OCI can be an overwhelming experience under non-pandemic circumstances, and for many students it has become even more so with the uncertainty of COVID-19. With most schools pushing OCI back to early 2021, the traditional BigLaw hiring timeline has been completely upended. While this delay isn’t what students were expecting, there is still plenty to do to ensure a smooth OCI process.
Research firms in advance
First and foremost, you need to know why you are applying to each firm. This means you need to do some research, and make sure you understand what type of work the firm actually does. In a difficult job market, it might be tempting to apply to any firm with a job posting, but you should think carefully – there is no sense in applying to a firm that only does litigation work if you want a corporate practice. Try to do more than just look at the firm’s website – look to see whether there are any alumni from your school at the firm, and reach out to them. They will be able to tell you more about what type of work the firm does and what their experience has been like. Besides preparing you for interviews, you will also make professional connections that will serve you well in the future.
Explain your location choice
You will likely need to explain your interest in the particular location you applied to, especially if you are looking at an office that is not near your law school. Many OCI interviews will be set up with specific office locations within a firm, and will expect that you have reasons for wanting to live in that location. If you don’t attend law school nearby, or have some immediate family in the area, things can get a lot harder. You really need to come up with a concrete reason for wanting to be in a certain city, so think carefully about your reasons and prepare to communicate that to your interviewer.
Review common questions ahead of time
While not every interviewer will ask the same questions, there are some general things you should be prepared to talk about in almost every interview. For example, you need to be able to explain why you are interested in the firm, and what type of work you are interested in doing. Even if you aren’t sure exactly what you are interested in, try to at least explain what seems appealing to you, and why the firm is a good place for you to explore that (especially if they allow summer associates to try multiple practice areas). You should also be prepared to discuss anything on your resume in a reasonable amount of detail – so review that undergraduate thesis if you need to refresh your memory.
Prepare specific responses
Your goal at OCI is to make sure you leave a positive and memorable impression on your interviewers. Even if they forget specific details about you, they will remember if your conversation was interesting or not. Having specific stories or anecdotes to share as you answer questions is crucial. Try to avoid short, conclusory answers, and instead answer the question asked followed by a brief example to support it. For example, if you are trying to convey that you are a creative problem solver, tell your interviewer about a time that you actually did creatively solve a problem. Be careful, however, not to sound too rehearsed. The goal here is not to memorize and regurgitate, but to have a few examples in mind that illustrate the qualities you wish to convey to your interviewer so you can draw on them when responding to questions.
ALWAYS ask questions
You should ALWAYS ask questions. In most cases, your interviewer will leave 5-10 minutes at the end for you to ask questions, and you should be prepared to fill the majority of that time. You can most certainly plan these ahead of time so you’re ready to go at the interview (just don’t read from a list). There is plenty to ask about – consider questions about the lawyer’s experiences at the firm, more details about the work summer associates do, how work and practice groups are assigned, and so on.
Know that some firms just won’t be the right match
As you move through OCI (and callbacks), you will likely have some unpleasant or awkward experiences, and you should do your best not to let them bother you. At the OCI stage, firms have decided that you meet their academic qualifications. Now, they want to see if you are a good fit for the firm and its culture. Some firms will not be a good match for you, and that’s a good thing to find out sooner rather than later. For this reason, it’s SO important to be yourself – if you aren’t, it will be that much harder to find a good fit for you.
Navigating the OCI process can be intimidating even without the scheduling changes that COVID-19 has brought. By preparing ahead of time and being yourself, you can successfully navigate law firm interviews, and find the right fit for you.
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