Woman at Job interview, looking dejected

SPILL: Top Job Interview Turn-offs

  • June 05, 2019
  • Emily Sinkins

Interviewers who trash former employees or treat support staff shabbily? Questions that delve into the personal or devolve into the ridiculous?  A culture that patently lacks diversity, healthy boundaries or balance? We asked members, as a candidate, what could you experience at a job interview that would give you pause about pursuing the role?

Delayed and Distracted

Everyone is busy, but interviewers who demonstrate little regard for the time and attention candidates are devoting to the process, raise red flags about a culture lacking respect and reciprocity.

“Many years ago when I was interviewing for an articling position, the two lawyers interviewing me were on their cell phones responding to emails for the majority of the interview,” recalls Sandra LeBrun, member-at-large on the OBA’s YLD – East Executive. “They would basically chime in with a question then zone out to deal with emails. I remember thinking to myself that I did not want to be part of an organization that could not give me 10 minutes of their time.”

Sina Hariri, member-at-large on the YLD – Central Executive, is similarly put off by “An interviewer who is behaving as though they have better things to do, or who is not on time and disorganized … showing up half-an-hour late for example.”

A Two-Way Street

What many interviewers forget is that job interviews are not just about candidates putting their best foot forward, but about employers showing themselves off in a positive light, as an attractive place for lawyers to contribute and grow.  First impressions matter – and candidates develop those as soon as they walk through the door.

Dana Lue, YLD – Central Executive chair, considers it  unprofessional at best and a deal-breaker at worst when,  “an interviewer is unprepared to meet you, reception isn’t expecting you, they don’t have your resume in front of them, they don’t have questions prepared, or they don’t ask questions specific to you.”

And, while interviewers can leave an interviewee feeling ignored in favour of their phone, they can also ice out the interviewee by foregoing free or formal exchange for monologue, taking advantage of a captive audience to talk exclusively about him or herself. Just as it would on a first date, this interview misstep demonstrates an obliviousness and distinct lack of interest in the perspectives of others that does not bode well for mutually beneficial connection.

Investing in a professional relationship requires a commitment on both sides. “A lack of corporate self-awareness is fatal for me,” says Zach Shaver, YLD – East Executive regional coordinator. “If you want me to describe what my career will look like five years from now, I want to know what and how you would rate a successful firm now and into the future.”

Rude Awakening

In assessing a potential employer, lawyer candidates are looking both at career potential and an environment that will support their aspirations in accordance with their values. How interviewers treat each other -- existing colleagues – carries even more weight in unlocking a workplace dynamic than how they treat job hopefuls.

“During one of my interviews, a lawyer spoke condescendingly and bitingly to another lawyer on the same panel,” Victoria Yang, YLD – South West Executive vice-chair, remembers. “I was surprised and taken aback by his behaviour, and decided in that moment that I could not work there.” 

No Way, Baby

Often during interviews, the questions reveal more about the asker than the responses do about the applicant. There are lines of inquiry that paint a stark portrait of unrealistic expectations and biased beliefs. One lawyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, has unfortunate first-hand experience with this off-putting predicament: “At my first job interview at the end of my maternity leave, I was told/asked ‘When you are working with us, it will be your top priority. How are you going to balance that with the fact that you are a mother now?’”

Needless to say, this is not the way to attract top talent, but rather, the ultimate turn-off for many previously keen candidates. “At that moment,” this lawyer recalls, “I knew for sure I did not want the job. I wish I would have stood up and just left. Instead, I gave the answer they wanted to hear, got the job, and told them, ‘thanks but no thanks.’”