[Update: I understand that some find this post to be (1) making a causal claim that is (2) sexist or misses sexism as a main causal factor of an unsuccessful job interview. I can see that I used the word "reasons" in the title, and that isn't right. As the blog post makes clear, I offered these as warning signs, not reasons: as I say below, "I have no way to know any more than they did who got the job or why they didn't get the job
." The idea of this post is to explore some of the flags that might indicate an interview is not going as well as it seems on the surface. The reasons for which the interview might not be going well are many, and among them are pernicious behaviours and expectations. I revised the title to better reflect the content of the blog post but have not revised the text of the post below.]
I hear from law students all the time that an interview they thought went very very well didn't land them the job. A lot of the time (not always) these are female students. A lot of the time (not always) they were perfectly qualified and very capable. A lot of the time (not always) I think they probably would have done very well in a law firm job. I have no way to know any more than they did who got the job or why they didn't get the job.
However, I can identify some warning signs from my own experiences (not all horrible) and through countless conversations with my students over the years. In the hopes that this will help someone in some future interview, I offer five signs things didn't go as well as you thought they did:
1) You were wearing something uncomfortable.
Believe me, it showed. If something is itchy or your feet hurt or whatever, if you thought for even one nanosecond about anything you were wearing, the interview was over that moment. Doubly over if you happened to inspect any part of yourself at any time. You were distracted, and your distress was noticeable. You did not go to this interview to impress someone with your impeccable taste in fashion. Be professional yes but be comfortable and laser focused at all times on why you are there.
2) The interviewer at any time looked at any piece of paper or a phone or iPad or anything but you.
Clearly whatever was on the paper or the screen was more more important than you. You were supposed to be the star of this show, and you didn't command the full attention of your audience. Why is that? Are you waiting for the interviewer to ask you a good question, hopefully one that you meticulously prepared to answer? Why are you waiting for that? Your job in the interview is to actively engage the interviewer. Not the other way around.
3) There was more than one interviewer, and at some point they looked at or talked to one another instead of you.
These interviewers are tired and they sat through a lot of interviewees today, making constant, mostly negative, judgments and decisions about a lot of people they don't know. They are looking for a way to take a mental pause during your interview. When you got lulled into that energy, you gave them the excuse; this is not a serious candidate, so we are on break now. If you don't wake them up, get them sitting straight in their chairs and laser focused on you, you will not get the job.
4) The interview mainly focused on your hobbies/other interests/places you've traveled; the firm's pro bono work; or its strong commitment to work-life balance.
This is a job interview. You are being inspected for signs that you might not be 100% committed to living out your full life within the four walls of your office, serving the firm's paying clients with selfless dedication. You don't have any hobbies that don't involve reading the business section of the newspaper. (Note: take the hobbies or outside interests etc section off your resume and if anyone asks you what your hobbies are, they are: reading the business section of the newspaper, e.g., to see what new deals are unfolding. And then steer the conversation back to the job).
5) A day or a week after the interview, the thing you recollect the most is that the interview seemed pleasant and easy, and everyone was nice.
You got a few minutes to make an impression that you are serious, capable, and a boss, and instead, you spent your time trying to be pleasant and unobtrusive. Stop trying to make people like you: you need to think about what you are doing that makes people not take you seriously. Is it your passive or deferential behaviour? Why do you think any law firm would want to hire a lawyer with those characteristics? They don't want to. So stop it.
You can commit a lot of perception errors in an interview. These are only five of the ones I note on an annual basis. If you notice them happening, realizing you are in a hole could be the first step to changing the conversation.