Editor’s Note: Cara Fonseca is a rising 3L and the incoming Co-Chair of the LSA Career Mentoring Committee, which organizes the 1L Boot Camp Career Prep Series each year. For the second in our series of three posts geared to help rising 2Ls prepare for the on-campus interview process, Cara was kind enough to contribute as a guest blogger. The topic of this post is straightforward – how to interview with law firms as well as you possibly can during OCI and callbacks.
By now, a significant number of you probably have three little letters buzzing around in your head: OCI. You have worked hard all year, made it through two aggressive rounds of final exams, and now it’s summer. You are probably working somewhere awesome, but you also know there are other new and exciting opportunities on the horizon, especially if you are interested in working for a large firm. You have also probably heard through the grapevine that working at a firm offers the opportunity to get unbelievable training and experience, not to mention to work with awesome clients on fascinating cases. (Totally true!) Ok, so OCI is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, and you’ve decided how you want to bid and sent in (or are about to send in) your resumes and writing samples. So you’re ready for interviews, right?!?!
If you’re anything like I was as a rising 2L, you probably see the interview process as equally exciting and intimidating. I truly believe the interview is the most important part of the recruiting process. A great interview can get you an awesome summer associate offer, even if your grades are not the best in the class. Although I am by no means an expert when it comes to interview strategy and skills, I’ve provided a bit of my own advice and tidbits from interviewing attorneys, summer associates, and junior associates to compile a list of tips and tricks that I hope you will find helpful as you enter into your own interviewing process:
- Be Yourself.
This is so, so, so important. Law firms take special care in selecting which attorneys will be on-campus interviewers, and each attorney that is selected to interview is a “people-person.”
By this I mean that he or she is an expert on detecting sincerity and genuineness, and will be able to see through any kind of act you put on. Yet by the same token, don’t be afraid to come across as enthusiastic or excited about the firm if you truly are. As long as it is authentic, it is totally acceptable to tell an interviewer that his/her firm is your top choice if they are. One of the main complaints from OCI interviewers is that students they interview come across as unenthusiastic about the firm, bored during the interview, or entitled to the job. While this advice might seem slightly contradictory, evaluate your personality and decide the way you want to present yourself.
In addition, even if you think you don’t have any extraordinary work experiences or super-impressive academic accomplishments, know that that is not even close to a problem. All you need to do is identify a few of your strongest talking points, things that you feel comfortable and confident speaking and answering questions about. This could be any experience, skill or even a random fact about yourself that you can discuss with passion and enthusiasm. Try to think of how that experience can be connected to a skill or quality that will contribute to your success in the future.
Whatever YOU have, bring that to the table and be honest about it. For example, in one of my favorite interviews last year, we spent almost the entire time talking about my experience as a restaurant server. While that seems to have no relation to working at a law firm, I talked about the customer service skills I developed, how I learned to juggle multiple tasks at once, how I learned to ask for help when I needed it, and how I came to understand when to say “no” to responsibilities I knew I could not take on.
All of those lessons are critical to the success of young attorneys at big firms. So even an on-its-face-inapplicable experience can provide a strong basis for a relaxed, interesting and memorable interview. Each firm has its own unique culture, and it is important to be yourself in your interviews to identify if the firm is the right fit on both ends, for you and for the employer. Play up your strengths and let your personality shine through.
- Be Prepared.
Do your research before heading into each and every on-campus interview. Research the firm and the particular office that you are interviewing for, and be ready to ask questions intelligently. Interviewers are not expecting you to be knowledgeable about private investment funds, patent litigation, or any of the other nuanced practice areas of today’s top law firms. But they do want to see that you are interested in and curious about the firm’s work. Poke around the firm’s website to find out what their practice areas are and what types of recognition and accolades the firm has recently received. Browse through some attorney bios and check out resources like NALP, Vault and the Chamber handbook to get background information. You might also consider reaching out to young associate alumni from BC who are working at the firms you want to interview with/have secured interviews with. Try to glean from them what makes the firm tick and what the firm prides itself on that you would not otherwise be able to determine from the firm website. Incorporate this insight into your interview and the firm will be impressed that you went out of your way to learn about them from a current attorney!
