[Jess’ Note: OCI’s are not for everyone. They certainly weren’t for me which explains why you’ll rarely see posts about law firm life here on this blog. I did a total of one OCI during my entire law school experience and it ended with me politely suggesting the interviewer pack sand. Whoops. Thankfully my 3L colleague, Sarina Jwo, has us covered!]
Guest Post by Sarina Jwo, 3L at Santa Clara University School of Law
I did OCIs in the Summer of 2019 after my 1L year (pre-COVID times). While I ended up doing my summer associate program remotely, my OCIs and callbacks were in-person.
STEP 0: Grades
I’m going to be honest here: grades are a big part of the OCI process. They’re what gets you in the door. However, using that door metaphor, the door isn’t stagnant or password-protected. There are other ways in but the fastest way to get the interview is your grades. That being said, when a firm/company has set GPA requirements, there is some leeway if you’re on the border (e.g. a firm requires the top 20% and you’re way above the top 25% mark and on the edge of 20%) or you show qualities beyond the grades (see STEP 1). To start, indicate your ranking on your resume. Keep in mind that grades aren’t everything and an interview is not a job offer. If you can’t connect with people, grades will not guarantee you the job.
STEP 1: Networking
Your law school/career center may go on and on about how important networking is that you’re tired of it and IT’S TRUE. It can’t be stressed enough, and this is arguably the most important part of the process. During the course of your legal career, starting with law school, you will realize how tiny the legal community is, especially in the Silicon Valley. Everyone knows everyone (or knows someone who knows someone) and your reputation is what drives your business. Don’t make enemies; be nice to people. Go to as many networking events as you can, even if you’re not sure if you’re interested in what they do. When/if you get your first summer job, go to more networking events. Network within and outside your job. Ask people out for coffee/lunch. This sounds like a hassle but trust me, it will pay off. If you have worked hard at networking, the interviews can come pretty easily. If you find yourself not being at the very top of your law school class, networking can get you in the door with the people who are. If you know the interviewers or people at the firm/company you’re interviewing at, even better.
STEP 2: Resume
Draft your resume MULTIPLE TIMES. Give it to mentors (upperclassmen, attorneys, coworkers, professors, career center) to look over and incorporate suggestions. Realize that resumes are not one-size-fits-all. Tailor your resume to your audience: what are they looking for? If it’s in-house or firm, tailor it toward that specific type. If it’s transactional/litigation, highlight the qualities you think are most important in that role. Keep in mind that everything you include in your application (including your writing sample!) is fair game for questions. With resumes come cover letters. This comes hand-in-hand with STEP 3.
STEP 3: Research
What does it mean when everyone says, “Do your research (on the firm/company)?” It means go to the website and do more than glance at it. Look at the bios (particularly the interviewers or the people in your practice area of interest). Look at recent news: what is the place up to? Do they align with your own future goals and values? During OCI season, I recommend using the free one-week LinkedIn Premium offer (or better yet, pay for the subscription because networking never ends) and look up more about your interviewers, mutual connections, and what’s going on in the community. While doing your research, keep track of your priorities and set realistic goals. I kept an Excel spreadsheet on firms/times/practice area/interviewers and wrote notes on why I liked each place and the practice group. If you apply for different practice groups depending on
the place, keep track of this; don’t make the mistake of switching or not knowing what you want. In my experience, “I can do anything” is not a good answer. Pick one (make sure the location you pick actually offers the practice) and run with it if you really don’t know (that’s what networking is for). Unless the firm has a general summer program where they let the summer associates do all types of practice areas (this is rare), it’s good to pick a practice and be able to explain why you are interested in it. You’re not married to it; a summer associate program is intended to expose you to this. Here is where networking comes into play: if you know someone from that company/firm, talk about them in your cover letter (and later in your interview). I would also caution that name-dropping means that the recruiter will for sure ask the person whose name you’re dropping. If they don’t know you very well or don’t like you, it might be better to avoid name-dropping altogether. Last but most importantly, PREPARE GOOD QUESTIONS (see STEP 4).
