August 15, 2004

Hint #2--Bread Plate, Left

My last day at the firm, a few partners took me, another summer, and a guy who was interveiwing for an associate position out to lunch.

We took a back table at a nice restaurant and enjoyed a multi-course meal followed by coffee. The partners, dressed in Valley Casual, compared war stories of how they had been hazed as young associates (required to wear suits and ties every day, yelled at on a regular basis, etc.). We all talked about how relaxed the firm was (for the benefit of the interviewee, no doubt) and how much the legal culture had changed.

After the interviewee left, the managing partner asked the other summer and I what we thought of the interviewee. I said, "It's hard to tell anything about how he'd do at the job after lunch, but he seemed cool. He didn't say anything that was socially awkward."

Partner1 smiled and said, "He didn't say anything awkward, but he did dip his bread into the oil and vinegar on my bread plate." Partner2 continued, "I know, I saw that, I thought maybe he was just confused and thought it was the general oil/vinegar plate, but I looked around the table and several of us had poured oil and vinegar into our plates, so he had other points of reference." "Huh," I said, "that's odd." "Yeah," said Partner1, "and he didn't rip off a piece of his bread to do it first. He just dipped the entire piece of bread and then bit it. I was concerned he was going to double-dip, so I just stopped using the oil." Partner2 replied, laughingly, "I was concerned he was going to do that as well." Partner1 shrugged his shoulders, saying "oh well, if that's the worst social blunder he makes in his life, he's better off than any of us..."

At drinks that evening, I asked Partner1 how the interviewee had fared over all. He was on the fence about him because he was very green and would need quite a bit of training. Partner1 has invested quite a bit of time and money training people with no industry experience, but he's not certain he has the time or desire to do it right now. He'd prefer someone who can hit the ground running, but he's not certain he'll be able to find that person. At the end of the day, this interviewee was a solid maybe.

I probably saw someone lose a job offer by not having decent table manners. This is much more harsh than it sounds. If he had been an amazing candidate, he would have gotten the offer, regardless of his gaffe. But, since he was only average, every little thing tipped the scale.

What do you know, career services isn't totally off in left field. So kids, be sure to bone up on your table manners before OCI. It can't hurt and it just might help.

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