On-Campus Interviews

by | March 10, 2009

Law school career services offices usually organize a forum for on-campus interviews for summer clerkships and permanent positions. Usually, law firms are the employers interviewing on campus, but occasionally there are opportunities for an initial interview for a judicial clerkship, or, even more rarely, for an in-house legal position or business job. Usually, students will register for on-campus interviewing and submit their resumes to the career office, which will then forward the resumes to participating employers.

Each school runs on-campus interviewing (OCI) a bit differently. Some schools allow employers to screen resumes and decide whom they would like to interview, while others do not. In any event, students look at which employers are coming and, if they are interested in interviewing, they submit a resume. Sometimes interviews are given by lottery, and anyone who submits a resume can obtain an interview slot. In this system, employers distribute information about the type of candidate they hire, so students who don't have high enough GPAs won't even attempt to interview with them on campus.

A "cattle-call"

On-campus interviewing can be a valuable learning experience. It is usually the first time many students wear suits and learn how to sell themselves to a prospective employer. One associate remembers, "We submitted our resumes to the career office for the firms with which we wanted to interview. If the firm was interested in us, they would post our names on a sheet in the hall. We'd sign up for a time to meet with the firm on the day they came to interview." A second-year associate reflects more wryly on his experience, "On-campus interviewing is like a cattle-call. It offers the comfort of doing what everyone else is doing, but you get the idea that most of the law firms could sort most of the applicants without even talking to them."

According to a Harvard grad who has served as both interviewer and candidate, "Having also been on the flip side as an on-campus interviewer, the students who really impress you are those who sell you with their personality. If people aren't that interested in the job and they look bored, then the interviewer is going to feel like you're wasting their time. You don't want to do that, because even if you don't get or take this job, you never know where you'll run into this person in the future. Even if you have an iffier transcript, if you really sell yourself, when the interviewer goes back, they'll push for you that much more."

The goal of interviewing on campus is to be invited to a more in-depth interview at the law firm. This is a "callback" interview. "Callbacks involved traveling to the firm's office in another city. Usually that meant missing at least half a day of classes and study time," notes the same Harvard-trained lawyer. "After the callback, it might take the firm another month or so to let you know if you received an offer or not. A phone call usually meant an offer, and a letter usually meant a rejection."

Some students find the on-campus interviewing process stressful. "I ended up getting my first 'real' job through an on-campus interview, but the process itself at my school was extremely competitive," says a sixth-year associate. "Those few months during which I was interviewing for a summer clerk position were THE most stressful of my entire law school experience. Although I was lucky to get several interviews, the law firms that came on campus were only interested in seeing students in the top 20 to 25 percent of the class. So 75 to 80 percent of the students were not even getting interviews. This led to a lot of resentment among my classmates. (Not to mention that the interview and callback process is extremely time-consuming and interferes with classes and study time.) Ultimately, we all got jobs, but most people had to use methods other than the on-campus interview process."

In any kind of screening interview, you have a brief amount of time to impress the interviewer, sometimes as little as 20 minutes. Use that time to sell your strengths, even if it means turning around the questions you're being asked to get across the message you want to send about yourself. For example, if the interviewer asks, "What can I tell you about the firm?" you might answer with a short statement about who you are and what you might be able to do for a firm like theirs. Then you show your knowledge of and interest in the firm, and you have given the interviewer more information about yourself.

One associate who has been on the evaluation end of the process reminds students that the interview is your opportunity to flesh out the limited portrait offered by your resume and transcript: "At law firms, often you get the interview or callback interview because the employer is already satisfied with your paper credentials and thinks you're competent enough to do the job. Once you're in the door for the interview itself, try to make yourself human. Remember that the interviewing lawyers aren't trained human resources professionals; rather, they're evaluating you based on whether they think they'll want to work with you. Be human. Communicate your personality to them. Show self-awareness. And don't be afraid to tell a modest story or two, so long as it flows with the interview and is short!"

Skin-deep

When on-campus interviewing begins, about half of your classmates seem magically to know the rules for dressing for interviews. The other half of you try to eavesdrop on their conversations. For those who want a written source of information, here are some basic guidelines.

Law firms hire people who are professional and detail-oriented. The clothes you wear to an interview should reflect those qualities.

Men

Men should wear a conservatively cut, traditional two-button-style suit from the best designer they can afford (high quality shows high standards). Most of your classmates will choose navy blue, but black or gray is acceptable as well. Make sure that your socks match the color of your pants and that your shoes are polished. (Brown and black are equally good.) Under your jacket a crisp white shirt is the safest bet, and wear a tasteful tie with a simple pattern. Ask others if you're not sure you can recognize a tasteful tie. Try to get a good haircut several days before your interview.

Women

Women should wear a fairly conservative navy or gray suit. Make sure the fit is not too tight, though the suit shouldn't be baggy either. Wear sheer pantyhose (preferably in a nude tone) and carry an extra pair in your briefcase or purse. Most women choose skirts that hit the knee, but some believe they will appear more professional if their skirts cover the backs of their knees. If in doubt, wear what makes you feel confident and professional. Wear a white or off-white silk shirt, preferably with a collar. The standard for jewelry is to wear a string of pearls and small pearl earrings. If your hair is longer than shoulder length, put it back. Don't paint your nails red. Wear basic black or navy pumps with one to two inches of heel.

Both men and women should wear a dress watch and carry a real leather briefcase. If weather is poor, you should try to wear a dress overcoat or trench coat and carry a classy, full-size umbrella rather than the disposable umbrella you picked up in a drugstore. Your interviewer is trying to picture how you would look to a client. Help him or her imagine that you've been dressing up and dealing with moneyed corporate executives all your life.

Filed Under: Interviewing


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