Question: Can too much experience be a bad thing? I recently interviewed with a large firm for an associate position. I met with 2 partners and an associate. The firm was interviewing quite a few candidates and told me I could expect to hear back from them in 4 weeks, at which time they would either make a written offer or send a rejection letter. I sent thank you letters to everyone with whom I interviewed and waited eagerly for their decision. I really believed that this firm was a great fit for me.
After the 4-week deadline passed, I called to follow up. The recruiting coordinator told me they would not be offering me a position because I had more experience than they were looking for and they had decided to go with someone with less experience. She asked me if the partners had indicated to me that they were looking for less experience. I said not really. (One partner had indicated that compensation was based on class year and asked where I saw myself. I indicated that I was flexible, that I believed in proving myself. He seemed satisfied with my response).
I was disappointed, but I asked her to keep me in mind for any future openings that might arise. I also indicated that I am flexible as far as class year and would always be willing to consider an offer whatever it may be. She indicated that she would pass this info on to the partners in charge. Is there anything else I can do? How could I have better handled this situation? Please help.
Answer: Okay, let's try to take this step-by-step. I do not think that there is anything else you can do vis-a-vis this particular firm. I do not think you could have handled this situation any better. In fact, in my opinion, you did everything right! You sent thank you notes to everyone with whom you interviewed and then you made a follow-up call to check on the status of your candidacy.
Quite frankly, I think that if there is any fault in the way this particular interviewing process went, it is with the law firm. If they were rejecting your candidacy, no matter what the reason, they should have called you long before that absurd four-week deadline. And at that point, they should have lived up to their promise that either you would receive a written offer or a letter of rejection. You received neither, and you had to chase after them to find out that they were not interested. This was rather inconsiderate of them, wouldn't you agree?
Now to your main question . . . can too much experience be a bad thing? When you interview with one of the city's large law firms, they are looking for lawyers in very specific class years to fill specific positions. If they need a litigation associate with three years of experience, they are not going to hire someone with seven years of experience. The principal reason is that the firm does not want to upset its loyal associates who are already on partnership track.
By the time a litigation associate, for instance, reaches his or her sixth year of practice, there will only be perhaps three or four other litigation associates in the same class who are on the partnership track. And, as we all know, probably only one, or two at the very most, will be asked to join the partnership. Now, all of a sudden, even though the firm is looking for a junior associate, they make an offer to a seventh-year associate. This individual will be considered for partnership either one year ahead of these long-term sixth-year associates or in the same year as the sixth-years.
Can you imagine what would happen to associate morale in this situation? These associates were on the partnership track and honestly believed that they knew their competition. Now another associate has been thrown into the mix. This obviously changes everything. The sixth-years recalculate the odds of ever making partner, and may leave the firm sooner than they otherwise would have. If this firm is a loyal and decent employer, they will be sensitive to this. Naturally, it is to be expected that the firm will hire associates who will compete for these partnership slots if they need more lawyers in a certain class. But the firms are loathe to hire a more-senior associate when their needs call for a much more junior attorney.
Your willingness to be flexible about what class you are hired into, strange as it may seem, could also potentially have disastrous effects on attorney morale. Law firms have learned that a senior associate hired into a more junior class can easily become bored with their assignments and start asking for work that is more sophisticated. This sends up a red flag for associates in more-senior classes who, after years of spending all-nighters at the printers, are finally enjoying the fruits of seniority. If the firm's plum assignments start going to you, an associate in a more-junior class, the morale is going to plummet.
But having said all of the above, I suspect that the real reason your candidacy was rejected was not due to you being too experienced. If this had been the case, why would they have brought you in for an interview in the first place? Surely they saw your class year on your resume before they arranged for you to meet two partners (and an associate as well). Something happened during the interview stage of the process. It might be something as simple as they had a candidate who was stronger than you and they decided to pass on your candidacy.
But you should stop fretting about what happened with this firm. They were wrong not to contact you to tell you that they were going to pass on your candidacy. Don't worry; someone out there is certainly going to appreciate your experience, your professionalism and your attention to detail. Best wishes!
Summary: Learn if it is possible to have too much experience when applying for a specific law firm position.