Articles of Frustration: Part 17 – The Swing Of It

swingofit

Or perhaps it’s really not as deep
As I’ve been led to think
Am I trying much too hard?
Of course! I’ve been too close to see
The answer’s right in front of me
Right in front of me

It’s simple really, very clear
Like music drifting in the air
Invisible, but everywhere
just because I cannot see it
Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it

One, free autographed picture of me to the first person who correctly places the source of the above quote.  No googling, now.  There must be some honour among thieves.  Of course, you will either have to pick up the picture or pay for shipping and handling.  I am running a business, not a charity.

In any event, these words occurred to me many times during the hunt for articles.  They tended to resound more strongly towards the tail end of my journey, which we are now approaching.  Was a constant string of failure responsible for distorting my view of what success required?  Could it be that I was treating this entire process with too much formulaic procedure and not enough gut intuition?  Given that this was my SECOND go-around with the formal recruiting process in Toronto, I was willing to entertain just about any notion that I hadn’t previously  considered.  I couldn’t afford not to land something.

The law job market was such that, for people on their second trip aboard this insane merry-go-round, treatment by potential employers was understanding and sympathetic.  Many people that I interviewed alongside for the 2016-2017 cycle were repeat candidates. Employers seemed to understand that desperate times called for desperate measures and they were, for the time being, willing to keep an open-mind towards candidates in this situation.  A third-time applicant was a different story.  At that point, there was a nigh-incontrovertible perception that there was something off about you as an employee.  There was a certain whiff of it, even now.  After all, I did not manage to secure interviews at any organization in Toronto where I had been interviewed the year previous.

I had met up with friends downtown on the Friday prior to 2016-2017 articling interviews.  We went for dinner and then to a friend’s condo for drinks.    All of them were fellow UVic Law alumni who were about to begin articling.  It was no secret that I had not yet secured a position, and my friends would never have held it against me.  I had not, however, told them that I had applied for the 2016-2017 cycle or that I had interviews scheduled for the next week.  It was, admittedly,  difficult to even want to hang out with them in the first place.  Although the summer had been good and I had been feeling quite upbeat, the stress of still looking for a position and of not knowing whether one would ever materialize still got to me.  Try as I might to push these thoughts of inferiority aside, they still drifted to the surface.  Again, please understand that this was not at all the fault of my friends.  They chattered excitedly about the start of their articles and about the future and they absolutely deserved to.  It was just a little hard to hear.  I left early, that night.

_________________________________________________________________

August 10, 2015

This was a Monday.  The weather started off pleasant, bright and hot.  As the day progressed, clouds rolled in and fat raindrops began to sprinkle the street by dusk.  At this point, it is perhaps useful to invent (or in my case, rip off) the names of the firms where I would be interviewed.  Let’s use Sterling Cooper and McCann as our monikers.  Both firms were in insurance defence and both are considered boutique or verging on mid-sized (25-30 lawyers, though I recall Stirling Cooper having more).  Stirling Cooper was where I had an interviewed schedule for noon on August 10th.  McCann would be interviewing me at 2 PM on August 11th, but had a cocktail party scheduled for 7-10 PM on the evening of the 10th.

Some research had revealed that, in fact, Stirling Cooper did both personal injury and insurance defence.  This is relatively uncommon among Toronto firms practicing in these areas.  Nevertheless, I reasoned that a position with an organization practicing on both sides would offer unique insight into the insurance business, itself.  As well, Stirling Cooper was located directly on Bay Street.  This SHOULD mean nothing, but I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t get just a little bit of a charge out of the idea that I may be working on Bay Street.  For those of you unaware of the ridiculously stereotypical beliefs that prevail among naive law students, Bay Street is often seen as the apex of legal success.  All of the “best” and “brightest” firms are located on Bay Street and, concordantly, these firms only take the best candidates.  If you are reading these words and rolling your eyes, I’m pretty sure that you and I would get along great.  Still, though, I felt a certain sense of excitement.  Previous applications to Bay Street firms from yours truly had all been unanswered.

Once more, I boarded the GO Train bound for Union Station in my good suit and newly purchased shoes.  During the ride into the city, I did my best to relax but mostly ruminated on whether or not I should walk to the building or take a cab.  The firm was located very far south on Bay Street (and, therefore, quite close to Union Station), but I was concerned with the humidity and the resultant possibility of sweat stains.  I was wearing a white shirt, after all.  The clouds had begun occluding some of the sunlight as my train reached its destination, so I opted to walk at a leisurely pace to Stirling Cooper.  Far from being an imposing skyscraper, the building that was home to the firm was small and thin.  It seemed as though the larger architectural behemoths had grown up and around it.

