I’m going to go with some particulars on this one. Because you just can’t quite gauge the WTF-ness of the interview without it. I’ve talked it over in a postmortem with a few people and basically everyone has told me the interviewers were just fucking with me, or potentially this was their idea of ‘testing’ applicants. Regardless, it definitely hits squarely in the midst of the stranger interviews I’ve had.
So I applied to an entry-level attorney position with a State based Gaming Commission… as in gambling. For anyone not an attorney reading this, Gaming Law is a niche field. As in a teeny tiny niche that pretty much is relegated to a handful of state attorneys per state and an equally limited number of generalist private attorneys who list it as one of 50 fields they claim some limited knowledge of; or corporate attorneys linked to casinos. It’s not something you ever read about in law school, and it’s not something you would run across in standard practice. It is a very small niche field generally under the umbrella of Admin law, and it is vastly different from state to state. Anyway, I show up at the office. Wait, did I say merely show up? No… you see although the position is going to be located at the office that is maybe 20 minutes away from where I live, the phone call to setup the interview tells me I have to drive almost 4 hours to go to the the state capital where the main office is located. Which is in the middle of a shopping mall right across from the food court. (getting the general flavor for the interview yet?)
So I show up at the interview and I am seated across from 3 of the senior attorneys of the office. The interview starts and about 5 minutes in, the chief enforcement attorney for the gaming commission wanders in and sits down across from me. He proceeds to slouch down over the table and start scribbling on a pad of paper and does not look up or speak to me for the next 40 minutes. One of the other attorneys continues on with the open ended “tell me about yourself / education / etc”. This leads another attorney to ask about my background in gaming law.
And here’s where it all just spins out.
I replied honestly that I have no background in gaming law. This shouldn’t be a surprise, all of these people across from me are staring at copies of my resume. But my response is met with what I can only describe as an icy stare back from the attorney. There’s a beat of silence in the room, and I continue on and say, “My understanding is that this was an entry level position.” I receive a general affirmation that it is… and then they continue on with the same line of questioning about my knowledge of gaming law. This line of questioning goes on for an uncomfortable few minutes before they decide unsatisfactorily that I am not going to admit I was just joking and I actually have an encyclopedic knowledge of gaming law. They abruptly turn the questioning and ask if I had visited their website. And I thought, ah-ha! I did, prior research will finally pay off. “So what did you think of it?” … oh crap. What did I actually think of it? It was useless to nearly everyone. It used a standard template and provided a useless mission statement and information that may as well not be public facing, because honestly when was the last time you ever wanted to file a petition to place a slot machine. The first thing thru my mind was that they must have recently paid someone too much money to update it and now I was stuck trying to come up with something nice to say. I generally sidestepped the issue by saying I used it only to try to do a bit of research on who I might be talking to and what the job would entail. This was partially a lie because the only way I was able to do any real research on the office was thru Google and various news articles because there was nothing of interest on their website.
Then they wanted to know if I read the Gaming Act for the state which clocks in at a good 170+ pages (which was linked on their website… maybe that was supposed to be a smooth transition that didn’t work out for the interviewer). “No.” I stopped short at adding “why would I?” This interview had long since crossed the line from conversational interview into the realm of adversarial interview. This answer also didn’t sit well. (Again, as an aside for any non-legal reader who might think their expectation is normal… it isn’t. If you apply for any entry level position the expectation is you will learn the information, not that you know it now. You became a lawyer and were intelligent enough to go through law school and pass the bar, the expectation is that you can apply your knowledge and learn any sub-specialty of law needed. You aren’t asked what your favorite local criminal statute is when applying for a prosecution position, nor are you expected to know how best to defend a client from tax evasion until you’ve been learning on the job for a little bit.)
I’m going to skip the majority of the middle part. Mostly it was stilted question and answer akin to the above, with the exception of some advanced tax law questions which went over the head of the attorney who asked them.
