Unbeknownst to the world at large, summer marks the first phase of an annual hiring gauntlet for law students entering their second year: On Campus Interviews (OCIs). OCIs are much more than a typical set of interviews. Rather, they are a highly regulated recruitment extravaganza, in which large legal employers and top law students try to “fit” each other. There are several stages of recruitment, and the entire OCI process takes months to complete. The OCI process is an opportunity unique to attending law school and becoming a lawyer.
For some students, OCIs bring anxiety, trepidation, nervousness, or perhaps even migraines, break-downs and other types of physical pain. However, I suggest that rather than viewing the process as daunting, overwhelming, or even hopeless, it may be seen as an incredible opportunity for personal and professional growth.
No matter how we engage with the OCI process, or what stage we reach, there is always a benefit to come away with.
Some law students know that they are not interested in working for any one of the OCI employers. They abstain from OCIs altogether. For this type of student, choosing not to do OCIs is an indication of some very valuable clarity regarding career direction. Even if you are unsure of what is next, you have the benefit of knowing what you don’t want to do. Knowing that you don’t want something is a crucial bit of information that will help you determine what you do want to do.
If OCIs don’t appeal to you, but you aren’t sure what to do next, then try identifying what is unappealing to you about OCI employers as well as the opposing characteristic that you will seek in your ideal employer. For example: “I don’t want corporate clients” becomes “I want to serve the needs of human individuals.” Or: “I would be lost in a large organization” becomes “I am looking for a position in a small or mid-size firm.” “I don’t want to work until midnight” becomes “I want a position that allows me to maintain a balanced life.” Honesty about your values and priorities is crucial to finding a position that helps you fulfill them. Knowing that you don’t want something is a clue to what you do want. If you still feel clueless, maybe some broader brainstorming is needed.
Other students may put out written applications without receiving any OCI offers. If this happens, you still benefit from the process of having prepared your application, including your resume and cover letters, as well as the benefit of any market research and or networking that you may have done to prepare these applications. The research and introspection that goes into writing a good cover letter uncover hidden gems of self-knowledge and market knowledge that stay with you on your career path. Learn how to use self-knowledge for creating the most compelling cover letters.
Another great benefit that you may get at this stage is the input from the people that review your application materials. This may be from the people who help you edit, or any helpful feedback from any employers regarding how you might improve your application.
Do consider receiving detailed feedback from employers who did not select your application to be rare occurrence in the OCI process. Recruiters are often swamped at this time and so providing information beyond “we had a lot of qualified applicants” is very difficult. Find lots of gratitude for anybody who creates the time to do you such a kindness.
There are very typical reasons why a particular written application may not be successful, and it might be helpful to consider if any of these typical reasons apply to you. While every application is different, the major reasons an application would not be selected include: the firm was not convinced that you are interested in the type of work they do, your marks or written materials were not competitive, or there were editing mistakes in your materials.
For students who do receive invitations for on campus interviews, diligent preparation means learning how to speak clearly and professionally, to be concise and to the point, to be an active listener, and to communicate effectively under pressure. That is, you have a chance to develop enough charisma (i.e. the interview skills) to easily navigate interview situations. If you don’t feel naturally charismatic, then find a way to improve your charisma. You can get charisma without being born with it. The self-help industry is overflowing with exercises that you can use.
What can sometimes happen in the OCI process, is that people with high marks and good cover letters get a lot of OCI interviews, but without appropriate charisma to carry them through the in-person stages of OCI, they do not move into the in-firm stage of interviews. It is not unheard of for some people to receive invitations for 20 OCIs but then receive only one or two invitations for in-firm interviews. The reason for this is because written communication and good marks that make up a successful written application are not sufficient for the interpersonal aspect of interviewing. Be prepared.
If you find yourself at the in firm stage, your interview skills will be tested at a much higher level. At this level, the game can change. Employers can get pushy. Some of them “play dirty.” It is not uncommon to be pressured to state that a firm is a top choice. You may do so, at the expense of receiving potential offers from other firms (because the recruiters do share notes), only to find that you also don’t receive an offer from the firm that pressured you. Be careful, and stay in integrity. Use generic language: “I’m really excited to work at your firm, I would be very pleased to receive an offer.” Remember that you don’t have any offers until 5 pm on call day, no matter what somebody implies over dinner or at a cocktail party.
The best advice that I received during OCIs is to remember that this process is for me. For me, there was nothing deceptive in telling more than one firm that I really wanted to work there, because it was true.
Also, find people to support you who are positive and uplifting. Learn to consciously reject the drama and fears perpetuated by those who are not. Their energy can be chaotic and weighty. Stay uplifted, clear, and positive. It is a mental game. See yourself as capable and you will be.
While it can be frightening to consider coming away from OCIs without any offers, try to focus on what you can always take away from the process. If you did your research and homework at the cover letter stage, you could be coming away with a strong set of application materials and a lot of knowledge about your potential job market. If you had some interviews and/or did networking research, then you’ve also come away with the additional benefit of increased charisma as a result of exercising your professional interpersonal skills.
Many people who do land a position from the OCI process miss out by skipping over the research and introspective aspects of cover letter writing. They may wind up with a job that they aren’t really sure why they are there or if it is satisfying for them. Even though they have a position, they are not on a conscious path to fulfilling, meaningful work. This blindness can lead to serious dissatisfaction down the road.
No matter what the outcome is, the OCI process is bound to be an incredible growth experience. It is like a boot camp that can provide you with extreme amounts of valuable job market knowledge, self-knowledge, written cover materials, and interpersonal skills that you would never normally have an opportunity to develop in such a short period of time. Many professionals never get the benefit of this sort of process. It is one of many unique perks of pursuing a career in law.
I hope that you come away from the OCI boot-camp with the ease, flexibility, and knowingness that you are equipped to land a perfect position, no matter what. That is where your freedom and fulfillment will come from down the road, regardless of what occurs in articling and beyond.
If you are a law student going through OCIs, I am here to support you with special group or one-on-one OCI coaching packages. Please contact me if you would like some backup!
Yours very truly,