Success during this important season requires students to thoroughly prepare for on-campus interviews (“OCI”).
Too often law students erroneously assume that their grades will get them the job. Truthfully, strong grades will probably get you in the interview door, but grades alone will not get you the job.
Law students need to proactively approach OCI season, and that means effectively preparing for the process.
Step One: Have your materials reviewed by an expert to Prepare for On-Campus Interviews
The first step to OCI success is to ensure your materials are flawless, and a career advisor at your law school can help you achieve this goal. Career advisors are experts in their fields. Most law schools only hire licensed and experienced attorneys into these roles. And your career advisor will generally have direct experience in the field in which she is advising. (I.e., your career advisor likely went through the OCI process as a student and may have previously worked in Big Law.)
The benefits of having a career advisor review your materials are–at least–two-fold:
- A second set of eyes. It is very difficult to proofread your own work. Career advisors generally review thousands of resumes, cover letters, and other documents. So you shouldn’t expect them to catch every error. Your resume is your responsibility, so you’ll want to print and proof it yourself. But, it is helpful to have a second set of eyes on your materials to catch any errors that might have slipped through the cracks.
- Drafting your resume and other materials for your audience. Again, your career advisor will be one of your top resources here because she knows your audience, and she knows what they seek in summer associates. Schedule an appointment with your career advisor well in advance of the OCI season, and ask her to review your materials with an eye toward Big Law. She can also advise you on how to build your resume for a large law firm audience.
Step Two: Practice your interview skills to Prepare for On-Campus Interviews
I once had a student tell me that she didn’t need to practice her interview skills because she had previously interviewed for and obtained a position at a store in the mall. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy that a lot of law students believe. But legal interviews are far more intense than most interviews. Law firms expect you to be polished, professional, and focused.
Essential preparation includes the following:
- Obtain a list of common OCI questions. Most law schools have a list of the most common on-campus interview questions, and the OCI Success Series contains a book that details the most common questions along with how to effectively answer them. Getting your hands on common OCI questions will be your starting point because you can’t adequately prepare if you don’t know what the interviewer will ask.
- Practice your answers aloud. Students spend considerable time thinking about how they will answer the interview questions. Some students even prepare by handwriting or typing and then studying their answers. But students often forget to practice their answers out loud. This is one of the most important steps in interview preparation because speaking your answers is more difficult than thinking about how you plan to answer or writing your answers.
- Attend a mock interview. Many schools offer a mock interview program in advance of OCI where students can get feedback on their interview skills and practice their answers before the big interviews. If your school doesn’t offer this, consider asking your career advisor to mock interview you. It’s also helpful to practice with a friend or family member (though I don’t recommend this being your only source of mock interview preparation) because it can help you build confidence answering questions on the spot.
Step Three: Participate in pre-OCI or “precruiting” events
Prior to OCI season, large law firms offer a number of opportunities for students to get to know their firms. These events are helpful for at least two reasons:
- They help you build connections in advance of the interview. Many law firms will send attorneys–some of whom are members of the hiring committee or will be conducting on-campus or callback interviews–to attend the pre-OCI events. Making a good impression during one of these events can help you during the interview process because the firm will already have a favorable opinion of you.
- They can help you answer interview questions. One common question that students struggle with is “Why do you want to work here?” Networking with the firm prior to the interview can help you answer this question because you will likely learn something unique or special about the firm that you can use as one of the reasons that you are interested in the firm. (As I explain in Landing the Big Law Firm Job: How to Answer the most Common On-Campus Interview Questions, one reason is not enough.)
Step Four: Do your homework
Before stepping foot in the interview room (and even before drafting your cover letter and resume), you need to know your audience.
Most large law firms are business law firms, which means they generally represent business entities and their practice areas involve some form of business. Think about it like this: who needs contracts drafted? Typically businesses. Who needs intellectual property protection? Businesses. Who needs to be defended in a lawsuit? Often businesses.
The information in the paragraph above should give you a general idea of what your audience seeks, but in addition, you should know the following before the interview:
- Who are the firm’s clients?
- What are the firm’s largest practice areas?
- What makes the firm and its summer associate program unique?
In short, you’ll need to thoroughly research the firm before the interview, so you can be prepared to answer questions like, “Why do you want to work here?”, “What do you know about the firm?”, and “What areas of law interest you?”.
Conclusion to How to Prepare for On-Campus Interviews
Thorough preparation is critical to on-campus interview success. To maximize success, be sure to take advantage of the resources and pre-OCI activities your school offers.