Preparing for an Uncomfortable Interview

August 20, 2013


Business Etiquette & Interviews

Nightmare of nightmares! After successfully struggling through your first year of law school or business school, you arrive at your first on-campus interview only to encounter some Big Law partner or corporate recruiter who makes a statement that presses one of your hot buttons. What do you do?

Well for heaven’s sake, don’t start to shake like a leaf. Eventually, you will encounter someone who asks or says something that makes you uncomfortable just to see how you react. Trust me on this. If you think every opposing counsel or corporate dealmaker you encounter will treat you like a long, lost, best friend, you’re about to be surprised.

Use your interview to demonstrate that you can handle uncomfortable statements with grace and good manners.

Illegal Interview Questions

If the question is illegal, demonstrate your knowledge of the law. By now, you should know it’s illegal for an interviewer to ask about your age, gender, race, national origin, marital status or sexual orientation. So, if someone asks, “Is English your first language,” please don't lie or take offense. Instead, politely reply, “I think we both know that question is off limits.”

Some additional specific illegal questions include:

  1. Are you married?
  2. Do you have children?
  3. When was the last time you had a drink? Used illegal drugs?
  4. Do you have outstanding debt?

By the way, any prospective employer who asks a law or business student about outstanding debt clearly doesn't have a clue about the cost of school today. Finish this interview as quickly and politely as possible. Then, look for an alternate job opportunity.

Uncomfortable interview questions

More likely, you will encounter an interviewer who makes an “unusual” or "uncomfortable" statement.

Earlier this year, one career services staff member told me about an incident in which a male law student—former military personnel and active supporter of gay rights as detailed on his résumé—encountered a lawyer who said, “I can understand why people sleeping in close quarters like a submarine might feel uncomfortable to learn that a bunkmate is gay.” According to career services, the job candidate was so stunned someone would make such a statement, he flubbed the rest of the interview.

As part of his interview prep, the job candidate should have imagined himself seated at a table with someone whose views diametrically opposed his own, someone like Supreme Court Justice Scalia. He could have imagined a response and thereby been better prepared--something along the lines of, "I can't speak to submarines. I do know the only issue that concerned the members of my unit was the completion of our mission."

Inevitably, when you start work, you will encounter people who don't share your opinions. Before you interview for an internship, a summer associate position or your first job, understand that you must work gracefully with everyone. Be prepared to respond to uncomfortable statements with style.

What Do You Need to Know?

Before your next interview, think about your hot button issues and decide how you will respond if and when they are pinged.



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