Articles of Frustration: Part 3 – Garage Sale Windows

professionallolOften, you look back at a period of your life and feel very thankful that it has passed.  At the very least, there is a sense of relief that comes with the passing of time following a particularly unpleasant chapter.  November and December 2013 make up my unhappy chapter.  To be totally fair, there was a lot going on in my life at that time besides OCI’s and job insanity.  I cannot accurately characterize my stress and unhappiness at that time as flowing solely from law job hunting.  Let’s just say that it did not make matters any better.

Worst of all, I think, is that I perceived my upcoming interview in Toronto as a chance at redemption – a chance to prove to everyone (or, as later dawned on me, myself) that I was doing well, was successful and could rise above the occasional downward spiral.  Friends and readers, please believe me when I tell you that tying your self worth to whether you land a seemingly perfect job is an exercise in both futility and injustice.  You are so much more than the decision of some hiring committee.  Looking back,  I couldn’t see that. It was tragically easy to tie my overall worth as a law student and budding, young professional to my progress on the “mainstream” OCI -> summer job -> articling student -> associate track.  Whether you are a law hopeful like me or someone looking at another career, never forget the narrow and unbelievably artificial process that goes into job recruitment.  It is your supposed suitability for a job that is being measured, not your overall suitability for being a decent, talented human.

Of course, if someone had told me all of the above in November 2013, I’d have nodded my head and agreed.  I thought that I consciously accepted all of this at the time, but that this type of advice is for people that won’t land anything at all.  I was not going to be one of those people because things would just work out.  This was all before the interview, mind you. I still assumed that I’d perform just better than everyone else and land the job in Toronto.

On Halloween, I boarded a flight to Vancouver, en route to Toronto.  It was lovely being home and even lovelier being away from campus for a little while.  I reconnected with family, spent a lot of time with friends and began to prepare for the interview.  Again, I felt some degree of insecurity: I knew many friends who had multiple interviews in Toronto on the same week (I, again, only had one).  I was still relatively new to the entire interviewing process at this time, so I continued to make comparisons between myself and my colleagues.  This was just as silly and futile as when I had done it in Vancouver, but it was difficult to see that at the time.  Instead, I read and re-read everything about the firm where I’d be interviewing.  I learned about my interviewers, ran questions past family and friends that I planned to ask and made sure my suit was on “fleek” (as the kids call it).

Early on the morning of November 4th, 2015, I boarded a commuter train into the heart of downtown Toronto.  Unlike my Vancouver in-firm, I was interviewing on the first day of interview week and during the earliest time slot possible.  The scheduling gave me some degree of increased confidence, since the wise sages of law recruitment have always said that a firm is more likely interested in you if they interview you near the beginning of the process.  Also unlike my Vancouver interview, I was slated to speak with five different individuals from the firm.  The logistics were interesting – I was assigned a “tour guide” lawyer/interviewer who would shadow me as I toured the firm and met with others.  The tour guide interviewer was supposed to be at my disposal and available to field any questions that fell outside the course of the normal interview.  While the tour guide wouldn’t formally interview me, he’d keep an eye on me and sit in on all other sub-interviews at the firm.

My first interview at the firm was in front of two, young associates (and the tour guide).  They were pleasant and down to earth.  The atmosphere was light, conversational and very non-technical.  I felt that these interviewers were trying to get a feel for my pleasantness and social graces, moreso than my promise as a skilled legal professional.  The first interview lasted about 35-40 minutes.  After that had elapsed (and after shaking hands and exchanging closing pleasantries), my tour guide accompanied me to another office with another two lawyers.   While similarly aged, the atmosphere and questions could not have been more different.  These interviewers surveyed me with poker faces and asked me the most behavioural of questions.

The first one began with a preamble from the male half of the duo that, in law, you must often make snap decisions and assessments without knowing all of the data.  Based on this truth, the man proceeded to ask me whether there were more windows or humans in New York City.  I shit you not.  I think that I took the question in fairly good stride and I riffed off some facts and logical connections about the windows and buildings in NYC and their connection to the human population.  I ultimately hypothesized that there were more windows than people.  Staring at me with an imperceptible look in his eye, the interviewer shrugged and said, “I really have no idea what the answer is, but it came up on Google as a good question to ask in an interview.”  I nodded and smiled with a polite interest that I hope belied my bemused confusion.

The next behavioural question was a little more down to Earth.  It involved a scenario whereby my next door neighbour and I were holding separate garage sales.  We each had an item for sale that we were particularly keen to be rid of, but my neighbour was selling it for $50 cheaper than I was and there was no way for me to lower my price.  What do I do?  Drawing on naive sources of egalitarianism, I proposed an arrangement where my neighbour agrees to display his item for a certain period of time while I kept mine hidden and then vice versa.  I was basically trying to posit a fair situation where we could both have a chance at selling the item without undue interference from the other.  Once again, my interviewers stared somewhat blankly at me following my answer.  I wondered if this might be hell.