Additionally, you will want to research your interviewer. You will know ahead of time who the interviewer is for your time slot, so take an extra 5 minutes to identify his or her area of practice, where he or she went to school, and where they are from. These facts can become powerful talking points, particularly if you discover you have something in common with that person. However, don’t be thrown off if the person sitting across the table on the day of your interview is not who you expected. This happens all the time. Attorneys are busy and often have something pressing last minute that requires them to find a substitute interviewing attorney to take their place. There is honestly no way to prepare for that situation, but play it cool. This is an opportunity! Ask questions and show a genuine interest in learning about your interviewer’s practice area and experiences.
VERY IMPORTANT: KNOW what is on your resume and what your writing sample is about, and be prepared to talk about anything and everything contained within each of those documents. Everything on your resume should be of importance, and you should think about how it will read to someone who doesn’t know your life story. Generate a narrative about you and your choices that makes sense, even if they didn’t make sense at the time! Review your writing sample and have a brief description of what your writing sample addresses ready in case you get a question like: “I haven’t gotten a chance to read through this whole thing yet, can you tell me what it is about?” Clarity and brevity are the keys to success here.
Finally, recognize that your OCI interview is only 20 precious little minutes. The most efficient use of your time is to weave experiences into your questions, framing them in a strategic way. Make sure you focus on what you can do for the firm, and not just what the firm can do for you. For example, it’s great if the firm has a killer securities law practice and you worked at the SEC last year, but instead of simply saying “my internship at the SEC got me interested in securities litigation so that’s why I want to be at your firm,” say something like “I reviewed a lot of SEC filing documents during my internship at the SEC and I’ll be able to apply that knowledge to doc review as a first year associate.” It’s a subtle difference, but really try to spin everything about your work/academic experience into added value for the firm.
Or try to show that you have truly thought about your questions and have a purpose behind them. For example, instead of simply asking, “What kind of work do fourth/fifth year associates get?” you might want to say something like, “Whichever firm I go to, it’s really important to me that I’m continually getting work that is advancing my litigation skills so that I will eventually be able to run a case. What kind of assignments do you usually give to fourth or fifth year associates?” This can also show that you have intentions to stay with a firm long-term, which is increasingly important to firms today.
Bottom line: Don’t ever let ’em see ya sweat. (Even though it will likely be 95 degrees outside during OCI and you likely may be physically sweating… Also be prepared for that!)
- Make Your Interviewer Smile.
Interviewers often have incredibly long days scheduled, where they will meet perhaps 20 incredibly talented students. Try to make the experience enjoyable for them by staying positive.
If you are funny, make a joke! If you can get your interviewer laughing, that is excellent. If you are not all that humorous, a joke may not be appropriate, but perhaps try to incorporate a *relevant* anecdote. Be courteous and appreciative of their time. Say thank you, and then say thank you again by sending a follow-up e-mail. Be sure to get your interviewer’s name, whether that is by asking for their business card or writing it down on a notepad you bring with you.
In speaking with a partner who often interviews on-campus about what he looks for in candidates, he told me that when he is conducting an interview, he has one particular thought in mind: Would I want to spend 6 hours stuck in an airport with this person? Remember that your interviewer is a person too! Often your resume and transcript can speak for itself regarding the strength of your academic performance, so use your interview to highlight the things about you as an individual that are not captured on paper. You want to be professional and prepared, but you also want to think of your interviewer as a potential colleague and friend, because that is more than likely how they are thinking about you. Being hard-working and reliable are just as important as being a good communicator, being able to laugh at silly mistakes and being optimistic in the toughest of situations.
Good luck everyone! I am sure you all will do exceptionally well. And as Rob’s blog post mentioned, feel free to reach out to any of us with questions.
My name is Cara Fonseca and I am a rising 3L at BC Law. I am currently a summer associate at a law firm in Boston. This year, I will be co-chairing the LSA Career Mentoring Committee and helping to organize the 1L Boot Camp Career Prep Series.