On-campus interview (OCI) season is almost upon us, and you’ve no doubt gotten plenty of interviewing strategy advice from other law students, professors, and mentors.
But are you truly prepared the way you should be? Are you confident that you know what to expect, what to lean into and what to avoid, and how to make the entire process work for you? What better way to do that than to take advice from the interviewers themselves?
Who Participates and What are They Looking For?
The majority of OCI participants are large law firms who plan their employment needs a year in advance, with the occasional midsized firm participating; small firms rarely recruit in this way. Government agencies and various types of consulting or accounting firms may also participate. These interviews are the first look at prospective firms that most law students will get—and the first impression firms will get of you, so make it count. These firms take these recruiting opportunities very seriously.
Firms are generally looking for the best students—the top 10% to 15%—but they are also interested in other impressive academic credentials, like law review. They seek mature candidates who are knowledgeable about the firm and can speak in detail about things they’ve worked on, what they’re interested in, and why.
How You Can Stand Out
You will best stand out by truly engaging with your interviewers—don’t just speak in generalizations when talking about your accomplishments and what you’re interested in. Did you develop an interest in tax law or intellectual property after initially not being sure those practice areas were for you? Talk specifically about what now engages you and what you’d like to learn more about, connecting it to the focus of the firm you’re interviewing with.
Firms understand that you most likely have no actual law firm work experience so early in your studies. Can you think of how to relate what work experience you do have to the qualities a firm is looking for? Talk about actions you’ve taken in a work situation that show initiative, creativity and good judgement: Maybe you created a streamlined, more efficient scheduling system at your part-time job, or earned a raise by organizing an outdated digital filing system that no one had wanted to touch. Even if you did these things working in your apartment building’s management office or as your uncle’s dry-cleaning assistant, they show how you approach your job.
Practice what you’re going to say to interviewers, but don’t memorize large swaths of dialogue so that you sound like you’re in a play. Remember that interviewers will be talking to people all day long, and you don’t want to bore them to tears by being robotic. Have a real conversation. In fact, one way to stand out is to ask them a question or two about what they are currently working on and their own thoughts on the firm. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and you will leave a positive impression by showing a sincere interest in the inner workings of the firm rather than just rattling off the same facts about yourself to each person you speak with.
What Not to Do
You don’t want to be forgettable, but you also don’t want to stand out for all the wrong reasons. There are definitely a few things you should avoid:
- It’s usually not a good idea to ask about cases mentioned on the firm’s website, since the interviewers probably have no idea about what’s on the website and will likely know little to nothing about a case that happens to be mentioned there.
- Don’t complain about the recruiting process, make disparaging remarks about other firms, talk about your weekend plans, or steer the conversation in a jokey direction.
- Don’t ask about things like work/life balance or pro bono opportunities; there will be an opportunity to talk about those details if you get called back for a second interview.
- Don’t underprepare. Research every firm you’ll be meeting with by doing more than just skimming their website. Go deeper to be sure you understand what the firm focuses on and can speak about it in a knowledgeable way.
Remember that these firms are looking to you to help them solve a problem: They need lawyers, and they are hoping that you can be one of them. They’re on your side! Make it easy for them by being prepared and bringing your best self to the interview.