August 12, 2015
It must have been close to 8 PM when I finally arrived home. The journey back had been a meandering mix of public transit and trance-like pacing. Before I left the mall, I had made a quick, perfunctory call home to let my parents know what had happened. That brief call chewed up the last of my cell phone’s battery life, so I had nothing but my own thoughts to occupy me during the commute. But, really, what was there to think about?
I had failed. Again. The stars had, for once, aligned perfectly and afforded me with a truly golden opportunity. Instead of finally enjoying the fruits of another grueling application process, I was once again immobilized by anger and self-loathing. These few hours were some of the toughest. Getting shut out of the Toronto articling recruit for the first time in 2014 had certainly stung. But, at the very least, I was able to cling to the excuse of still being some kind of rookie. Though I eventually realized that such a rationalization was cheap and fake, it was still a lifeline to keep the emptiness at bay. This time? There was no excuse. This was all me.
It didn’t matter to me that I was only one spot away. As far as I was concerned, I might as well have never been offered an interview. Throughout this series, I have emphasized the difficult “all or nothing” game that we, as applicants, play. All that mattered was whether you got a job. There was no middle ground, no continuum. You won or you lost. Up until this point, and for over two years, I had done nothing at all but lose. Every first interview, every cocktail party, every intimate dinner had led to failure. Was it the system’s fault? Were the law schools to blame? Could every, single potential employer that I had encountered thus far be comprised of near-sighted dunces? No. The fault lay with me.
It might come as a surprise to you that, by the time I did arrive home, I was not in the best frame of mind. Kicking off my shoes, I went straight to my room and shut the door. Both of my parents were home but, mercifully, were nowhere near the front door. After making sure the door was shut tight and the lights were off, I collapsed onto my bed. About the only thing I recall having the energy or drive to do was to plug my phone in. Exhaustion had set in, but I was not sleepy. I felt spent and listless. Sleep eluded me, but I had long ago appreciated the incalculable worth of a nap-like sensation to the hearts and minds of the weary. By 10:30 PM, I felt that I could finally face the world. Plus, I was bored.
I grabbed my phone and slowly trudged upstairs. My mom was watching a sitcom. Plopping down next to her, we sat in silence for ten minutes or more. One of the many wonderful qualities of my progenitors is their intimate knowledge of my psyche. My mom, especially, knew that she didn’t need to say anything at all. Sure enough, I broke our silence with some pithy comment about how my trend of success with job prospects was at least reliably stable. Conversation came easily enough after that and, with it, some of the frustration and pain found its way out, too. It’s so often the case that, when an outlet is desperately needed, our first instinct is to bottle up and avoid admitting pain. It’s beyond the ambit of this entry to explain that impulse. Suffice it to say that it’s a idiosyncracy that I struggled (and struggle) with.
It did not take very long before I began to feel better. Like any failure of significant personal importance, this might take some time to bounce back from. Ruefully, I mused that this was certainly not even near the first time that I have had to get up and dust myself off. As the credits rolled on an episode of Seinfeld, I absent-mindedly checked my phone for…well, are we ever really looking for something specific? I just checked it. In all honesty, I was avoiding the unpleasant task of refreshing my university e-mail homepage for as long as possible. I knew that there was a good chance that I would have to read at least one “thanks, but no thanks” cookiecutter rejection e-mail from the firms that I had most recently struck out with. The prospect of doing so threatened to cause an acute relapse of my recently-subdued blues.
Facebook wasn’t becoming any more interesting after twenty or so minutes of refreshing the front page, so I decided to bite the bullet. As I predicted, there was an e-mail by Articling Committee Chief Mike (from McCann) offering his commiserations and congratulations to all of us who had made the dinner but had not been hired. Considering that many firms send nothing in the way of closing communications following a rejection, I had to respect the gesture on some level. There was a similar message from a hiring representative at Sterling Cooper. It is interesting to note that all of the firms I interviewed with during the 2015 recruit sent closing or rejection e-mails. This stands in stark contrast to the firms that I encountered in the 2014 recruit – none of them sent rejection or thank-you e-mails of any kind.
