Saturday, August 29, 2009

Handling On-Campus Law School Interviews

In many respects, on-campus interviews are like any other kind of interview…just a lo-o-o-t more convenient. You have to:

• Research the employer and the interviewer (at the very least, visit the employer’s website, including press releases, and the interviewer’s profile therein);
• Prepare an answer to the question “Tell me about yourself,” by taking three skills/qualities the employer is looking for and backing those up with examples showing you exhibiting those skills and qualities;
• Develop questions to ask (be sure to include some that reflect your research);
• Develop and memorize an answer to the question “What’s your greatest flaw?” by choosing something you’ve worked hard to overcome (be it shyness, procrastination…anything that’s true).
• Dress more conservatively than you think you need to. It’s not Project Runway; it’s Project-Get-A-Job-In-A-Crappy-Economy.
• Do a mock interview before the ‘real thing.’ Even if you don’t think you need one. It’ll take care of any minor interview ‘hiccups’ you have…and if your school brings in practitioners for mock interviews, you might even attract an employer you didn’t even think of before!

Having said all of that, there areunique aspects to on-campus interviews. Among them:

Attend any information sessions/cocktail parties the employer holds before interview day.
Some employers hold these, particularly at schools where they’re eager to recruit. If they hold an event – go. It shows your enthusiasm for the job! On top of that, make yourself known. Shake hands with the speaker/host and say you’re looking forward to talking to them, and thank them for holding the event.
I saw this principle in action on a flight once. I was sitting across the aisle from a woman and her assistant. They were obviously going through resumes, and with each one, the woman was asking her assistant, “Do we know her? Do we know him?” When they took a break for a drink, it gave me the chance to ask what they were doing. The woman told me, “We’re looking for new assistant editors, and we just interviewed on a college campus. We held an information session ahead of time. I’m only interested in talking to the students who cared enough to come to the information session.” And this, mind you, was independent of whatever the resumes looked like!
Incidentally, if there is a change in generosity of an employer from year to year, it might be an indication that all is not well financially. I heard a memorable story about this at one distinguished East Coast law school. A career services counselor told me, “This particular firm always held a lavish buffet for the interviewees the night before the interviews. It was always a “no expenses spared” bash. Then one year, they called and asked if they could scrap that in favor of a ‘box lunch’ kind of thing. So we did that. The next year, they wanted to economize even more. I said, ‘You don’t have to entertain them at all, you know,’ and they said, ‘No, no, no, we want to do it. Just out of curiosity: how much would we save if we took away the bags of chips?’ I mean: chips? There was obviously something up. Sure enough, eighteen months later, they were out of business.”

Don’t apply for on-campus interviews for jobs you’d never take. You’re not collecting shrunken heads. You’re looking for a job.
Maybe you’ve got great credentials and employers just drool over the opportunity to interview you. Well, congratulations. Don’t hog the interview schedule. You don’t get a prize for gathering the most interviews. And while you might earn the envy of less transcriptically gifted classmates, they won’t like or respect you for it.
So if you’d never work in any city other than the one where you’re going to school, don’t take interviews with out-of-town employers. If you won’t work any more than a 40-hour workweek – I don’t blame you – don’t take interviews with employers who demand far more than that.

Pay special attention to who’s coming on campus, and don’t “front-load” all of your interviews.

Employers who get stuck with interview slots late in the on-campus “season” often lament the fact that students sometimes accept offers before the later interviews even start.
Scope out who’s coming to campus before interview season starts. Research the employers to see who is really likely to fit you best. Whether they’re coming in August or October, don’t make a decision until you talk to them.

If you’re waitlisted…

At some law schools, there’s a waitlist for on-campus interviews. That is, if an interview slot opens up at the last minute, someone is chosen from the waitlist.
If your school waitlists and you wind up on the waitlist for an employer you’re interested in, here’s what you need to know.
Don’t get your knickers all in a twist because you weren’t preselected. As Washington’s Josie Mitchell advises, “You’re in a suit, you’re interested in the employer, you’ve got nothing to do for that twenty minutes. So go in with the attitude, ‘Why not?’ Who knows what might happen? Every year at least one of our students from the wait list gets a call back, and many have been offered jobs.”
Virtually every employer I talk with will describe a superstar in the office by saying, “He was far from our first choice…” “We almost didn’t talk to her…” “If we hadn’t met him in person at a bar association event…” Heck, even American Idol’s Simon Cowell gave Taylor Hicks a thumbs-down on his initial audition…and he went on to win!
So don’t resent the fact you weren’t on the A-list. Low expectations are meant to be exceeded. Think how proud you’ll be when you prove them wrong!

