“Yes, I’m a mom…”

Facing job interviews as a new mom can be daunting. I weathered the storm of clerkship & job applications with a seventeen month old, and I was very nervous about the whole mom thing coming up during interviews. My advisor, a mother to young children herself, tried to assure me that it was no big deal — I could bring it up or avoid it, but either way I’d be fine.

In the end, it was fine. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t tricky.

I had three interviews, and the baby came up in all three.

Interview #1 was not good. I would not have brought up the fact that I had a child with my intense (male) interviewers had I the choice, but they pried so much that it had to come out. I took a semester off when I had my son, and instead of politely dancing around the issue, they dove right in and asked directly why I had taken a semester off. Since they asked directly, I decided that I would answer directly (i.e. I didn’t fudge it and say I took off for “medical reasons” or something equally vague). Well, things got awkward after that, and I was really doing damage control the whole way. It wasn’t pretty.

I learned something, though. The awkwardness that ensued told me immediately that this was not the job for me. If my interviewers couldn’t accept a basic fact of life (i.e. that women… yes, even job applicants… have families) then I didn’t want to work there. The. End.

Of course, I was disappointed and flummoxed in the moment, but upon reflection on the train ride afterward, I realized that it was better to learn these things in a job interview rather than after starting a new job. (I’d also note, that while the interaction was awkward, no discriminatory questions were asked, though I will never know if the fact that I’m a mom had a part in their decision to reject me.)

The baby didn’t come up in Interview #2, at least not with the judge. It came up in passing with his permanent clerk (I guess that semester off is a glaring hole in the resume!), but she was unfazed by this fact, and I didn’t go out of my way to raise the issue the judge once we were in his chambers. Which was fine. I still got the sense that the chambers was welcoming and it would likely not have been an issue anyway.

The mom thing came up again in Interview #3, and I felt much better about it. Not only did I have more confidence in interviewing generally after having gone through it twice already in the last 24 hours (and talking to myself for the two hour drive to & from Interview #2), but I also noticed a breast pump hiding behind some files in the current clerk’s office. Once it came out, the judge moved right along, not seeming to care one way or the other, and we had a great discussion about the law and about the clerkship.

I don’t know if it’s a gender thing, but the women I interviewed with (Interview #3 was with a female judge) were much more relaxed about the whole issue. Interview #1 was an all-male crowd, and while they didn’t act in a discriminatory manner, their reaction was a bit more shocked than was appropriate. Coming out of this experience I’d have to say that I’d think twice about revealing the fact that I have a young child to a male interviewer. However, I really do think that observing an interviewer’s reaction to motherhood is useful not only as an indicator of how family-friendly a chambers or office is, but also of how well a potential employer can relate to people as an interviewer or as a boss. It’s your interview, too, and even though it’s hard to see that in the moment as an interviewee (and especially in this economic climate), when there are red flags, it’s better to walk away and just withdraw your application than to chance being stuck in a crappy situation later.

If your a mom going through law-related interviews, how has it been for you?

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