The elevator ride up seemed to take mere seconds.  I patted my hair into a slightly more acceptable style before stepping out into the reception area of the firm.  Feigning a relaxed, confident smile, I introduced myself to the receptionist and took a seat on a leather couch.  Across from me, a younger man with an air of nervousness sat with legs crossed.  We chatted blandly for a moment or two before two of his potential employers whisked him away for an interview.  I sat for a few more minutes and pondered my possibilities.

In some ways, it sucked that I had only two interviews.  This was 50% fewer than I had in Toronto in 2014.  My mantra had always been that more interviews equal more opportunities and more opportunities equal a greater chance of success.  That may be true, strictly speaking.  But, there is really something to be said for having interviews scheduled in a way that is as relaxed and stress-free as possible.  A year ago, I had been running around like a mad man and catching cross-country flights at the last minute.  I had tried to do everything at once.  I had failed.  Now, I didn’t have that problem.  I could afford to devote a much greater amount of time and effort to the interviews that I did have.  Still, I wondered how much this would pay off (if at all) during the next few days.

These musings were interrupted by a male’s voice calling my name.  Taking a deep breath, I rose, turned and extended my hand to the first of four people that I would be meeting with.  We spoke for close to an hour.  The interview was split into two halves, with a pair of associates interviewing me at any given time.  The first pair included a man and a woman.  The second pair were both women.  The course of our discussions was fairly standard.  They asked me to go over my resume, I answered.  They wanted to know why I was interested in Stirling Cooper, I gave a reply.  Interestingly, they also asked what I would do with myself for the year between when I was being interviewed and when I would (hopefully) be starting as an articling student.  I had not been asked this before, obviously, but I didn’t feel too thrown by it.  Truth be told, I had wondered the same ever since I had chosen to go through with applying for the 2016-2017 positions.  My answer included a mix of studying, writing and passing the bar exam while also looking for short term, contract work in the insurance field (perhaps in an adjusting role).  The interviewers were fairly poker-faced, so I cannot say with certainty whether such an answer pleased them.

Soon enough, the well of questions on the employer side of the table dried up.  They asked me whether I had anything that I wanted to know about them or the firm.  My questions tried to strike a balance between safe and unique.  I recall asking them to go through what a “typical” day for an articling student at Stirling Cooper might entail (obviously a safe question, but not very unique).  My second or third question pertained to whether the firm was in the habit of contacting people that they were interested in prior to Call Day (a fairly unique question, but not nearly as safe).  I received a decidedly ambivalent answer to my second query.  Sometimes, they would take people out to lunch, but it really depended and they did not have a firm procedure in place for this kind of thing.  Swallowing the bitter taste of finding out essentially nothing, I assured my interviewers that these were all the questions that I had.  We shook hands, I mentioned that it would be a delight to article with Stirling Cooper and that I hoped to hear from them soon.

The elevator ride back down to ground level seemed to take a lot longer than its ascending counterpart.  As always, I scrutinized the preceding hour, bit by bit.  It had certainly not been a bad interview, or even below average.  But, I could not get over the fact that it had not been particularly memorable.  I hadn’t really clicked with anyone and, besides one or two laughs, I doubt whether I had made an indelible impression on anyone.  Normally, this would not be instant justification to begin pulling one’s hair out, but I felt that success, at this point, depended absolutely on being as memorable as humanly possible.  Unlike last year, I did not have the luxury of many other firms or interviews to leap around to.

Several hours remained until my cocktail party with McCann.  Luckily, one of my friends from the Friday hangout was still in town and looking to kill some time.  We met on the basement level of the Sheraton hotel and camped out in a booth at Druxy’s.  A trick of the trade that I had learned early on was to send thank-you e-mails to your interviewers as quickly as possible following an interview.  It just so happened that the Sheraton had lobby computers with internet access that were free to the public.  I shot off a few of these monuments to ass-kissery before heading downstairs to meet my friend.  He was taken aback by my suited-up appearance and I quickly explained that I had an interview earlier that day.  I didn’t go into too many details and he was a good enough guy not to pry.

