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Rude Behavior During Interviews

Lawyers are prone to rude behavior, so you are bound to encounter it at least once during your interviews. If you feel that a question or remark is inappropriate, remember to respond in a calm manner Read Answering Inappropriate or Illegal Questions to help you plan your reaction to rude behavior. At the same time, learn to distinguish between rudeness and legitimate work-related situations. For example, always be accepting of an interviewer's need to answer the phone or talk briefly with his or her colleague. You will gain a great deal from the interview by being respectful and understanding.

Interviewers Behaving Badly

Rude behavior during an interview is rather common. Sometimes it consists simply of the interviewer interrupting the candidate, talking too much about him- or herself, and/or not giving the interviewee an opportunity to discuss his or her skills. Sometimes it involves asking inappropriate questions, making rude comments, or engaging in discriminatory behavior. Interviewers are also known to interrupt interviews to take a phone call, check their BlackBerries, and even respond to e-mails. Although junior interviewers are generally more polite (and also less likely to receive important calls), sometimes they can be just as rude as their senior colleagues.

Cindy once had a callback interview with a mid-level associate who told her he did not understand how Cindy got a callback. He proceeded to criticize her resume and disparage her law school grades. When his phone rang, he told Cindy he had to take it and proceeded to talk about random personal matters while she was still in the interviewing room. In short, he did not bother to make an impression because he had decided Cindy would never get an offer from the firm.

How to react to rude behavior

Your reaction to your interviewer's rude behavior is very important. Lawyers must learn to grow a thick skin, and some employers purposefully engage in rude behavior during interviews in efforts to weed out sensitive candidates. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is complain. Before acting upset, better be sure you are ready to give up an offer from this employer. Calling out the interviewer on his or her rude behavior may feel good, but it will not further your candidacy.

Shortly before Glen's on-campus interview was scheduled to start, an interviewer emerged to inform him that it would be starting late because he was on the phone with an important client. When he finally ended his phone conversation, there were only five minutes remaining before the next interview was supposed to start. The interviewer thus decided to cut Glen's interview short in order to stay on schedule. Despite only having five minutes of one-on-one time with his interviewer, Glen was enthusiastic about the job. He quickly proceeded to list the key reasons why he deserved a callback. Impressed by Glen's behavior (and likely feeling guilty for cutting the interview short), the interviewer gave him a callback on the spot.

No matter how badly an interview is going, try to approach it with an open mind. Many things may change between the time you encounter rude behavior and receive an offer. You may reevaluate your priorities, discover you overreacted, or decide it was not a big deal after all. Moreover, you may be pleasantly surprised by the firm's friendly culture during the second round of interviews. It is always good to give your interviewer and his or her employer a second chance.

If the interviewer's phone rings, acknowledge this by asking politely if he or she needs to take it and by indicating you do not mind waiting. Understand that the pressure of billable hours and increasingly demanding clients often means that attorneys do not have the luxury of ignoring phone calls or not responding to e-mails right away. Instead of getting offended, make the best of the time you have. Finally, keep in mind that lawyers sometimes get so preoccupied with their work that they unintentionally ignore an interviewee. If this happens, it is fine to ask if the interviewer would prefer to reschedule. Just do not overreact and ruin your chances simply because you think someone may be acting rudely.

Fred was excited about his lateral interview with a named firm partner. But when he arrived to the interview he was forced to wait. The interviewer acknowledged Fred when he was escorted into his office, but continued to talk on the phone. After 15 minutes went by, Fred grew impatient. When the partner finally hung up the phone and turned to his e-mail, Fred lost it. As he stormed out of the interviewer's office, the recruiting coordinator ran up to him to ask why he was rushing out. “I have seen everything I need to see to know—I don't want to work here,” he replied. The named partner, who was completely immersed in an urgent issue he was trying to resolve, was clueless about what had just happened.

Things not to do

As an interviewee, you must also be careful not to exhibit rude behavior yourself. Do not talk too much about things that preoccupy you but bore your interviewer. Do not be late, and do not appear distracted. And it should go without saying that you should keep your cell phone and BlackBerry turned off at all times. Because vibrating cell phones can be just as distracting as those that ring, do not use the vibrating function, either. And, of course, if your cell rings during an interview because you forgot to turn it off, apologize and turn it off immediately.

Cory had an interview with a partner and an associate. The interview was going well and the offer was forthcoming, until—the phone rang. It was Cory's cell phone. This alone would be enough to not receive an offer at some conservative firms. But the story did not end there. Cory got up, informed the interviewers he had to take it, and walked out, leaving them utterly speechless. He returned a few minutes later, and, although he apologized, he never offered any explanation for his behavior. One of the interviewers later remarked, “Let's hope that phone call was informing him of an offer, because we are certainly not giving him one.”

If for some compelling reason you must answer a call during an interview (and we cannot think of a good reason short of news of the birth of your child), keep it brief and apologize profusely. After taking the call, you had better have a good explanation for your behavior (“It's a boy!”).

If you go through several rounds of interviews, at least one of them is likely to be interrupted with phone calls, e-mails, or other urgent communications directed at your interviewer. It is a fact of life because lawyers are very busy people. Expect it, and when it happens, graciously pause and ask the interviewer if he or she needs to take it. Realize that interruptions are not personal affronts—they just happen. However, as an interviewee, never let your cell phone, BlackBerry, or any other gadget interrupt the interview.


  • • The legal profession is demanding, and interruptions are bound to happen during interviews.
  • • Be gracious and politely ask your interviewers whether they need to take the call.
  • • Likewise, if someone walks into the room during the interview, let the interviewer know you do not mind waiting or taking a break.
  • • Try not to judge the firm or the interviewer based on your brief interaction with them.
  • • Remember to turn off your cell phone, BlackBerry, and any other electronic gadgets during an interview.
  • • If your gadget rings, beeps, or vibrates, remember to apologize.

Nail Your Law Job Interview © 2009 , Career Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job Interviews