FCR largely mirrors OCR -- candidates generally progress from initial interview to callback interview to offer. The primary difference between FCR and OCR is getting the initial interviews. OCR is like a personal shopper for jobs; it brings the firms to you. It's the opposite in FCR; you've got to introduce yourself to the firms. No one's going to play matchmaker for you.
So the issue unique to FCR is getting your resume in front of the hiring partner's desk and securing that initial twenty-minute interview. How do you get into the dance? Remember the focus-troika -- focus your platform, focus your search, focus your credentials? Important in any job search, focus is particularly critical to FCR.
Focus your platform
In OCR, you have the luxury of dabbling and looking at all sorts of different firms, with so many firms coming to visit you and your law school doing all the footwork. In FCR, though, you need to marshal your resources towards firms in which you are really interested. The first step towards this is, in Gavin Rubin's words, "knowing your platform" -- figuring out the qualities that you are looking for in a firm. As with any job search, and as discussed above, start your job search by determining your list of "wants" -- firm size, geography, rotation system, areas of expertise. It's not that you shouldn't "know your platform" going into OCR; it's simply that the dearth of window-shopping in FCR requires a more concise shopping list from the start.
Focus your search
Once you know what you're looking for, find the firms that have those qualities, using the same research methods outlines above. In FCR in particular, there is a strong temptation to cast your net wide and contact as many law firms as possible. Papering every law firm in the city with your resume, however, is probably the least effective method of getting an interview. Law firms get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of resumes every recruiting season. Time constraints allow hiring partners and personnel directors to cull only a few candidates for every available position, with decisions made from a cursory look at resumes.
So you need to make that extra effort to sell yourself and show that you are the right match for the firms for which you want to work. If you contact 100 firms, you'll only have the time and energy to provide each with generic resumes and cover letters. If you focus on a dozen, you'll have the resources to research them in depth and target them more effectively. And once you've focused your search to a dozen firms, rigorously investigate them. Find out their client base, cases and deals in which they've been involved, pro bono and community programs in which they're involved. Find out if any attorneys are alumni of your law school, or college, or from your hometown. Really hone in on your targets, so you know the firms and their attorneys inside and out.
Focus your credentials
Once you've focused your search to a relatively short list of firms, focus your resume to match those firms. Again, firms receive hundreds of firms each season. So in FCR, it's even more important that your resume and cover letter match the firms in question -- and because you've focused your search to a narrow universe of firms, you have the time to really focus your credentials for each particular firm. What makes you a perfect fit for each of the firms? Have your resume and cover letter answer that question.
Maybe the firm is well known for its pro bono representation of a client on death row. If so, make sure your cover letter includes your knowledge of such representation and your own interest in anti-death penalty matters, such as a law school seminar and a note you wrote about the death penalty. If a partner spoke at your law school, mention that you attended that lecture and that it piqued your interest in the firm. If the firm has a significant number of French clients, highlight any of your French connections, such as your knowledge of the language and that college semester you spent in France. If the firm has won the inter-law firm citywide bowling contest for the past three years, feel free to mention that bowling is one of your hobbies in your resume (that is, if bowling is one of your hobbies).
Don't overdo it, of course; no one likes to be pandered to. But don't be hesitant about showing that you've done your homework about the firm, and that you think that you'd be a good fit. On the next page is an example of a cover letter tailor-made to the firm in question.
Focus your efforts
And now add one more focus for FCR: focus your efforts on the firms in which you are interested. Again, OCR gives you a huge advantage -- access to every firm in town, allowing you to be lazy as the interviews are scheduled for you. But if you are part of FCR, as adjunct to or substitute for OCR, you need to work to get the interviews you want, and focus your efforts on the firms you want. Of course, you start by submitting your focused cover letter to the personnel director or hiring partner. Popping that letter in the mail, however, is just the start of your efforts.
This phase is where all your hard work at attending local bar association meetings and developing relationships with professors pays off. Hopefully you have developed an array of contacts and mentors, and have a bunch of people who are in your corner and willing to give you a hand. If these networking efforts have led to your knowing members of the firms in which you are interested, contact them directly, and submit your cover letter and resume to them. Ask professors, mentors and other contacts if they are friends with anyone at the firm, and ask if they can put in a good word for you, and perhaps put you in touch with one of its members. Contact alumni of your law school who work at the firm. Attend local seminars conducted by the firm's members, and introduce yourself at its conclusion (hopefully after you've asked a substantive question or two during the seminar).
Bottom line: Networking is the most effective job recruiting method, especially in FCR (after all, all that OCR is a concentrated form of networking). You don't want to be a stalker, and so pushy and aggressive that you make a bad impression. But if you focus on efforts on developing a connection to people at your target firms, and are polite, interested and informed, you'll likely make a good impression. And this will hopefully lead to a conversation, then an interview, and, ultimately, a job.
OCR is only one avenue for finding a job. Many schools do not have thriving OCR programs, and in schools with active OCR schedules, many students conclude the process with no acceptable offer. Some students have no luck in OCR even in the best economy at the most prestigious law school. And OCR is often of no use for students interested in smaller firms, given OCR's slant towards larger law firms. For many of you, you will have the luxury of OCR; but for many others, you'll have to be a bit more creative in your job search, and rely on your own OCR -- Off-Campus Recruiting, or FCR.