Interestingly, there was also an e-mail from Sheila at McCann. I could tell quickly that it was sent to me personally and not to the entire articling cohort. It read something like this:
I just returned to the office and see you were next in line when all of our
positions were filled. I can say I am truly disappointed. It was such a pleasure
to meet you. Please stay in touch and if by any chance you haven’t found something
please let me know I and I will do what I can to assist you.
Despite everything that had happened, I must admit that I was a little taken aback as I read the words. In a world full of cold, impersonal business decisions and being treated like persona non grata upon not receiving a call-back, this seemed a nice, personal touch. Furthermore, this e-mail was sent after 11 PM. This partner at a prestigious, well-regarded firm had taken time out of her precious leisure hours (when she absolutely did not have to) in order to message some rejected nobody and offer guidance.
Earlier on in this process, I remember telling friends and colleagues how sickening I thought it would be to reach out to a firm that had rejected you, hat in hand, for their help or guidance on what you could do differently in the future. To a degree, I still find the concept rather abhorrent. With that said, my situation at this juncture had deteriorated to full-blown desperation. Plus, I just had some kind of hunch that Sheila’s perspective might be a little different.
Realizing that I had nothing else better to do, I drafted a quick reply e-mail:
Thank you so much for following up and for the kind words. It was a
pleasure to have met you and the other members of the firm during this
process. I, too, am disappointed that an articling position did not pan
out. I also very much appreciate the offer of help and if you happen to
hear of anything in Toronto (that hasn’t yet been hired) or be able to put
my name forward for something you hear about, I would very much appreciate
Idly, I wondered if Sheila might get back to me by the next day. It seemed silly to expect a busy professional like her to prioritize my troubles. Still, it was surprising to get an e-mail like that from Sheila, at all.
My mom headed to bed just after midnight. I followed suit a few minutes later. Just before laying my phone aside for the night, I decided to refresh my e-mail, one last time. Incredibly, a new message stood bolded atop the column of older messages. It was another reply from Sheila:
I am being absolutely sincere when I say you were my favorite candidate this year.
I am sure you are very disheartened right now but rest assured that it will work out
and that I will do everything I can to help you. As you know I am off on vacation
for the next two weeks. Let’s plan to talk or meet for coffee when I get back. I am sure you are in no mood for jokes- but you can tell your parents it wasn’t your handshake, it is just a very bad market and a crazy system with a lot of flaws.
As poorly as August 12, 2015 ultimately turned out for me, I cannot deny that a feeling of warmth and appreciation spread through me as I read those words. Not to drive home an earlier point ad infinitum, but consider the disparity in positions, here. I was a failed applicant with nothing of really substantive value to offer to this high-ranking professional. She had already gone above and beyond her duty by offering me advice and guidance during the interview process itself. Now, with the hiring process long finished, she was making an effort to console and inspire me. What’s more, she was pledging further help in a short-term timeframe.
There is no point in paraphrasing any more of this e-mail chain. I replied to Sheila with my thanks and deep sense of appreciation for any help that she might be able to provide. I went to bed that night with a deep sense of disappointment at everything that had happened, yes. But, there was also a newfound sense of hope and possibility. Despite failing once again at securing a job, I felt that I still may have gained something exceptionally valuable: an experienced ally and mentor.
It also struck me that I had forgotten, somewhere along the way, that this profession was made up of people. You tend to think of these firms as imperious monoliths and of the lawyers within them as merely constituent parts. But, the lawyers (and, indeed, even the prominent ones) are just people; people with hopes, fears, disappointments and plans, decency and selfishness. It had somehow escaped me that a lawyer from a firm that had ultimately turned me down might still be interested in my success and in my future. This may sound a little more naive and idealistic than my previous entries, but it was quite a conceptual turning point for me.
Perhaps this process was more than just win or lose, after all.