So getting to the end of the interview the lead attorney seems to wake up and for the first time looks at me and speaks. I’m told they are going to select 3 people for a second interview to find ‘the one’, and that the second interview is not really an interview it is a mock trial. Wait.. What? That’s right, if called back I would be given an exemplar case and I would have to argue this before a larger group of agency attorneys who would have an opportunity to
haze question me about it. I’m then told that basically I would have to study the state gaming act prior to the second interview and be prepared to come back and argue a case. Thinking quickly I ask if granted and denied petitions are available as public record so that I would know what I would have to be arguing. Most people would consider this to be an intelligent question, a lucid well considered idea that was showing that I was planning on putting forth effort in the endeavor. Instead it was met with the statement that no, everything in the office was confidential and not open to public records requests. Most normal interviewers would have ended the statement there acknowledging at least the initiative of the interviewee, but instead I was then told that any and all leaks of confidential information are thoroughly investigated and criminal charges are filed against the perpetrator who leaked them. The following silence and stare towards me was attempting to convey either the gravity of those words, or possibly meant to show that they knew my secret desire was to fling confidential memos all about me as I ran down a busy airport concourse. It could have legitimately been either one. I felt like somehow given the very emphatic stance taken during the interview, Edward Snowden had released something damning about this office and it just hadn’t made it to the media yet. This was followed up with a short statement that if hired I would be afforded enough time to learn the job, but that I would be very closely scrutinized and if I was not up to par I would be “kicked to the curb.” (I am directly quoting there). Yes, the interview had quite obviously taken the turn from adversarial directly to antagonistic.
Then in a strange about face, the tension broke for a moment and the head attorney leaned back and asked me how I worked with people who had strong personalities. And then he sorta amended it and said ‘interesting characters’ with ‘strong personalities’. Two attorneys at the end of the table snorted and sorta chuckled. Then it was amended again to how I would deal with these strong personalities when they tried to get me to do things which I shouldn’t be doing. This was getting good. Apparently the office I would be potentially working at had far crazier people than this, and they would be trying to force me to do things I wouldn’t want to do.
I hadn’t even made it to the second interview and they had already effectively threatened to fire me, file criminal charges, and told me I would be working with insane ‘characters’ with ‘strong personalities’ who would try to strong arm me into compromising situations. Nice. The interview ended with the head attorney asking if I had driven in the 4 hours just for the interview that day. Yes I had; Here I thought I would at least win a minor point showing commitment to getting the position. His response was that at least I had shown that I could make it on time to an appointment a far distance away. I maintained a judicious silence, because truly.. what could I have said to that anyway. And with that, the interview was over.
The job posting itself was posted in only one place online. Which is rare. Usually these types of jobs are splashed across a dozen job boards and scrubbed of identifiable info and re-posted on the scamsites of placement agencies. It turned out that it was only posted to the job board of the alma-mater of one of the attorneys, and potentially their own agency website. My nepotism radar definitely dinged on this, but whatever. Early in the interview (before it went bad), one of the attorneys made a point of bringing up that I had correctly included “THE” in front of Ohio State University on my resume, and we laughed about it. (for those not in the know, this is a running joke with Ohio State relating to their trademarked name… Ohio State is registered as “The Ohio State University” and if your T-shirt or whatever OSU branded item doesn’t include the “THE” then it is likely not a legitimate licensed item. Everyone who went there has had the indoctrination to this stupidity early on from some university functionary.) Now the normal assumption to most people, is that the person I was talking to was somehow connected to OSU. As I am leaving the interview he gives me a jovial handshake and says “we won’t hold that you went to OSU against you.” And I said.. Oh, I thought you had gone there too. He said, no I went to your rival. Again… from anyone at OSU, there is only one rival and that is Michigan. So naturally I say, “Michigan?” and he looks slightly confused and says no… and names a different state. One which not only doesn’t hit the level of being a rival, but which hasn’t come anywhere close in rankings in many many years. I mutter something about not being into sports so don’t hold it against me.
So I’m being walked out by the junior(ish) attorney in the room. And he starts telling me a little bit about the benefits on the way to the elevators. I figure why not considering how shitty the interview had gone, and I interrupt and ask him if the other applicants they had were actually experienced in gaming law, effectively trying to gauge the competition for the crazy I had just walked out from. They said no, not really, especially considering that the money being offered wasn’t that great and someone with more (any) experience would be making more nearly anywhere. I responded, you wouldn’t have known it from that interview. He said something to the effect that they were just trying to find someone who they thought could pick it up.
And with that, I went down and passed by the next applicant headed up the elevators. I almost said something. Almost. I wouldn’t want to ruin a surprise like what was waiting for him upstairs.