Tips for Recruiting

by | March 10, 2009

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Whether OCR or FCR, the same rules apply. Most law firm interviews are focused on personalities. This is different from interviews for many other corporate arenas, such as consulting, which often focus on substantive knowledge, complete with skill assessment tests. By contrast, many legal interviews focus on personality and general communication skills, and often devoid of any discussion of the law. "We look for someone who has a personality to gel with the rest of us," notes Brian Behar. It is not uncommon for a good interview to consist of 25 minutes of discussion about world travel, followed by a mere five minutes of questions about the candidates legal interests and the law firm.A few tips for a successful interview -- and to make sure that you make the right impression afterwards -- follow:

  • Dress for success: Look neat -- your hair should be in place, your shirt should be newly starched, your pantyhose without runs (always carry a spare), your suit recently pressed. Conservatism is the rule of thumb - conservative colors (charcoal gray and navy blue for men, neutrals for women), conservative styles (knee-length skirts and low heels for women, pinstripes for men), conservative hair and make-up, conservative everything. For many firms, this is practically mandatory. If you are neat, you might be able to get away with a touch of personality -- a colorful tie, a bolder-colored suit. Some firms might applaud your individualism; but others might write you off immediately.

  • Be yourself, and other interview tips: Ugh, the most irritating advice there is -- be yourself. The goal of interviews really is to enable both parties to get to know each other. In addition, all of the rules that always apply to interviews still stand -- "follow the stupid things your father taught you," says Florida practitioner Brian Behar, pointing to the importance of eye contact and a firm handshake. "Look for common ground, and talk about it," points out California practitioner Roger Friedman, even if that common ground as something as non-legal as martial arts.

  • Thank you notes: For some reason, to send or not to send a thank you note is one of the more controversial questions in the recruiting game. Some practitioners counsel against sending thank you notes, thinking that they are just one more opportunity to err through grammatical mistakes or other embarrassing boo-boos. Others see them as an opportunity to make a better impression. Legal recruiter Gavin Rubin sees "no downside, and only upside, in sending thank you notes -- everyone appreciates polite behavior." A thank you note will only reaffirm someone's already-positive opinion of you, or improve the opinion of someone on the fence.

Rubin recommends sending hand-written notes, kept short and sweet, to each of the attorneys you interviewed with, or, at minimum, or the recruiting coordinator. He also counsels against two no-no's. First, do not send thank you notes to some attorneys and not others; and be careful when using a computer to write thank you notes or address envelopes. Rubin has seen job candidates' chances plummet when they forgot to change the law firm's name or address when using computer templates -- it would be somewhat inappropriate to send attorneys at Smith & Smith thank you notes addressed to Jones & Jones.

  • Don't be a pig: The easiest (although most fun) way to make a bad impression is to take advantage of the firm's good nature and order the most expensive entree at lunch or charge the firm for room service champagne. Sure, feel free to use that budget that the firm allows you for out-of-town interviews, but always, always, always stay within it, and preferably well within it.

  • Be on time: Always factor in extra travel time, presuming that the subway will trap you or the plane will be delayed. And if you know you'll be late, call and update the recruiting office as soon as you realize this.

  • Be prepared and do your homework: Before each interview, take some time to learn about the firm -- from their website, from classmates who already worked there, and, of course, from The Vault Guide To Law Firms. Not only will interviewers be impressed and flattered that you know a little bit about their firm, but you will be in a stronger position to maximize your interviews by asking more specific and informed questions.

  • Plant the seeds for the future: You can plant the seeds for a successful future during even the roughest recruiting season. It's easy to get discouraged when OCR is not going your way because of mediocre grades. But a good interview can set the stage for better days ahead, when you have more impressive credentials. Interview like you're a champ even if you have mediocre first-year grades. You might not get the callback next year, but you will likely be remembered next year, when you've gotten your grades up. One New York City attorney recalls having a great interview at a prestigious law firm as a second-year. He wasn't invited for a callback thanks to mediocre first-year grades, but got his grades up significantly during his second year. When he interviewed again the next OCR season, the interviewing partner remembered him fondly and was delighted that his grades finally passed muster. The partner extended a callback invitation on the spot -- and, ultimately, an offer. The prior year's good impression paid off, albeit over a year down the road. So keep that in mind, even when you are getting discouraged.

  • Stay sane: Job hunting is always stressful, and each type of recruiting is distinct. FCR is stressful because of its lack of structure, the discipline and hard work required, and its uncertainty. OCR is stressful because of the all-intensive atmosphere that it creates, with students eating, breathing and drinking OCR. OCR in particular often brings out the competitive streak of law students, with the class divided between the have's, with their dozens of callbacks and offers, and the have-not's, those who end up with little or none. For many, this is the roughest time in law school.

Keep your perspective, and you'll survive. Remember two things. First, job hunting is not the be-all and end-all of your life. You will ultimately get a job, you will ultimately have a thriving career, you will survive it all. So take a break, see a movie, go for a run -- travel from the world of job hunting to the outside world from time to time, to remind yourself that that outside world continues to exist.

  • And stay (all together now) focused: And, second, remember your focus (always back to that word). Not to get the most callbacks, not to get the most offers, but to get one offer at a firm that offers the qualities that you are looking for. If you stick with that focus, you might very well end up having a far more satisfying first job than the classmate who ran around bragging about his full dance card but, unfocused as he was, ended up miserable at a firm that was prestigious but all wrong for him.

Filed Under: Interviewing

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