10 Tips For Making the Most Of On-Campus Interviews
The single biggest issue confronting any law student is how to turn their time in school into a successful career. To remedy this concern, law schools host on-campus interviews (OCIs), where legal employers come to campus to interview students for internship placements. While each school goes about this process differently, there are a few universal principles each student should know before applying. What follows are 10 strategies to ensure you make the most out of your OCI experience.
10 Tips For Making the Most Of On-Campus Interviews
1. Understand How the Process Works.
In a nutshell, law schools host employers from around the city, state, region, or even the country to conduct short interviews with students during the summer or fall following their 1L year. Depending on the school, sometimes students have access to OCIs during the spring of their 1L year!
Eligible students can submit a resume, cover letter, and other application materials to employers for initial review. Employers will then select a group of students to participate in brief 15-30 minute on-campus interviews with company representatives. To ensure maximum convenience for both employers and students, law schools will generally bring multiple employers to campus at once and schedule interviews back-to-back over the course of multiple days. A student with multiple successful bids has the opportunity to conduct several interviews in the same general space and in a condensed period of time.
After these short interviews conclude, employers will invite top candidates back for a second-round interview, typically at the law firm. The top candidates from this final stage are offered a position as a paid summer associate or intern following their 2L year. Interns who perform well are frequently offered permanent post-graduate positions at the end of the experience.
For anyone passionate about Big Law, an on-campus interview may be your first and best chance to land a position. For those who are more agnostic about postgraduate opportunities, the perks of this opportunity go beyond money and resume experience. Students lucky enough to receive a job offer will have the benefit of spending their entire 3L year knowing that a post-graduate job is locked up.
2. Explore the Different OCI Opportunities Offered by Your School.
Keep in mind that “OCIs” may refer to multiple distinct processes. The fabled summer and fall on-campus interview experience you’ve probably heard about is most commonly associated with larger law firms conducting hiring for their incoming associate class. Nevertheless, many government offices, private companies, and smaller firms interview at schools via a similar process throughout the year. Career offices will regularly announce upcoming interview opportunities with employers looking for summer interns. Be sure to stay up to date on school announcements so you can capitalize any cool job opportunity that comes your way.
3. See How the Role Fits Before You Apply.
As you no doubt know by now, the law touches every aspect of our lives. Each employer that comes to your campus will offer different opportunities based on its existing work and hiring needs. Many students make the mistake during OCIs of blanket applying to every employer offering interviews. Save yourself the trouble! For example, if you want to ultimately practice civil litigation, applying to criminal defense firms are probably not the best use of your time.
Similarly, you’ll want to understand what employers will expect of you as an employee. For example, it’s no secret that law firms exist to make money. During your on-campus interview, you need to convince firm representatives you are dedicated to ultimately becoming a partner and wealth-generator. This is a perfectly reasonable outcome for many in our profession, but it’s not for everyone. If you know that you’ll be miserable in a certain kind of job, don’t waste your own time or that of prospective employers by pretending otherwise.
As a side note, it’s ok to be unsure. If you’re on the fence about pursuing a particular career path, a summer internship can be a great way to test out the experience! Your commitment is only for the summer, and you can always decline a job offer if you find that it is truly not the right fit (whether it be a practice area or firm). If you give a job a try and decide it’s not for you, the world won’t end.
4. Be Prepared.
This should go without saying, but you need to spend more than a few minutes preparing for each on-campus interview. The relative brevity of each interview doubles this importance, as you’ll have less time to get your point across. Make sure you know your resume and application materials inside and out. Your interviewers expect you’ll be able to speak intelligently about anything and everything that you’ve submitted to them. Don’t really remember what you put in your writing sample? A bit fuzzy on the fact pattern from last fall’s mock trial competition? Take a quick look back so you can speak confidently to your interviewer. The more at ease you are at discussing yourself and your qualifications, the more prepared you’ll look to an interviewer.
You’ll also want to be ready to explain why you want to work at that particular employer. Customize your cover letter, interview answers, and end-of-interview questions for the firm in question. Read the bios of your interviewers and potential future colleagues. Look through press releases, news articles, and announcements both on the office’s website as well as across the internet.
Finally, just in case this isn’t obvious from every other interview you’ve ever been on, prepare questions ahead of time. You’ve only got a few minutes during an on-campus interview to make your mark. Use every opportunity as strategically as possible. Take some time beforehand to think of what you want to know about what life at employer X will be like. Not sure what to ask? Check out How To Make Useful Small Talk At OCIs.
