How to Stay Sane During On Campus Interviews

How to Stay Sane During On Campus Interviews

August is here, which can only mean one thing - the annual craziness of on-campus interviewing is about to begin!

For the uninitiated, OCI is how most law firm summer associate positions are handed out. Students interview en masse before classes start, often in a hotel or set of on-campus conference rooms. In one day, you might do 10 or more screening interviews, with an eye towards getting to the all-important callback stage (which requires another day of interviews, on site in the office you're interested in).

Every school is different, of course, but - in my experience - OCI was alternately boring, stressful, frantic, and exhausting. Not to say there weren't some good parts, but the whole experience can be a bit overwhelming!

Therefore, I offer you seven tips for maintaining your sanity during the OCI craziness:

Get organized. When you're doing ten interviews a day with different firms, you have to be able to tell them apart. Otherwise, how will you give a decent answer to the question everyone will ask, "Why us?" The best way I've found to do this is to make a set of notecards, one for each firm you're interviewing with. On the cards, you highlight any key areas of interest, questions you have, reasons you want to work there, etc. When you pack your bag each morning, put the cards for the day in a safe place. Just before each interview, pull out the relevant card, review your notes, and you'll be ready to go! After each interview, you can make notes on the same card, listing who you spoke with (a common chit-chat topic during callback interviews) and anything interesting that came up. When it's callback time, just pull out the relevant card, review it, and you can be sure your "Why us?" story stays consistent.

Take breaks when you can. It's hard to overestimate how exhausting it can be to talk about yourself for hours on end. I'm relatively extroverted (for a law student) but I was totally drained after a few hours. One thing that really helped was taking the time to go outside and stare into space, even if I only had a few minutes. Particularly when everyone around you is stressed out and frenetic, taking a few minutes to walk around the block by yourself before an interview is great for clearing the head.

Don't worry if you feel like you're telling the same story over and over. Law firm interviews tend to be formulaic, so you're going to find yourself telling the same anecdotes over and over. Be prepared with a good explanation for anything even remotely weird on your résumé or transcript. Do you have one bad grade? Come up with a (non-defensive) explanation. Do you have a weird educational or work background? Trust me, people will want to talk about it. (I can't tell you how many times I answered some variant of, "Hum, sociology to architecture to programming to law...that's pretty weird." By the end of interview season, I had a stock response that I just recited, word-for-word, while trying to leave the impression the interviewer was uniquely perceptive for noticing this oddity in my background.)

Remember that this person wants to like you. Students sometime think interviews are adversarial, that the interviewer is trying to weed people out. Occasionally that's true, but, in most cases, the interviewer would be thrilled to find a great candidate that they could enthusiastically recommend. It's exciting when you find someone who seems like a great fit for your firm, so help your interviewer get excited about you as a candidate. If you expect them to like you, you'll be friendlier, which will cause them to actually like you more. It's a positive feedback loop, created when you decide the interviewer is going to love you!

Show some enthusiasm. Let's fact it, a lot of the firms you'll interview with are very similar. But keep in mind that the person interviewing you has selected this particular firm to work at. So, even if you honestly can't distinguish this firm from three others you've already talked to, show some curiosity. Why did your interviewer choose to work here? How have they enjoyed their experience? Combined with even a relatively minimal amount of research (remember your notecards!) a genuine curiosity and enthusiasm can go a long way. Oh, you're not feeling curious? Fake it. Not quite as good, but it'll do in a pinch.

Pack comfortable shoes. Maybe you're one of those enviable people who can walk around comfortably in three-inch heels all day. Suffice it to say I'm not, so I always stashed a pair of flats somewhere nearby. (This, by the way, is a great reason to carry a large professional-looking satchel.) As soon as I was out of sight, I'd switch shoes, saving my feet and my sanity.

Limit your contact with other stressed out people! Finally, the most important rule of surviving OCI might be that you don't talk about OCI. Think of it like exams - no good ever comes of talking about an exam after the fact. Similarly, no good comes from dissecting your interviews after the fact. Sure, think about specific ways you could improve your answers going forward, but speculating about whether you'll get a callback, or someone else will, is counterproductive. As soon as you leave the room, your fate vis à vis that interview is out of your hands. Worrying about it does no good. Talking about it does no good. Just let it go, and move on. You've got more important things to think about!

Good luck everyone!

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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