How To Make Useful Small Talk At OCIs
If the term “small talk” makes you cringe, keep reading to find out ways to ease into it and use it to your advantage during the on-campus interview process! Being able to make small talk at OCIs could make a difference between landing a job or not!
How To Make Useful Small Talk At OCIs
1. Find out positives and negatives about the firm.
A great question to ask is: “what is something you like about the firm?” and “what is something you would change about the firm?” This proves to be a well-received question by interviewers. Asking this two-part question showcases your ability to tactfully ask a question that most job seekers have while staying positive.
Once the interviewer answers your question and tells you what they like about the firm, follow up and engage with them. If what they like about the firm is something you are unaware of, say that! Watch as the interviewer lights up with excitement to talk about something within the firm that they are passionate about and you are interested in. Make comments like, “I would enjoy contributing to that project” or “that is the sort of workplace culture I am interested in,” or keep the conversation going with more questions.
Asking the interviewer to tell you what they would change about their workplace is an excellent way for you to find out potential issues. For example, issues with culture are difficult to discern before you begin a job. And asking a general question, such as “what is the workplace culture like” will likely yield a general answer. On the other hand, if the interviewer’s response to what they would change is not as negative as you anticipated, that may bring you some comfort in knowing it’s a good fit for you.
2. Ask about the interviewer during the interview.
Most lawyers love to talk about themselves. Common advice given to law students is to research their interviewer. While this is good advice if you can manage it, it has the potential to backfire as well. Understand that the person interviewing you can change at a moments’ notice. Additionally, if you are lucky to receive several on-campus interviews, they often occur within the same week or even the same day. Trying to keep track of the details of each interviewer may become unnecessarily stressful—not to mention when there are multiple interviewers in the room. You might be so focused on getting the details right that you could come across as awkward and inauthentic.
If you can’t, or don’t feel comfortable, researching the interviewer, always ask about the interviewer during the interview. Use your best judgment about what type of details to ask. Let yourself shine during the natural art of conversation and leave the script at home. Don’t assume you’ll know what the interviewer wants to hear based on, for example, their seniority. You might be surprised that the seasoned partner wants to hear about your passion for waterskiing and more about your lifestyle. And that goes both ways—a grave mistake you could make would be assuming that just because the interviewer is newer to the practice of law, they don’t want the interview to be so formal. When in doubt, mirror both the body language, level of formality, and the types of questions the interviewer directs your way.
3. Research the firm ahead of time and schedule a mock interview.
You must research the firm ahead of your interview. If you have multiple interviews with many different firms, it’s important to brush up on this research before each interview so you can keep all of the firms and their offerings straight. You can prepare questions based on the research you’ve done on their website. USe the information you’ve found as a jumping-off point for questioning, but don’t ask a question that you could easily Google or find on the front page of their website (e.g., where are your offies located.)
Then, reach out to your school’s career services office to schedule a mock interview. Occasionally, your career services counselor may put you in contact with alumni who worked at the firm. When I was put in contact with alumni or even upperclassmen who worked at the firm, I would schedule a time to chat on the phone or meet for coffee to discuss the details of my interview ahead of time. This was an excellent way to find about the firm’s culture. It also gives you a great conversation starter if you can tell the interviewer you recently had coffee with one of their associates or partners while demonstrating your interest in the firm.
4. Be yourself.
While it certainly seems like a no-brainer to ‘just be yourself,’ interviews are often those times in our lives when so much pressure is put on the importance of first impressions that we blow our chance. You don’t want to come off as someone that you’re not because a) you will have to act that way for the whole summer, b) you will disappoint the firm for being disingenuous, and c) worst of all, by not being your authentic self, you could have ruined your chances for a call-back during an initial OCI.
5. Put the OCI process in perspective.
So how do those that received offers keep their cool and stay true during an interview? They keep in perspective that the number one goal of an interview is to match the right candidate to the right job. Trust the process, trust the interviewer, and trust that you will end up with a job you enjoy. The advice I would give to my 2L self would be to put into perspective that a small number of your peers will get offers at the big firms through the OCI process. Even students who wind up with a dozen invitations for OCIs sometimes do not receive offers. If you do not receive offers, do not let it distract you. There are many avenues for securing gratifying, well-paying jobs.