My job interview experience (or how not to interview someone)

Today I went in for a job interview at a law firm. No, I was not interviewing to be an attorney. I was interviewing to be an admin assistant. I decided before I even went that I did not want the job. The pay is probably appropriate for the position, but I don’t want to work full time for such a small amount. Why did I go? I figured I would go to get some interview practice and see if anything unusual pops up. Who knows, maybe my future TrekDek co-founder would be at the office.

Clue #1: Absurd job posting listed below

Downtown Firm seeking qualified Administrative Assistant.

All candidates must understand the following:

  1. This is a Job: You must be willing to be an employee.
  2. Rules are Rules for a Reason: You must follow our dress code, learn to work with people from diverse backgrounds that you might not understand and be willing to work hard.
  3. The Little Things: Attention to detail and task completion are essential.
  4. Communication: Excellent writing skills, including a sincere appreciation of grammar and spelling.
  5. Culture: You have to fit into our culture. We aren’t changing for you.
  6. Opportunity and Experience: Most employers want applicants with 1-3 years of experience because often people straight out of college don’t understand that the world isn’t about them. We care less about experience and more about your willingness to learn. We will provide you the opportunity to learn what you weren’t taught in school.

If you have what it takes, apply to the right. For the others, click that “back button” and keep looking.

Hours:
Monday – Friday, 8:30 am – 5:30 pm.

Location:
Downtown Portland, near Max and bus lines.

$2000 per month with full benefits package

Being me, I addressed each of those points in a sort of smart-ass but reasonable way in my application. I think I wrote something about rules should only be in place if they lead to results and that culture is dynamic and should be constantly improved. Whatever, I was still invited to interview.

When I arrived, I realized I was under dressed. I was in khakis and a work shirt. Everyone else was in a suit. Oh well.

Clue #2: I then asked the receptionist/admin assistant what she thought of working there. She said she liked it. I asked what she thought of the work culture. She said it was “unique.”

The interviewers, a young HR director and an older guy (probably an attorney at the firm) brought me to a room and started asked me questions.

Clue #3: They started asking me lots of questions about how I reacted to stress and people yelling at me. They also asked how I performed in a hierarchical organization.

Clue #4: When I asked them what an admin assistant could be expected to do, they mentioned something about “picking up syringes from the parking lot one moment and then having to be cleaned up and ready for a presentation in the next.” They also mentioned something about building tough character.

Clue #5: I asked about turnover for the position. The older attorney guy says “High, we end up firing a lot of people. Many start crying after we yell at them. We expect our admin assistants to be tough.”

At that point I decided the attorney guy was a prick and told them I wouldn’t be a good fit for the organization. Because the younger HR director was nice, I decided to send him an e-mail with my thoughts. The e-mail is copy and pasted below. Is my e-mail appropriate? Who knows, but I felt I needed to write it.

Hi [Name Redacted],

I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to interview me. Though it didn’t work out in the end, I just wanted to give you my thoughts on the process that may be relevant to you as the HR director. Keep in mind this is all based on the interview process and may not reflect the rest of the firm.

1. Your supervisor (I forget the name of the other guy you were with) seems overly egotistical. Though it is possible that I just happen to piss him off by being underdressed, appearing over relaxed, and exhibiting a casual attitude towards authority, it is worrisome that he comes off as a bully even during the interview process.

2. I think what is causing your high turnover for the admin assistant position is either

a) You’re hiring super incompetent people to begin with or

b) A tyrannical management style.

Either way, it hurts your firm

3. Managing the admin assistant from a “survival of the fittest” mindset is silly and counter productive. This is only going to cause the admin assistants to become sycophants and generally discourage individual initiative. This process may work for the Navy SEAL training program, but it is not applicable to your law firm. I imagine my resume was picked out of the pack because you thought having been in the military, I wouldn’t quit if yelled at. The solution is not to find people who don’t mind getting yelled at, it is to stop yelling and find a better way of improving performance from your employees.

4. Some of your expectations for performance is unrealistic. If you are picking up syringes in the parking lot, you are going to get dirty. There is a high probability that your admin assistant will be dirty for that important meeting. There is a reason janitors and mechanics wear work clothes and jump suits; they don’t want their regular clothes to be ruined.

5. If you are scared of presenting this e-mail to your supervisor for fear of getting in trouble, I believe that is evidence for my case.

Again, I apologize if this comes out as unnecessary and unwarranted criticism. My short time in the military as well as my time teaching in Egypt has made me an astute observer of corporate culture. I may not know how to develop an excellent working environment, but I do know what doesn’t work.

I hope that was helpful.

I also noticed from your bio that you’ve spent some time overseas (Japan, Germany, etc). My startup is called TrekDek and I’m trying to bring the hostel lobby online. I would love to hear some of your travel stories and maybe bounce some ideas off of you. Beers are on me. You can reach me through e-mail or my cell at [redacted].

Cheers,

Dale

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t think you know how much I was laughing during this.

    Really, nothing short of awesome. I hope they beg you to work there.

    Reply

    • Haha I’m glad you liked the post. I hope that someone at the firm finds this blog.

      On a side note I think that the functional resume works slightly better.

      Reply

  2. Hint for any next interview – ask in front about the dress code if it’s not stated in an ad. For $24k I wouldn’t mind in someone fails to do so, but for anything higher this would tell me a bit about the candidate. Anyone should do his homework. If you fail with that, you will probably fail in other areas also.

    The guy interviewing you might have been prick, pretending to be a prick for a reason or just being realistic. This clearly wasn’t a job for you nor for me (my “thank you” letter would be very similar). But if the guy is a prick and he knows it and this was a very good interview! It filtered you out and it would filter out other people that just don’t fit. It’s not a selling pitch when he needed to sell you something doesn’t matter what, he knew what he was looking for.

    And for that reason I think the title of the post is wrong.

    Reply

    • Yea I agree. The title of the post should be “My interview experience (or how to screen people who don’t want to be yelled at).”

      Reply

  3. If somebody had the balls to send me an email like that I’d offer them a job on the spot. Good for you.

    Reply

  4. I really liked this post. It sounds like the attorneys (or any executives) who yell at administrative assistants are probably mentally ill and would benefit from psychiatric help. They’re probably experiencing intermittent explosive disorder. I’ve heard that working in the legal field can lead to all sorts of mental problems.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Shenny on April 18, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Great post, Dale, and I the e-mail you sent was constructive and informative. I hope it made a difference. Let me know if you end up meeting up with the interviewer or if he responds 🙂

    Reply

  6. […] not to end up in a job where I will want to throw myself off the Burnside bridge. I even wrote a blog post about one of my job interviews at a law firm. This may not be a realistic attitude, as I either have to start generating revenue or be homeless. […]

    Reply

  7. […] not to end up in a job where I will want to throw myself off the Burnside bridge. I even wrote a blog post about one of my job interviews at a law firm. This may not be a realistic attitude, as I either have to start generating revenue or be homeless. […]

    Reply

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