5. You Don’t Need to Get Ready if You Stay Ready.
A word of caution: some on-campus interviews may arise with less notice than the traditional OCI period. It’s common for employers or alums to announce a visit only a few weeks or even days ahead of time. You don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity because you don’t have an updated resume, polished cover letter, or professional attire on hand. Even if your materials are set, there’s nothing worse than being rusty at interviews after a long layoff. Be sure to make time every semester to do a little prep. Update your application materials, clean your businesswear, and conduct a practice interview with career services. That way, you’ll never be unprepared when the opportunity of a lifetime is placed before you.
6. Lean on Your Law School for Help.
Employers participate in the on-campus interview process because they believe your school prepares students well for legal practice. This trust is in part the product of relationships cultivated over many years with the academic and professional staff at your school.
If you want to connect with a company or agency before, during, or after OCIs, don’t be afraid to utilize that goodwill to your benefit. Discuss your application plans with professors and your career services office. Ask around to see who may be willing to make a phone call or write an email on your behalf.
Always keep in mind that your school has an interest in seeing you employed after graduation. Employers would rather take a recommendation from a trusted source than sort through a stack of resumes! Your connections want to help you. You just need to reach out and ask. For more information on recommendations, see How To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation In Law School.
7. Don’t Discount Your Non-Legal Experience.
During my school’s on-campus interview process, the career services office hosted a Q&A session with prospective employers. For most employers, grades and letters of recommendation only told part of the story. These employers are looking for candidates who ideally have had some experience functioning in a company or office environment. Academic intelligence means nothing if an individual can’t be relied upon to be on time, solve problems independently, and work well as part of a team.
This lesson extended to my own interview experience. In one instance, a law firm partner noticed on my resume that I had lived in Europe after undergrad. A small comment turned into amiably chatting about our respective travel experiences that took up the entirety of my interview time. My law school record never came up, but I still got a second interview and was eventually offered an internship.
The takeaway from this is that your achievements throughout 1L will get you in the door during on-campus interviews. Once there, don’t leave the experiences and lessons learned from your non-legal life behind. Interviewers are looking for someone who is interesting to talk to around the water cooler and a good teammate during those late nights spent pouring over case materials. Show them you’re a dependable and friendly person, and you’ll greatly increase your odds of success.
8. It’s Not About What You Did. It’s About What You Learned Along the Way.
Your interviewers read hundreds of resumes that list variations of “Class Rank; Moot Court; Mock Trial; CALI; Club X.” It’s the person that can craft those points into a coherent and fluent story that will stand out. It’s not enough to say “I got an A in contracts and won my school’s moot court competition.” You need to be ready to speak about the journey. What strategies did you employ to balance your competing demands? How did you overcome failure? Who did you turn to when you needed help? How have you grown since 1L? What motivates you? The answers to these questions will show employers who you are as a person beyond the standard bullet points and how you’ll fare in the professional world.
Before you step into the interview room, take some time to reflect on your accomplishments as well as what you learned along the way. That way, you’ll be able to tell your story when on-campus interview day arrives.
9. Remember: You’re Interviewing Them Too.
When meeting with employers, remember that everyone in the room must make a good impression. It’s not unreasonable to expect that your interviewers will be respectful, energetic, and have thoughtful answers to your questions. If you’re not impressed by who’s on campus during the interview process, don’t be afraid to move on. Just because you have an opportunity to land an internship at OCIs does not mean you have to accept. Trust that you’ve been doing good work and that patience will lead you to a better fit elsewhere.
10. Take Something from the Experience Regardless of the Outcome.
The OCI experience can often feel like the latest episode in a never-ending series of law school make-or-break tests. After all, students who don’t receive an offer from a firm will be doomed to a life of toil and misery, right? Of course not! In fact, the vast majority of students will get their job sometime other than during OCIs. Acceptance and rejection during this one stage says absolutely nothing about your future as a legal advocate. If you don’t get a callback, it just means someone had a slightly better 15 minutes than you did. That’s life.
While you shouldn’t invest too much emotion in success or failure during on-campus interviews, do what you can to take wisdom from the process. Reflect on your interviews and consider how well you answered questions and how prepared you felt to discuss your resume. Then, debrief with career services and figure out how to make your application stronger for the next time around.
For many law students, the on-campus interview process can be the key to securing a dream job. By employing the 10 strategies discussed in this article, you’ll put yourself in the best position to nail the experience. For more on OCIs, take a look at How To Make Yourself Stand Out During OCIs.