I’m not going to sugar coat it. Securing a summer associate position at a prestigious and economically healthy law firm is not for the faint of heart. The official on-campus interview process (OCI) is about to begin in earnest and it will be all-consuming for participating law students. Now is the time to prepare your strategy. During my 25 years recruiting for Vault Law/AmLaw 100 law firms I came in contact with every kind of applicant. I witnessed, first hand, what candidates in search of employment do right and what they do wrong. Unfortunately, all too often the wrong outweighed the right. Do not despair. If you are diligent, give the details the proper attention they deserve and put forth a well-executed strategy you can absolutely achieve success in this fiercely competitive process.
The on-campus interview phase of the hiring season is rigorous. The process progresses at lightning speed and at times you may find it difficult to catch your breath. Chances are you will find yourself interviewing with multiple firms on any given day. This chaos demands that you devise a system to manage it all. Putting together a chart to have with you at all times will help keep the firms in order. List prepared topics for discussion tailored to each individual firm. Record general information such as home office, number of attorneys, premiere practice groups, whatever you think you might confuse with another firm, so you can glance at it just before an interview. Also leave a column to jot down your notes immediately following the interview. Consider what will be useful to you in preparing for a callback interview with that employer. In addition to creating a “cheat sheet,” pull together four or five self-promoting characteristics or traits. List these strengths and couple each with an illustrative story from past experiences. Make these stories unique and compelling.
Telling you to know about each submission on your resume may sound like ridiculously obvious advice, but there are many ways you can be tripped up by its contents. Know how to speak intelligently – and with ease - about every tiny detail on this critical piece of paper. Can you recall the substance of your thesis in undergrad and engage in meaningful conversation about it? Can you relate your responsibilities at the job you had in 2008 to the law? You volunteered at a non-profit several years ago. How have the objectives of the organization changed since you left? Know how you will respond to any question that may arise from the document you presented to employers.
The list of what to do and what not to do during an interview is endless. In my mind, however, there are two areas that demand attention from every interviewee. First, show enthusiasm. Show each interviewer you are passionate about the law and you are excited at the prospect of joining their firm. Revealing you have been tracking a firm’s on-going, high-profile energy case is one way to show a healthy level of interest. On the other hand, an easy way to lose an offer is to display a disinterested, uninspired attitude towards the law, the firm or anything else for that matter. Whenever I suffered through a lackluster conversation, my vote was always “no.” I was only interested in students who showed a clear desire to be at my firm.
The second point all interviewees need to keep in mind is that they must ask questions. I was both astounded and mystified by how often students, when asked if they had any questions, would respond with a “nope, I’m good.” This is a terrible mistake to make – in any interview. I don’t care if, while engaged in a callback interview, you have been at a firm for 6 hours and are meeting the 10th interviewer of the day. You still ask questions. Saying you have no questions is never, ever an acceptable option. You can always come up with intelligent questions. Be creative and stay away from routine topics that are your responsibility to already know. By the way, it is a good idea to ask some of the same questions of different interviewers from the same firm. The responses you get, and how they differ, can be quite telling.
You are probably unaware that a significant percentage of interviewers don’t have a clue how to interview. There are the interviewers who have not had one minute of interview training. There are the interviewers who dominate the time talking excessively about themselves or some other useless subject. There are the interviewers who stare you down and say nothing. There are the interviews who ask ridiculous questions (“Where do you see yourself in five years?”, “If you were a golf club, which club would you be?”). With this entire crew anything can happen and you must be aware so you can adjust as needed. As a matter of fact, it will likely be up to you to take control of the interview (surreptitiously, of course). If you find yourself face-to-face with a partner displaying a healthy dose of pomposity you need to take action. Sure, you should humor such an individual, but only to a point. It is essential that you get important points about yourself across so you leave a memorable impression on that interviewer.
The interview process can be quite unpredictable. Know where things can go wrong and prepare ahead of time. If you do you will be far more at ease which will give you the confidence you want to exude entering any interview situation. Good luck!
Law students interested in a personalized consultation can reach Kara Reidy at Kara.firstname.lastname@example.org. With 25 years of law firm recruiting experience at two Vault Law/AmLaw 100 firms, Ms. Reidy provides law students with practical and effective advice on the job search process. Ms. Reidy's insider's perspective on law firm hiring helps law students understand the law firm mindset. Her extensive knowledge is a product of assessing the aptitude and potential of tens of thousands of law school candidates throughout her career.
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