STEP 4: OCI
Start out with a smile and firm handshake (unless you’re in COVID times). Don’t have a (what one called) “dead fish” or (what another called) “Donald Trump-death” handshake. Have ready a one-minute pitch about who you are (the “Tell me about yourself” that is always asked).
While doing your research, prepare questions. There are two main types: specific and general. By specific, I mean tailored toward the specific interviewer. You can ask them about a recent case you saw they worked on or a published article/podcast. This is great if you know your interviewer beforehand, but keep in mind that schedules change all the time and if you get a different or an additional interviewer, you need to be able to adjust or include both in the conversation. The general type of question is similar to “Why do you like (firm/company)?” but more refined. For example, if your interviewer did not go to this firm/company right out of law school, why did they move? When framing your questions, avoid negatives and use positive language. You can also use this time to loosen up a nerve-wracking conversation, seek advice from the interviewers, or show some humor (but gauge your audience). When concluding the interview, thank them, shake their hands again AND GET THEIR BUSINESS CARDS.
FOLLOWING UP: Send a thank-you email within 24 hours. Some people may get offended if you don’t. While it’s likely they won’t read/respond to it, it’s better safe than sorry. The ball isn’t in your court yet. Note that this isn’t the time to be a gunner and send a thank-you card by snail-mail (interviews/offers are granted on a rolling basis) nor handing a generalized thank-you card right after your interview. In your thank-you email, try to bring up something you talked about that can make you stand out from other candidates.
The following paragraphs describe the two types of OCI processes I went through.
IF OCI’S ARE HELD AT A HOTEL (pre-COVID): “Hello, my name is Elder Price.” Just kidding… that was a Book of Mormon reference. But similar to the musical’s opening scene, you’re essentially waiting outside of a hotel room hallway and knocking on doors. You’ll be told beforehand which room number each firm is at, and you knock on the door when it’s time for
your scheduled interview. Also, this next tip should be common sense. If you’re not told “Come in” or the interviewer does not answer/open the door, DO NOT WALK IN. These things usually run over time, and interviewers are pretty understanding if you’re late due to back-to-backs.
TIPS: Bring deodorant (suit+nerves). Wear a watch (looking at phones is usually frowned upon). Bring extra resumes, transcripts, writing samples, references. If you have time, scope out the rooms beforehand to plan your route. Wear comfortable shoes (ladies, be mindful that elevators are slow and you may have to take stairs so heels may not be worth it). Drink water. Also, be aware of your surroundings. Contrary to popular belief, the interview may begin before you knock on that door. Someone sat next to me as I waited outside for my interview and he went into my room a few minutes before my time. Turns out, he was my last-minute-added
IF OCI’S ARE HELD AT SCHOOL (Pre-COVID): I scheduled two meetings with my career center; one the week before OCIs and one during OCIs. The first was for interviewing strategy and a quick run-down and practice. The second was for freaking out. OCIs are stressful, and I scheduled that meeting on my busiest day. My career counselor let me practice, freak out and get those nerves out before my OCIs. Better in that safe space than in the interview. Also, if you have a back-to-back, let the front desk know so they can let your next interviewer know in case things run late.
IF OCI’S ARE HELD VIRTUALLY: I didn’t go through this, so take my advice with a grain of salt. From all the Zoom meetings I’ve done during my summer associate program this past summer, I have some tips regarding how to present yourself in a virtual OCI. Dress the part (at least within the frame). For me, it worked even better when I dressed in a full suit, even though the person I was talking to could not see it, because it boost my confidence. Second, DO NOT READ OFF YOUR SCREEN. Prepare everything beforehand (your resume, questions, writing sample, etc.) and memorize them. People can tell when you’re reading off the screen, so don’t. Third, keep your hands away from your face; while this in real life could show interest, on Zoom, it looks like you’re disinterested. Smile often and express your body language to show enthusiasm, but don’t be fake about it.