We chatted about life at UVic and where various classmates had ended up.  He talked a little about his articling job and the people there.  For some reason, the articling talk did not bother me nearly as much.  I listened with interest as he talked about some of the files that he was working on and where he hoped to be in a few years.  Just being with a friend for a few hours and chilling out before a hoitey-toitey event like a cocktail party is something I came to be enormously grateful for.

Bidding goodbye to my friend by 6:30, I popped my umbrella open and walked over to the McCann event.  It was being held in a meeting room at the University Club.  I had never been to the University Club before, but had heard enough about it to realize that it was a slightly old-fashioned social club that was not at all cheap to join.  My dread increased with each footstep.  Here it came, the single most distasteful aspect of the entire articling recruit: the cocktail party.  It was and is nothing more than an additional interview clothed in the phonyness of a relaxed, social event.  It was yet another chance to come off as charming, funny and intelligent as possible..or, just moreso than the 40 other syncophants who would be eyeing you the entire evening.

Though the bitterness that I had about these events had not receded in years, I murmured a silent oath to myself: I didn’t care how horrible or vapid the evening would be.  I would be staying until all of the hosting lawyers left.  This was not the time to be awarding myself the self-righteous luxury of leaving early just because I found the entire production ridiculous.  This was do or die.  At the same time, I made myself a second oath: I would NOT drift around on my own for any extended period of time.  Unlike in 2014, a self-evident truth revealed itself to me – the whole point of these fucking events was to MEET people and get your name out there.  It does not matter how uncomfortable you may feel with doing it, you MUST speak to everyone and get to know everyone.  That is the only way forward.

With these affirmations tucked comfortably into my superego, I strode confidently into the meeting room and froze.  I was, quite honestly, the first non-firm member there.  The gathered lawyers concluded their conversations and awkwardly moved toward me.  I recognized one lady immediately as one of the people who would be interviewing me the next day.  We’ll call her Sheila.  Cursing under my breath at how terrible this was all starting, I moved towards Sheila and shook her hand.  We introduced ourselves and she mentioned that she looked forward to seeing me the next day.  Horribly awkward small talk followed before she gave me the brush off and suggested that I talk to some of the others.  It felt like hours had passed, but probably just a minute or so had elapsed.  I was STILL the only applicant there.

But, incredibly, the night only got easier.  The room quickly filled with fellow hopefuls.  The toughest part really was the beginning.  After awkwardly sidling up to an ongoing conversation the first couple of times, the next fifteen are a relative breeze.  I met everyone, including McCann himself.   I also met Gary, who would be interviewing me alongside Sheila on Tuesday.   I shook more hands than I could count and I actually interjected in conversations, instead of just meekly watching them.  If I had to describe it using an analogy, I would compare it to having your Mom or Dad finally let go of you when you’re learning to ride a bike.  The lead up feels awful, but, eventually, you’re just doing it without noticing.  By two hours in, I realized that I had met and had substantive conversations with over 80% of the lawyers gathered.  Incredibly, I had also managed to reach some common ground or relating point with just about all of them.  They had all laughed at one point or another in response to some crack that I made.

The previous philosophizing that I had done about spending more time on fewer interviews also rang true.  The meeting room had emptied out considerably by the final hour and the lawyers noticed.  Feeling motivated by this, I grabbed another drink (Coca Cola, of course) and joined a nearby group conversation.  Being a student from the University of Victoria was, again, quite a boon.  The firm generally did not receive applications from the west coast and it seemed liked its employees wanted to know about life in BC and whether I enjoyed it.  At the very least, it was an incredibly useful ice-breaker.

9:55 PM came and Mike, a partner and the firm’s articling commitee chair, was milling around and apologetically informing the remaining applicants that we had to leave so that the University Club could close.  I pumped Mike’s hand, Sheila’s hand and just about everyone else’s hand that I could find.  Finally, after many a “Thank you” and several a “I look forward to our meeting tomorrow”, I left.  The rain had let up and the humidity had lessened considerably.  I strolled south on University Avenue towards the train station and wondered why it had taken me so long to get the hang of cocktail parties.  More pertinently, I wondered if I had a real fighting chance.  Not to drown you with comparisons to my experiences in 2014, but I genuinely felt like I had connected with the people at McCann moreso than with anyone at any other firm previously.  In some ways, I never thought that would be possible for someone like me.

 

 

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