Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What I Learned From OCI.

The Fall On Campus Interview (OCI) season is wrapping up and as Assistant Director of Employer Relations, I have eaten lunch with the interviewers every day since the last week of August. During the course of making conversation, I have gleaned a few pearls of wisdoms from the employers:

1. Dress Like a Lawyer, Not an Architect. One employer commented on how he was very impressed by a male student except for his clothing. The student showed up in a dark suit, very well-tailored but had the “Miami Vice” dark shirt, dark tie, cream colored slip on loafer look going on. The partner told me he could not take the student seriously after seeing the shoes. “He looked like he was interviewing for an architecture firm, not a law firm. Tell your students to err on the side of conservatism. When in doubt, wear a white shirt, dark suit, and dark shoes.” As for the women, you can never go wrong with a skirt suit or pant suit but he begged me to tell the female students “No plunging necklines! You want to be remembered for the content of the interview, not your cleavage.” Lastly, remember you are interviewing for a summer associate position, not a barista position. Take off all piercings, nose rings and other distracting jewelry.

2. When You Are Nervous, Don’t Drink the Interviewer’s Water. Another interviewer told me he asked a student about his Moot Court brief and the student became so nervous that he reached across the table, grabbed a bottle of water and started chugging it. The problem – it was the interviewer’s water and the interviewer had already drank out of it. The lesson? It’s okay to be nervous and you can always pause to think before answering the question BUT if it’s on your resume, it’s fair game. If you cannot discuss an item on your resume in an articulate intelligent manner, then think about dropping it. The best way to prepare is to go through your resume, line by line and think about possible questions and answers to those questions. Then be ready to answer the all-important question to “Why do you want to work for us?” The answer should not be “I want to get really good experience and your firm can offer me that.” Instead, you really need to think about what that firm or employer has to offer, in the way of reputation or practice area, that makes that employer the place for you.

3. Bite the Bullet and Explain Your Grades. I have heard it from multiple large law firms – if there is a C on your transcript, you need to explain it. There have been a number of students that firms have been impressed with who are not in the Top 20% of the class. However, if the student does not address in the on-campus interview why he or she received a C, then no matter how much the interviewer liked the student, the interviewer has no ammunition to go back to the firm with when it comes to vetting the student through the hiring committee. Most employers cannot call back a student with a C on her transcript unless there’s a good explanation for that C. When a student did explain his C, this is what I heard from the partner who interviewed him, “I was so impressed when Mr. B explained his grades. He took it head-on and did not shy away. Now I actually have something to argue on his behalf when I go up in front of the hiring committee. Because Mr. B was a great candidate all around, except for those two C’s on his transcript. I definitely want to call him back.” Other students who I have counseled to bring up their grades have come to my office immediately after their interviews and told me they were surprised by the results. The employers reacted in highly positive ways and one interviewer, who had been aloof throughout, suddenly took great interest, started taking notes, and asked for a writing sample and references. (On a side-note: It's the Big Firm employers that pay attention to grades, but small to mid-sized firms, along with government/public interest employers look at the whole person).

4. Answer Completely and Tell Stories. Interviewers get incredibly bored, hearing the same answer over and over again to “Why did you decide to go to law school?” Typical answer – “I’ve always wanted to go to law school, ever since I was little.” Really, since you were 3 you knew you wanted to be a lawyer? Or was it actually when you were 14 and you were taken to work by your father on “Take your Daughter to Work Day” and you realized that your father, the attorney, made an impact on people’s lives and, inspired you to do the same thing. Tell the whole story, the reason behind your drive, not the surface fluff answer that reveals nothing about you to the employer. Another pet peeve -- just repeating verbatim the job description on your resume when answering the question “Tell me about your job this summer.” If they wanted you to repeat the laundry list of tasks you did, they would have asked you to recite your resume. Instead, tell them a story – what did you learn, what exciting issue did you work on, what problem you had to overcome. Tell a story and the employer will have something to write down on her evaluation form. Entertain them and the interviewers will remember you and your chances for a call-back will increase.

5. Don’t Listen to the Rumor Mill - OCI is a No-Brainer – Apply. All the on campus employers – law firms, government agencies, district attorneys and public defenders offices noticed it: A significant drop in the number of OCI applications this year. “Why is this?” They keep asking us, the Office of Career Planning. Several top firms are so distressed by the drop that they want to come on campus as speakers, to host events or attend mixers, anything that will increase their visibility on campus so they can recruit from a larger pool of talent. Other firms were disappointed and expressed it in such a way that we are afraid the low numbers may mean that firm may not be coming back to USF to recruit next year. So what happened? We took an informal poll of students and found that a number of viable candidates listened to the Rumor Mill. A 2L who is in the Top 10% of the class was not going to apply to OCI because she heard very few people actually get their jobs through OCI. If she hadn’t run into her 3L mentor who screamed bloody murder to make her apply, she would have missed out. As it stands now, she’s an OCI favorite and has a number of call-backs. Another 2L also listened to the Rumor Mill, and despite the fact that she had received a prestigious paid summer position through a competitive scholarship process, did not apply to OCI. I was shocked when I learned this because here’s the deal, if you don’t apply through OCI, then yes, you won’t get your job that way. Don’t take yourself out of the running by being to afraid of rejection to apply. When employers, who specifically come to campus because they want USF students, find that very few have applied, do you think they will want to come back? And how do you think you will find your job when you’ve missed out on one of the easiest opportunities presented in your lifetime? There is NO OCI when you graduate. There are very few opportunities for 3L’s in OCI. Your 2L year is the year when you need to find that summer job to help leverage you for your post-graduate position. You need to use all the venues available to you in your job search. OCI is just one of the ways. But if you don’t do OCI, then the path to finding a job becomes that much harder. Now you have to find the law firms and send each and every single one a cover letter and resume. And guess what, that firm may not be so friendly or accepting of USF students. Thus, when presented with a no-brainer opportunity such as OCI – take it. Even if the only lesson you learn is that you don’t want to work for a big firm that is still a valuable lesson.

It has been an interesting experience this Fall, talking to all the employers. Most interviewers are USF alums. Many are quite candid about their hiring needs and requirements and all are enthusiastic about USF students and want more USF representation at their firms. Let's not let them down -- if you are a 1L even considering working for a law firm, then do OCI next year.

Marina Sarmiento Feehan, JD is the Assistant Director of Employer Relations for the Office of Career Planning at USF School of Law.

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