So, let's review a small sampling of these accounts and glean what wisdom we can.

Tale #1: Once upon a time in a land not too far away (Buckhead, actually), I had a paralegal student who wanted to work in the one of the top 25 Atlanta law firms. This was a realistic goal as he possessed all of the prerequisites required by these firms. He had a bachelor's degree, a high GPA in the paralegal program, and a sophisticated demeanor, or so we thought. He arrived for his first interview with the Paralegal Manager on time and appropriately attired in his navy blue suit. The interview started off well enough with initial pleasantries exchanged and the requisite handshake.

Unfortunately, it was lunchtime and the Paralegal Manager happened to have a half-eaten chicken salad sandwich on his desk. Now, those of you who have read my previous articles will know that eating during an interview is unacceptable under any circumstance…if you are the interviewee. The interviewer, however, is certainly entitled to imbibe in food or drink if he or she wishes.

So, as the conversation progressed and my student responded accordingly to all queries, the inevitable lull occurred and it was at this moment that culinary disaster struck. My student leaned across the desk and asked the Paralegal Manager if he could have the rest of his sandwich because he was famished.

The astounded Paralegal Manager murmured his consent. My candidate picked up the sandwich and proceeded to eat it.

Needless to say, he ended up working for a smaller firm at a much lower rate of pay. However, Paralegal Managers and other HR personnel tend to have long memories and our candidate would most likely not have another opportunity with that particular firm in the future. Lesson learned.

Tale #2: Speaking of small firms, one of my students shared an interesting story pertaining to her interview with a sole practitioner. She was originally from a small town in South Georgia and wished to return home after graduation. Her choices as to size of firm were limited considering the size of the townships. There were a few firms with more than two or three attorneys; however, the majority of the law practices were limited to sole practitioners. So, off she went, paralegal certificate in hand, to interview with these (mostly) gentlemen. Now, those of you who may not be familiar with Georgia's small towns should understand that the pastoral vistas are lovely and the townfolk engaging. The attitude tends to skew toward the genteel and one can truly feel the air and breath of the old south within these environs.

But, I digress. Back to our heroine. She threw herself into the process with tremendous zeal and generally encountered rather kind and benevolent, somewhat "old-school" attorneys who conducted themselves with great dignity and grace as southern ladies and gentlemen are wont to do.

Then, she met the infamous exception to the rule. The one individual every Career Services Director at every school warns you about. This gentleman was a living, breathing caricature; arrogant and opinionated. He was utterly convinced of his correctness on all subjects. You know the type, I'm sure.

He spent the majority of the interview blustering and swaggering through his many accomplishments in the legal field including a boisterous declaration that since he was the finest lawyer in the county, she would be incredibly fortunate should he choose her from the vast array of candidates beating down his door for the job (apparently).

The actual interview, however, went desperately awry when he inquired as to the particulars of her personal life. He asked her if she was married with children, which is a murky line, at best, with EEOC regulations. He proceeded to ask her if she attended church; if so, which church did she attend and how often did she go?

Questions regarding an individual's religious affiliation are completely out of bounds and against the law according to EEOC regs (and this man was an attorney…)! Having attended paralegal school, our candidate was well aware that this line of questioning was inappropriate.

In this type of situation, you have a couple of options. It is really up to you if you care to respond to such inquiries. Please be aware that you are not required to answer questions which you may feel are inappropriate or make you uncomfortable.
 

Coming up:  True stories from Alpharetta to Zebulon, Part II

For additional assistance with your job search, please visit Meral's website here.

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