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Struck out at OCI? It’s not the end of the world

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Please join us for a free webinar on this topic, Tue, Sep 25, 2018 3:00 PM – 3:45 PM EDT. If OCI wasn’t in the cards, you didn’t get a job offer, or you just don’t want to go straight from law school to private practice, you are probably wondering, “what should I do now?” Get job search tips and advice for navigating your path to private practice (if that’s where you eventually want to be). Learn more: Webinar: Beyond the On Campus Interview: Job Search Tips and Looking Ahead.

It’s happened – you did not get a callback from OCI. Perhaps you’re at a top-ranked law school and through the lottery system set up 30 interviews and told your story again and again (and again). Still, while some of your fellow students received multiple callbacks, you did not receive even one. Or, you are attending a lower-ranked law school, submitted your resume and transcript to law firms but no one called. It doesn’t feel good and it might leave you feeling unwanted or worried about your future.

Two things to keep in mind:

  1. The race is not over.
  2. You now have the opportunity to approach the rest of the interview season and law school more strategically and make circumstances change in your favor.

Step 1: Recalibrate

Even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, things usually end up working out for most students. In my years as a coach, teacher, and attorney, I have come across many law students who have been in a similar situation – struck out at OCI but ended up getting exactly the type of positions they wanted when they planned and worked hard towards it.

So, shake off your defeated feelings and recalibrate your confidence, perspective, and attitude. This is not the end of the world – there are still plenty of recruiting opportunities in the few months following OCI and the remaining two years of law school.

Step 2: Troubleshoot

As the saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

As a law student you can sometimes get stuck in a routine. You go to classes, you start outlining an “x” number of months before finals, you meet with career counselors, and draft and send the same resume to dozens of employers. After an unsuccessful OCI, your instincts might tell you to do the same things – more of the same things – because you’re now in a crisis mode. However, this is not a good idea. It’s better to hit pause, even if just for a day or two, or a week, to assess and troubleshoot your approach. During this time of reflection, you may find one or more tiny glitches that you can easily tweak to convert your next opportunities into offers.

The first part of troubleshooting and reassessing your strategy is asking yourself if you thoroughly understand the following:

  • What attributes are law firms looking for? And how might they attempt to assess those attributes in an interview?
  • What strengths and values can you bring to the firm?
  • Is there anything about you that may concern the firm, and what strategy will you use to rebut those concerns?

Your analysis of the second and third questions above should look beyond your grades, and take your entire academic, professional, and human experience into consideration.

Rethink your resume

Your resume is a preview for the movie you hope to show the firm during the interview. It’s not a list that you simply line edit. Instead, just like the briefs and motions you learned to draft in your first year of law school, it should be a strategic story of points you want to truly highlight.

You should also make sure that your amazing resume is not accidentally causing trouble for you. For example, if you are a student with extensive prior work experience in the film industry interviewing with firms without an entertainment practice, that work experience on your resume may make them think that you may not be the ideal long-term candidate. This does not mean you should delete that work experience from your resume; but rather, that experience may need to be repackaged to serve the particular job application and set the stage for the conversation you will have during the interview.

To learn more about how the perfect resume will get you an interview, click here.

Find interview glitches

If your grades and resume were good enough, but you didn’t get any callbacks, or you couldn’t convert your callbacks into offers, you may have one or more interview glitches. For example, you may be connecting very well with your interviewers but are not leaving them with enough advocacy points about yourself, so their notes to the hiring committee about you may not be as strong compared to other candidates. Maybe you are coming across as intelligent and hardworking but there’s something about your style that does not ignite enthusiasm and excitement in the interviewer. There are tons of other small glitches that can be easily diagnosed and fixed.

Talk to a trusted advisor – a mentor, career counselor, professor, or anyone you believe has both stellar expertise and the ability to be completely honest with you – to assess any possible issues with your interviewing technique. You can also consider hiring a career coach to provide honest feedback and practice different styles with you.

Avoid email miscommunication

Sometimes professional, competent, well-rounded students come off completely differently in email communications.

Some examples are:

  • Sloppy spelling and grammatical mistakes
  • Awkward salutations and email greetings including failing to include the person’s name
  • Unprofessional email handles
  • Inappropriate length – short and succinct is better than long and rambling
  • Coming across as too dry, cold, or unenthusiastic

All communications are part of the hiring process, so get a second opinion to make sure you’re not sabotaging yourself in the sidelines of the interview process.

Broaden your strategy

Was your strategy too narrow? It’s good to know what you want, but it’s also good when looking for an internship to have a broad scope.

Your strategy may have been too narrow in three ways:

  1. The number and types of firms you approached
  2. The geographical limitations you imposed on your search
  3. The practice areas in which you indicated interest

After you have recalibrated and troubleshooted your strategy, it’s time to move on to the final stage …

Step 3: Formulate a New Plan and Hustle!

From early September to mid-November, just as there were students who struck out at OCI, there are law firms who also struck out. It doesn’t mean that these are weak law firms, just like you’re not a weak applicant. Maybe this is a very prestigious firm that has expanded to a new geography and doesn’t have enough name recognition yet. Perhaps despite careful planning, they ended up extending too many offers to students who had multiple offers and chose other firms. In other words, some law firms have not filled their summer associate class and will continue looking in the fall.

Make a new list

During this time, it’s very important to make a new list of firms you are going to approach. Consider firms that came to your school’s OCI that you didn’t bid on or you did not get matched with for an interview through the lottery system. You know that these firms are definitely interested in students from your school, so it’s important to give them a second look immediately. Your new list should also include new geographies and new firms you find through independent research. Many of these new firms have online portals through which you can directly apply for a summer associate position. You may also contact the recruiter or hiring partner.

For a detailed analysis of how to research law firms, click here.

Check job postings

Law firms who still have openings for summer associate positions sometimes post them on Symplicity or other law school job databases. Competition is fierce and time is of the essence here because the firms have a strong incentive to fill up the remaining spot(s) as soon as possible to conclude summer associate hiring. Therefore, it is advisable that you check for openings multiple times per week and apply immediately. Regardless of what the job post reads about an application deadline, often in just a few days, the firm has received dozens of applications and will start interviewing and next steps. You’d like your materials to be one of the first they see.

Ask for help

Don’t take shortcuts here. Do these three things:

  1. Go back to the career development office (CDO) at your school to let them know that you are still looking after OCI. Firms sometimes let their contacts at CDO know when they have openings, so your counselor may know of an open position even before it appears on your law school’s job database. You may also give yourself an advantage if your career counselor puts in a good word about you to their firm contact.
  2. Continue networking without feeling or sounding desperate. Reach out to the lawyers you’ve met during your first year of law school, or any lawyers you know, and ask them if their firms are still hiring. Even if their firm does not have an open position, they may know of opportunities at other firms or companies. Also, don’t forget your professors. Whether they are still practicing part-time or practiced for years before becoming your professor, or never practiced, they have an extensive list of contacts as well as good ideas to help you. It’s essential that in the process of your continued networking, you present yourself as professional, grateful, and confident, and not as a law student who is desperate and out of control.
  3. Consider talking to a career coach to help you troubleshoot and formulate a strategic plan, and provide ongoing support in executing it. PracticePro offers a free 20-minute consult to all law students. You can set up a time to talk with me or one of our other coaches here.

This post appeared originally on the PracticePro Journal blog.

Niki Khoshzamir Niki Khoshzamir is an attorney, entrepreneur, and career coach. She is the CEO of the LegalEd startup PracticePro and enjoys writing about career planning and diversity on PracticePro's blog. She is also a lecturer at Berkeley Law. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and reach her at niki@practicepro.cc.