WHEN YOU GET A COLD INTERVIEW: This is when your interviewer shows little to no emotion or is showing some attitude. Try your best to be enthusiastic anyway. If you’re not feeling the chemistry or you’re not getting good vibes from the interviewer, try not to sweat it. Sometimes they’re exhausted or they just don’t want to be there. Places usually want to send their best people to interview candidates, but things happen. If your personalities don’t mesh, it’s not necessarily you, and consider that this place might not be for you. It happens.
STEP 5: Callback
Depending on the firm, you could hear from a firm as early as a few hours after your OCI… or you could wait a couple weeks… or never. (If you don’t hear from any, don’t be discouraged. OCIs are fiercely competitive, but you can still apply the normal way, or you can take it as a sign as that place not being the right fit for you.) You will most likely be informed by a phone-call
from either your interviewer/recruiter. If you’re not attached to or don’t prefer picking up your phone, make sure your voicemail isn’t full and that you have a professional voicemail greeting. Firms’ scheduling processes for callbacks also differ; some might do it over the phone/email; some might let you choose via a scheduling website. Schedule your callbacks ASAP. Offers are given on a rolling basis so the earlier you conduct your interview, the higher the chances of an offer.
The callback usually consists of 5-6 individual interviews (or a callback reception) similar to OCIs (20-30 minutes each) but conducted at the firm/company. I did the 5-6 interview type and was escorted office to office by each interviewer and also did another callback where I sat in a conference room with rotating interviewers. You are usually informed a couple days before about who your interviewers are. Same thing as OCIs: be on time (and by that, I mean 15 minutes early), be polite to everyone, do your research, and prepare questions. Prepare for unexpected changes and have some general questions just in case you run into that one interviewer who just wants you to ask them questions the entire time. Also be prepared to explain yourself multiple times. It might sound repetitive to you, but it will be new to the interviewer so keep up your enthusiasm and smile. Be yourself and be honest. Don’t say your favorite practice area is one thing to one interviewer and another thing to the next because they do talk to each other at the end.
Callbacks can occur in the morning or afternoon. I picked mornings because they often consisted of a lunch with some associates (again, pre-COVID). Note that a lunch does not mean you can goof off; it’s an interview but in a more relaxed (but not super relaxed) setting. After the callback, send thank-you’s. I sent two types: email and cards. Email is more immediate but I also sent handwritten thank-you cards because it’s more personable (use first-class stamps). Also, be sure to email/hand-write a thank-you to your recruiter (whether it be the interviewer or person
arranging the callback or both). If you don’t know everyone in the process (e.g. the person leading you from office to office), then ask the recruiter to pass along your thanks. Everything should be done ASAP or within 24 hours. For COVID times, given that asking for people’s mailing addresses is a little inappropriate, just email is fine.
STEP 6: Choices
The ball is FINALLY in your court! If you’ve successfully done all of these steps, you may have more than one offer. If you haven’t heard back from your favorite places, you may leverage your offer by either (1) informing that you received an offer from (name the place) but they are your
top choice OR (2) informing that you received an offer and want to know where you stand in your favorite place’s process. Option (1) basically pushes the firm and if they decide to extend an offer, it’s basically a done-deal; you do not get to think about it; you must take it. Option (2) gives you more freedom to choose if the place you push decides to respond. I personally preferred Option (2).
I hope all this is of some help to those about to enter this stressful process! Reach out to mentors and former summers to stay positive!
Common Questions by Interviewers:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why (firm/company) rather than all the other firms/companies?
- What was your favorite law school class and why?
- What was your involvement with (club/organization/volunteer)?
- Why litigation/transactional?
- Why do you prefer firm over in-house (or vice versa)?
- If someone were to describe your best qualities, what would they say?
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict/mistake/challenge.
- What’s your favorite part about (firm/company)?
- Why law school?
- What was the most important thing you learned this summer?
- I saw there was a missing period of time in your resume, what did you do during this