Sunday, May 23, 2010

A coffee shop interview

There are tons of differences between the life of a yogi and the life of a lawyer. But there is one I just had not thought about until recently. I had my first interview for a yoga substitution list. We met at a coffee shop. Of course, it was a local place that is part of the new downtown Phoenix. I thought nothing of it . . . until I was talking to someone from the law school. In passing, I said, "I just had an interview at the coffee shop by the market." (We were talking about the market.) Her mouth just dropped.

I had to think about it for a moment, and then I realized she thought I meant that I had a legal interview at a coffee shop. I laughed and told her that it was for a yoga studio. She smiled and seemed to say, "that's okay then." 

For some reason I have been thinking a lot about that discussion. That coffee shop interview was one of the best interviews I have ever had, and during three years of law school, I had a lot of interviews (not so many offers). There is no way to put it nicely; interviews are awkward. During law school, we go through a process called On Campus Interviews (OCI) where the students sit in a waiting room waiting to be called back into the small rooms where interviewers sit for 8 hours interviewing students every 20 minutes. I have heard it likened to speed dating and waiting in a doctors' office - neither an ideal situation for deciding where you could potentially spend your professional life.

Interviews at a law firm are only slightly better. After trying to decide whether to accept the bottle of water being offered (cumbersome to carry but necessary to keep the mouth from drying out), the interviewee is shuttled from one office to the next, forced to interrupt people who would rather be billing time. A plastic smile on both sides, and no one is quite sure who is trying to impress whom. The interviewers have the leg up because it is their turf, but most of them are not experienced at interviewing people. That seems to have been my law firm interview experience.

What a relief, then, to have a yoga interview. First, we were on neutral territory, a coffee shop. There was no need to comment about how cute the partner's family looked on the beach in Hawaii. Second, we both had drinks, and it was expected. We could start by joking about caffeine in the afternoon. But most importantly, we interacted and learned about each other. From discussions of whether to teach yoga in a gym to what the owner likes the classes at his studio to cover, I got to understand the person with whom I was speaking. And she got to know me as well. In addition to the location, we also spent nearly 2 hours chatting.

I realize that no lawyer has two hours to spend interviewing. Instead, we sell ourselves on grades and law review. We are taught what to wear at interviews and given canned questions to ask in order to look interested. Sometimes we are, but rarely in all my interviews did I meet the real person. I met drones. That is certainly not true of all my interviews, but there was something special about the coffee shop. It felt like I was reentering the world. 

Certainly, lawyers can learn from yoga how to breathe deeply, how to de-stress, how to live a more mindful life, etc. But perhaps a good place to start is with a coffee shop interview. What can we learn from each other in such a space? Interviews are, after all, about getting to know the person when everyone seems so similar on paper. Even I laughed at the notion of a law interview in a coffee shop when the woman from the law school expressed such shock at my interview locale. Perhaps, however, that is exactly what is needed. Speed dating is, after all, a lot more pleasant with a nice Iced Coffee than in a cramped room somewhere on a university campus. I think I would actually look forward to interviews if they all occurred over a cup of coffee and conversation.

Namaste and Blessings!

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