In mid October of 2013, I took a ferry ride through the Georgia Strait with a few friends. Our destination was Vancouver. Our goal was to secure summer employment with one of several downtown Vancouver law firms. Again, I must stress how great my school and its alumni are. Even though we were in competition, the collegiality and good mirth never even came close to being eroded during our trip. Still, I felt nervous. My sole in-firm interview seemed insignificant compared to the five or six that many of my colleagues were juggling. I kept reminding myself that one, good interview could be all that it took. I researched the firm, I found out what I could about my interviewer (the firm usually provides the name of who will interview you well in advance of the meeting) and I did my best to come up with intelligent-sounding questions.
Some non-law friends were kind of enough to put me up during my stay in Vancouver. Making sure that my suit was reasonably pressed (which included several Youtube tutorials, as well as frantically purchasing an iron on the morning of my interview day) and that my socks were lacking holes, I bid goodbye to my hosts and boarded a bus bound for the financial district. I made sure I was at the correct address in plenty of time and, in fact, caught up and had coffee with a close friend who was also in the midst of summer job interviews. Not to digress from this thrilling narrative, but I really do recommend breaking up the monotony of stress and obsession whenever you can. Being able to shoot the breeze and forget about your impending trials for a half hour (or however long you have) is relaxing, focussing and puts what you are doing in perspective. It is all too easy to become tunnel-visioned in this insane process and perceive nothing but the end goal. Not only is that unfair to yourself and the people around you, I feel that it actually hampers your interview skills.
Boarding the elevator to the firm’s high-numbered floor, I took a deep breath and one last, long look at my hair in the lift’s mirror. Usually, its sheen and lustrousness take my breath away and it was a testament to my stress level that I did not admire my own reflection for very long. Exiting the elevator, I walked with a confident stride and pleasant smile (or so I choose to remember them) to the receptionist. After stating my name and business, I was invited to sit in the firm’s front waiting area until my interviewer was ready. While waiting, I had the uniquely unpleasant experience of chatting with fellow applicants. The people were actually very nice, but there’s something overwhelmingly fake about making small talk with the people you are hoping won’t do as well as you. Before long, my interviewer (also named Steve, go figure) came out, introduced himself and led me to his office.
I should note that my tone in describing this first interview is obviously tense and a little melodramatic. I think that this is a reflection of my state of mind at the time: inexperienced, tense and with a certain sense of inflated ego and capability. At this early stage, I saw this interview as The Interview. Being new to the law interview process, I had no idea of how long it might go on. On some level, I felt very sure that I would land this and that things would just…work out. Needless to say, this is a dangerous presumption and it’s something that I have had to unlearn as time has gone on. If I have gained nothing else through this entire process, I can at least say that I learned a LOT about arrogance.
The interview itself was fairly standard. I met with my interviewer for just under an hour. He asked me some stuff about my resume, my background, what I liked to do. I asked him some questions about the firm and his practice, in turn. As well, I got my first, real taste of the regional bias that permeates the attitude of many firms. Simply put: the smaller the city, the more suspicious they are of your commitment to remain in the area following articling. This is especially true if you are not originally from that region. It makes sense, from a business perspective. The worst case scenario for a firm hiring either summer students or articling students (short of some kind of Son of Sam incident) is having those students up and leave when they are called to the bar. Summer students and articling students result in a net financial loss for the firm. They’re untrained, slow and require near constant instruction and supervision. Additionally, they must be paid, provided some amount of benefits, compensated time off and the like. The value in hiring summer and articling students is as a long-term investment. The firm invests time, money and instruction in order to groom these students for money-making associate positions. With this considered, “immigrant” applicants like myself are viewed a little suspiciously. We are considered more likely to jump ship and return to our home jurisdictions.
