Tuesday, August 14, 2007

naked nose week

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I'm back at school a week early for on-campus interviews. It's odd to leave a place and return three months later as if nothing ever happened, remembering the same highway exits and shortcuts, driving downstate through the farms and fields, all dark green and heavy with the late summer's harvest, to the University town with its sandwich shops and tire showrooms, to the very street and driveway, gliding into the very same parking spot I used all last year. I say hello to one of my housemates, then meet two new ones. I dash into my room as if I'd been there only an hour before--except that I'm dragging a suitcase--and peel off my clothes. With only an hour before my interviews, I quickly change into my suit and apply--horrifying as it sounds--makeup to my feverish face. Face powder to even out the blotchiness, and a little eye pencil for drama. A dark lipstick conveys professional certainty, I wager. I make sure the transcripts I've ordered have arrived, I print out my resume and references on bond paper, and I dash back to the car, clutching my mapquest directions.

I am going less than two miles to my destination, but I just want to make absolutely sure I know where I'm going.

When I get there, people I recognize are milling around in suits. I greet some of them effusively then remember when they answer me with their friendly reserve that these people are not exactly my friends. After a summer with friends, being myself, even making new friends with the incredibly sweet and warm people at my internship, I remember that down here, things are different.

Down one hallway there are interview rooms. When it is your turn to interview, you stand outside the door of the room where you are scheduled. A piece of paper on the wall bears your name, with a time next to it. People in suits stand next to the white doorways, facing each other on the narrow corridor. We might all be in an existentialist play.

Some people are frightening in their suits; others are pretty vulnerable. Some of the men have a gleam in their eyes that says, this is the moment where I become powerful. Their jaws are clenched and their eyes glitter. Other people slump over in their chairs. They lurch out of the interview rooms looking straight ahead, or down.

The women are almost all friendly. They have a gleam in their eyes, too, but they stop to compliment each other on new haircuts.

Everyone is nice while waiting in the hallway. The biggest complaint I've heard so far is having to wear the same suit day after day. I think the people complaining must have a lot of interviews.

I don't. I just have one or two every day. I think I might have gotten these because of the lottery system where you pick your favorite firms, and you have a good chance of getting your top numbers. I got my top numbers. I picked the most gay-friendly firms, the ones that support Lavender Law and the lesbian and gay bar association.

My first interview was with a tax attorney who was also a CPA and did estates and trusts. He was mild, slightly rotund, and older, with pale blue eyes. He said my resume looked pretty public interest, so what was I doing interviewing with law firms? He said it kindly, which made me laugh. I asked him about GLBT lawyers at the firm. He said he was a "G." Then we had a great conversation about how much GLBT law was growing, past the usual areas of family law and labor and employment into estate planning, elder law, and more. I really enjoyed talking with him.

My next interview was with an ex-judge who had gone to work for a firm. She was delightful. When I described myself as older she chuckled and said I was around her age, so I switched my description to "experienced" and "seasoned" and she laughed. She kept pushing me to describe how a social justice-y type like myself would find a niche at a firm, and I told her that universities are large corporate employers too, even if they don't like to see themselves that way, that professors are constantly asked to balance what intellectual and research freedom they have against the financial rewards of doing administration, and thus many professors become very much like firm employees in an effort to make better salaries. I said that professors find the intellectual work they like to do, and that social justice may be in there, but that the pull of the work is what matters most, and that the pull of intellectual engagement can be what makes people find their niche in both academic and law firm settings.

She seemed to like that answer.

I turned the question on her--I felt I had nothing to lose--and asked if she could see me fitting in and where. She was thoughtful. "Labor law," she said, "and litigation, and even in our energy practice. I could definitely see you there."

I know you can't really ask that kind of question in an academic interview, but it seemed, oddly, to work in this case. Plus, it gave me some ideas to mull over.

I didn't feel like the job might be mine. But I didn't feel like I was only a formality.

I enjoyed those interviews. It reminded me, in a good way, of MLA interviews that seemed to "go well." It reminded me, too, that often those interviews don't result in a job, but somehow the civility of the conversation takes the sting away. Not all the sting, but some.

I come home, peel off my suit, and look at my nose in the mirror. I had taken my nose ring out before driving down to school, so I wouldn't forget and accidentally leave it in for an interview. I try to put the ring back in but it won't go. Did my piercing close overnight? I panic, then remember I've had it for at least six years. Sure enough, a straight post goes right in.

I look at myself in the mirror, a forty-five year old woman sticking pins in her nose to make sure she is still who she thinks she is. Maybe I don't fit in to anyone's idea of a summer firm hire. If so, I can breathe a sigh of relief and start looking for public interest summer jobs. The pay might not be great, but the work is supposed to be fantastically rewarding, public interest lawyers are among the happiest lawyers around, and I can probably wear nose jewelry sometimes.

On the other hand, that Summer Associate money sure would help out with tuition next year. Sigh.

I think that perhaps I'll have to get one of those nose screws that slips easily out and back in. You can take it out when you go to work and put it back in when you come home.

Nose screw. What a weird term.


Lawfrog said...

Even if a job doesn't result from the interviews, it sounds like you made some good contacts. I love your answer about universities being corporate employers. That is the truth. I am an alum of "Nike University" aka University of Oregon.

Nose screw...yeah that is a weird term. But then, there are many ways to be screwed in the legal field.;)

Sfrajett said...

Ha ha good point, lawfrog! I agree that the whole process is worth it, if only to get better at doing interviews. And it's fun to transform oneself with a suit every now and then!