On-Campus Interview Advice can Help You with any Law Job Interview

There's been a lot of ink spilled about OCI, the on-campus interviewing process by which law firms hire summer associates. (You can find several such articles here: Summer Jobs 101, in fact.)

But let's get down to brass tacks. What's the single biggest thing you can do to ensure you get an offer?

Short of going back in time and choosing a higher-ranked school, or studying more for that disastrous Contracts exam, it's this: Look at things from the employer's perspective.

It's Not About You

Ultimately, getting a job isn't about you. It's about what you can do for the employer.

So, put yourself in the position of a law firm hiring partner. What are you looking for?

You want someone who is:

--smart

--eager to learn

--well prepared

--realistic

--hard working

--easy to deal with

--not a liability

Can you be that person? You better try!

Be Who They're Looking For

What does this mean in practice? Obviously you can't change your entire personality for law firm interviews (nor should you). But you can emphasize the most relevant aspects of your personality and background, while downplaying others.

For example, let's take a softball question:

How do you like law school?

You could answer this question in various ways, all of which would be basically true.

For example:

--Sometimes I hate it.

--Generally I like it.

--I love it! It's the best!

--I enjoy the intellectual aspects, but it's definitely challenging.

--I like getting to help people with their problems.

--I've enjoyed meeting my classmates and have learned a lot from them.

Most of these answers aren't "wrong," but some are better than others.

Saying you hate law school probably isn't the best idea, given that you're interviewing for a law firm job! But effusively saying you love it probably isn't the best idea, either. If I was interviewing you, and you told me that, I'd either think you were being dishonest and telling me what you thought I wanted to hear, or that you were totally clueless and unrealistic about the demands of the profession.

The best answer is one that's grounded in reality, but puts a positive spin on things. And, if you really want to get fancy, you can target the specifics of your answer to the person you're interviewing with. Is this a highly intellectual firm? Talk about liking the intellectual aspects of law school. Are you interviewing with a big-shot rainmaker partner? Mention all the great people you're meeting.

The point is this: Think about what the firm or person you're interviewing with is looking for, and shape your answers to provide that.

How Do You Know What to Talk About?

In order to do this, you have to be prepared. Very prepared.

Step one is to analyze your own background. Take a careful look at your résumé and transcript. If you were the interviewer, what would you ask about? What questions would you have? What areas would give you pause?

Be prepared to address all of these questions and concerns! Yes, you need an explanation for that Contracts grade. Better to come up with a stock response now, not during your interviews.

Next, analyze the firms you're interviewing with:

--What might they feel self-conscious about? Is it a branch office of a larger firm? Probably not the best place to make jokes about "the mothership." Is it a firm with only one office? Not a good idea to talk up your global lawyering ambitions.

--What are they proud of? If the website brags about their extensive pro bono work, bring up examples of your own volunteer work. If they're all business, so are you. Better to talk about what you learned from your childhood lemonade stand, and leave out the heartwarming anecdotes from your volunteer tutoring project.

And, whatever you do, don't forget the final thing every law firm is looking for: that you're not going to be a liability! Ultimately, this factor trumps everything in the risk-averse law world.

It doesn't matter how smart or accomplished you are - if you make anyone question whether you could be left alone with a client, you're not getting the job.

When in doubt, bite your tongue.

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process. 

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