For this reason, the interviewer and I talked a fair bit about Toronto, Vancouver and what the two had in common. I made sure to pepper our conversation with compliments about Vancouver, endorsements of life on the west coast and assurances that this was the place where I wanted to build a career. Was I over the top? I certainly could have been, but walking the tightrope in a situation like this is a tricky business. Based on this and other interviews that I have done all over Canada, I really feel that applicants whose home is far away from the job they are applying for must leap through a few extra hoops. In an effort to prove that I was Vancouverite material, I bravely stated that the “rivalry” between Vancouver and Toronto really boiled down to the fact that the two cities were so similar. My interviewer looked at me with a slight incredulity and replied, “Maybe, but that’s assuming Toronto even gives a shit about us.” I chuckled politely and tried to change the subject.
In looking back, I would rate my performance as thoroughly average. I got along fairly well with the interviewer, had some good questions and avoided becoming tongue-tied. My lack of experience did not clue me in, however, to some warning signs: I was not introduced to anyone else at the firm, a second interview was never brought up and I had to ask for a business card from my interviewer just before leaving. Nevertheless, I was elated by the experience and made sure to call my mother shortly after I parted ways with Steve. She was supportive and excited for me. Feeling ravenous, I decided to reward myself by sampling some of Vancouver’s diverse culinary options. Luckily, there was an IHOP nearby. Breakfast at 4:30 PM had never tasted so good.
The Careers Office at my school gave all applicants some tips on etiquette and proper interview techniques prior to the interview week in Vancouver. One of the most important of these is to send thank-you e-mails following an interview. Shortly after my Vancouver interview, I made it a point to e-mail my interviewer, thank him for his time and suggest that we meet again before offer call day (I talked about what call day was in part 1, if you are wondering). Crafting these e-mails is an art form of its own. It is a foregone conclusion that they are located deep in ass-kiss territory. The delicate part of these e-mails involve kissing ass without being totally gross about it. I don’t know if I will ever be any good at them, but I’ve learned that it’s a skill that can at least be marginally improved with time, practice and increasing desperation. Long story short, I never heard back from my interviewer at all.
Despite this, I allowed myself to hope (and in some ways, believe) that Vancouver offer call day would have some real promise. As I’ve canvassed earlier, that day was also the day you hear from Toronto firms about whether they want to see you for an interview. It’s a little bit awkward – the time difference makes it so that you hear about and must accept or reject interviews in Toronto at 5 AM (west coast time) and hear about (and accepting or rejecting) actual job offers from Vancouver firms at 8 AM. This fateful morning took place on October 25th, 2013. The night before, I laid awake and wondered what I would do if I got an offer from the Vancouver firm AFTER accepting possibly several interviews in Toronto. How would I prioritize my choices? Would I go with the sure thing in Vancouver over the possibility of a position in Toronto? If so, how would I go about cancelling the interviews that I had already set up three hours earlier for Toronto? Was there a God? If so, does he even care about these most first-of-world problems? Wonder abounds.
As it turns out, the Almighty kindly answered my prayers by removing the need for choice. After awaking at 5 AM, I took one phone call from the insurance defence firm in Toronto (the one I knew I would be getting a call from). There were no other calls from Toronto after that. Thinking that this was probably a blessing in disguise because it meant only having to cancel the one interview, I slipped back to sleep for another couple hours. At 7:45 AM, I awoke again, made sure my phone was in working order and waited for it to ring. 8 AM came and went. So did 8:30 and then 9 AM. There is a well-established ritual that the Careers office will tell you about concerning call day – all the offers will go out as close to 8 AM as possible. Even people who are on a waitlist for a position will get called very close to 8 AM. I knew in my heart of hearts that the writing was on the wall by 8:15. Still, I went on waiting until well after 9 AM, thinking that stranger things have happened. Even when I went for a shower at 9:30 AM, I balanced my phone precariously on the edge of the glass door in case a late offer came through.
Truth be told, I wasn’t too bummed. Vancouver wasn’t even where I wanted to practice, for Pete’s sake! The real interview was yet to come and it was going to happen on my home turf – THAT would be the interview I’d nail. I smiled indulgently to myself as I lathered my hair with shampoo and thought about summer patios on Bay Street.