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How to ace your on-campus interviews (OCI)

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OCI

The on-campus interview. Your future career hangs in the balance! Are you ready? Whatever you do, don’t fail, or your thought of a law career is over!

OK, OK, not really. Just relax.

The OCI is a big deal – this post is not to downplay it – but it is not the end-all, be-all for your budding law career. Getting in with a prominent law firm in your desired speciality area can certainly  help lay the foundation to a solid career, but you don’t have to give yourself an ulcer over this.

An OCI is really just a conversation between a potential mentor and a mentee. When you think of it that way, you can develop strong avenues to being successful in your OCI and get multiple offers to work.

Acing the on-campus interview doesn’t have to be complicated; it’s pretty much what you would (or should!) normally do as you go through law school and enter into a legal career. And by this we mean, doing the required research in order to make your case and prosecute it to the judge or jury (in this case, the interviewer).

Here are a few tips that will help you through the OCI gauntlet. After all, it can be a stressful situation to impress a potential employer in just a 15- or 20-minute interview. But you can impress in that amount of time if you go in prepared.

Cross a two-way street

You know that you were selected for this interview; these firms don’t have the time or interest to interview everyone. They have done some homework in order to choose you for an interview, and you should know that in a way, you are choosing them too. Approach this the same way you would a date; know not just the firm, but the person you are interviewing, be prepared to put your best foot forward, because your “date” will do the same so you can have a positive experience, even if there is no callback.

Do the research

You can rest assured that the lawfirm(s) that selected you for an interview have done their research into you, your resume and know something about the law program in which you are studying. At the same time, it makes you look better in their eyes if you do some research of your own about the firms(s) with which you will be interviewing.

Look them up online and learn their location, size, specialty areas, salaries, and find out if there are any current or former students from your school who do or have worked there. Find out what you can about the culture of the firm, results of any “big” cases and learn about the firm’s philosophy. The more you know about the firm when you go into the interview, the more impressive you will look. Even if your resume is wanting, a firm will appreciate a person who shows initiative and work ethic.

Review your resume

OK, you might have been the one who put it together, so you should know what is on it. But still, it’s a good idea to take a long, hard, objective look at your resume to find those items that compelled these firms to interview you, but also to know your weak spots.

There is an old axiom that in order to catch a criminal you have to think like a criminal. And in that sense, if you want to work for a law firm, you have to think like the law firm and learn to see your resume through their eyes so you can anticipate the questions that may be asked of you.

Elevator music

When you have reviewed your resume and aligned your strengths with each law firm with which you are interviewing, you can create a 20- to 30-second “elevator pitch” to use as your introduction when you enter the interview. When you can, it is a good idea to customize it for each law firm, highlighting one or two things that you can bring to their firm and one quick reason why you want to work for that firm.

Having a static, boilerplate pitch isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re not specific to any particular firm, then you had better deliver the pitch with a customized enthusiasm so it doesn’t come across as boilerplate or too stilted.

Embrace your weaknesses

You know the areas of your resume and your background where you might be deficient, and you have to be prepared for questions about those weaknesses. Rather than try to hide from them, find a way to think of your weaknesses as opportunities to create strengths. For example, if you have a weakness of being distracted, you can use that to emphasize how organized and focused you are so that you are able to do as well in school as you are doing.

Turn the tables

Remember that while this is an OCI for you, it is an OCI for the law firm, too. This is where your research comes in, as well as your natural curiosity (which is part of the reason you got into law in the first place, right?).  Usually at the end of an interview, the law firm’s representative may ask you if you have any questions for him or her. Take advantage.

Show your natural curiosity and your research skills by asking pointed and specific questions about the firm, the practice specialty areas, benefits, compensation, or even a personal favorite: “What would I need to do to help you (the interviewer) get a gold star on your next performance review?”

Don’t settle on one question. Try to have at least two or three questions prepared, and use their answers as a chance for you to step in and include your “closing argument” for why you should be the person to work for that firm.

If you follow each of these steps and commit 100 percent to them, you will at least make a positive impression on every law firm you speak with, and you would “ace” the interview if you make it hard for a law firm to reject your candidacy.

Abraham Jaros Abraham Jaros, co-partner and founder of Jaroslawicz & Jaros, began his career over 40 years ago and remembers his interview as if it were yesterday. During his career as a personal injury lawyer, he has tried hundreds of cases and won numerous multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients. When not in the courtroom, he can be found writing to help inspire future lawyers everywhere.

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