The third and last question was actually a good one.  Looking at me with the slightest hint of shrewdness, the female interviewer asked me, “What haven’t we asked you that we should have?”.  Taking a deep breath (and drawing on my experience in Vancouver), I pointed out that they had not asked me where (geographically) I hoped to live and work for the foreseeable future.  I then went into my explanation of how that was relevant – I pointed out that summer and articling students cost the firm money, that they are of more value as a long-term investment and that one of the worst things for a firm was to invest in training articling students only for them to jump ship.  In essence, a neophyte, summer-student hopeful was explaining their entire business model to them.  Again, their faces were impassive.  We made a little small talk before concluding that portion of the interview.

At this point, my tour guide accompanied me to their board room for some one on one time.  Ostensibly, this was to field any last-minute questions that I had before the entire interview concluded.  In the midst of this pow-wow, the female interviewer (of the impassive duo) reappeared and asked the tour guide to step out for a moment.  Once he had, she asked me rejoin her in the office that I had just left.  Stepping back in, the impassive pair informed me that they wished to schedule me for a second interview.  Being that I had a medical appointment the next day (which, in retrospect, was a huge mistake in prioritizing – I should have tried to do both or reschedule), I asked if we could do it in two days.  They agreed and we set the meeting for 9 AM on November 4th.  November 4th was also the offer call day for Toronto firms.  I would be interviewing at 9 AM and hearing a final decision (or not) by 5 PM.

I spent the next couple days allowing myself, once again, to hope and to dream about this opportunity.  Consciously, I cautioned myself against counting chickens before they had hatched.  Inwardly, I felt delighted that I had been asked for a second interview before I had even left the first.  I excitedly told friends and family and I let myself believe that redemption for the last few shitty months was within reach.  I allowed this job interview to become an all-or-nothing test of my self-worth and value.  I am not exactly sure why I let these thoughts intrude.  I guess, at the end of the day, you’ll grasp onto any opportunity and try to make it a quick panacea for much bigger problems.

In any event, I headed back into the city with the rest of the city’s early morning commuters on November 4th.  This time, I would only be meeting with two senior associates.  There would be no tour guide and there would be no multi-part interview.  I got to the office in lots of time and made small talk with the receptionist.  Soon after, one of my interviewers came out, introduced himself and led me to his office.  There, I met the other interviewer and we spoke for about 40 minutes.  Like the Vancouver interview, this encounter was neither very good or very bad.  We spoke about a mixture of business, personal interests and day-to-day job expectations.  I emphasized more than once how privileged I would be to work at the firm and my interviewers reciprocated with their appreciation.  We shook hands, I mentioned that I hoped to hear from them and I left.

The rest of the day until 5 PM was, understandably, fairly tense.  I headed to a friend’s shortly after the interview to send thank you e-mails.  I also charged my phone and tried to de-stress by going out to lunch with said friend.  Afterwards, I accompanied him to a student association office at the University of Toronto (where he was studying and involved with student life) and shot the breeze with him and a few others for some hours. The trouble with being honest with your friends about your hopes and dreams is that they’ll know when you are disappointed or have failed to obtain what you set out to obtain. While this may not be a negative to many people, it is still somewhat humbling to me.  I cannot fault my friends for their love and support of me.  With that said, it’s nervewracking to have them watch you wait for a telephone call that may never come.  It’s unpleasant to have them know the moment that you do that you did not achieve what you wanted.

At 4:55 PM on November 4th, I excused myself from the student office and went to an abandoned stairwell on the other side of the building.  Once there, I paced, double and triple checked my phone ringer and waited.  The 20 minutes or so that I spent in that stairwell is one of my worst memories in recent years.  I do not mean to sound melodramatic – it’s not as if I was beat up for my lunch money or given an atomic wedgie by some roving dudebro.  Instead, the kidney punch came in the form of dead silence.  Like my wait for a Vancouver call, I knew by about 20 minutes passed the start that it was all over.  I also knew my friends were waiting in the office for me to come back.  I almost escaped out a side entrance without telling anyone.  That would have been the easier, more immediately satisfying thing to do.  Instead, I took a deep breath, composed a relaxed smile and walked back into the office where my friends waited.

They looked up eagerly as I walked in.  “Nothing,” I said, shaking my head slightly.  There was silence and then two of them came over and engulfed me in bear hugs.  I nodded blankly and wished that I had the energy to feel sad.



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