Always notify an employer (via the Career Services Office, if you like) if you’re going to blow off an interview with them.

Whether you’ve accepted an offer elsewhere or for any other reason lost interest, don’t blow off employers without saying anything. It’s terribly unprofessional and it makes your school look really bad. Some employers actually stop interviewing at certain schools when they have a high “no-show” percentage. On top of that, you have no idea when this particular employer and/or interviewer might cross your path again. People move around a lot. You don’t want the thing they remember about you is that you blew them off.
Just let Career Services know as soon as you know that you won’t be attending an interview. It’s the kind – and professional – thing to do.

What if you get lots of on-campus interviews and don’t get any call-backs?

If you’re interviewing for jobs that are not a “reach” with your credentials…there’s a hitch somewhere.
I’ll tell you some of the more common causes of no-call-back-itis:
• You’re interviewing for jobs you really don’t want;
• You’re answering a question with something that triggers a negative response in the interviewer;
• You’ve got a habit, verbal or non-verbal, that’s throwing off the interviewer;
• You’re not communicating, verbally and/or behaviorally, your interest in the job. If you answer questions monosyllabically, if you don’t seem to know anything about employers, if you sigh or roll your eyes…you’re telling the employer ‘I don’t want to work for you.’
• If your school has a lottery system for OCI – where the employer doesn’t get to choose who’s interviewed – your paper credentials may be hurting you.
Ask for mock interviews at your Career Services Office. Explain where in the interview you feel you’re “losing” the interviewer. And if you’re interviewing for jobs you don’t really want…that’s a situation where interviewers really can smell blood in the water. I talked to a student at one school who had stellar credentials, but had no luck in on-campus interviews. As she explained, “I was a social worker before law school, and I’d specialized in working with the elderly. I really went to law school for elder law, which is practiced in my city only by sole practitioners and very small firms. I went on OCIs because everybody does. I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t get any call backs, and I guess I’m really not surprised.”
Remember: job offers are like proposals of marriage. If employers feel you won’t accept, they won’t make you one. Your enthusiasm will shine naturally when you go after jobs that really interest you.
The bottom line is this: inevitably there’s an easy interview “fix” that’ll set you right. Don’t suffer in silence!

Remember: on-campus interviews aren’t the whole world. They’re the tip of the job search iceberg.

The vast majority of employers don’t interview on campus; a job you’d love is out there waiting for you, but it’s unlikely they’re going to show up at OCI.
As Josie Mitchell advises, “Treat OCI as a back-up plan, not as your main job search tool.” Not getting a job through OCI is meaningless. It doesn’t mean you’ll never find a job or even a great job – it’s just that you didn’t get one of those jobs, this particular way. There are a million ways to skin the job search cat!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Job Search Tips For Tough Times, Part One

The Job Goddess doesn't have to tell you that the job market is less than robust. That doesn't mean, however, that there are no jobs. Of course there are. There are always jobs. Let's talk about some points to keep in mind when legal employers are not breaking down your door and begging you to work for them:

Number one. Don't overly romanticize good job markets.
When times are tough it is easy to create an unrealistic picture of how things are when the job market is healthier. Don't kid yourself. The job market for law students and law school graduates is never generous. In good job markets, large law firms will reach a little further down the class, targeted mailers will work better, employers in general will be more welcoming. But no matter how good the job market is, it is not as though Skadden Arps will ever throw open its doors and say, "Aw, Prairie s***. Let ‘em all in.” (Bonus points if you can identify the film source of that quote.) The fact is, the vast majority of law students don't get jobs through on-campus interviews regardless of the job market. It's always work finding work, and you’ll be a lot happier if you anticipate that.

Number two. Make yourself useful.
If you want people to get invested in your career, make yourself useful to them. Volunteer at bar association functions. Volunteer to help a partner at a law firm by researching and writing an article for them for a share of the byline. Offer to help out lawyers who participate in your school’s clinical program. Do any of the hundreds of activities in Chapter 9 of my book, "Guerrilla Tactics For Getting The Legal Job Of Your Dreams." (It's in your career services office at school.) In general, let people see your willingness to work hard and your enthusiasm. Regardless of the job market, people are hard wired to be helpful. Give them a chance to see you at your best.

Number three. Make yourself visible.
Go to events where lawyers hang out. Bar association functions, CLEs, alumni events. I know the thought might send shivers down your spine, but remember: you are as successful as other people want you to be. The more people you talk to, the more likely it is someone will put you onto a gig – or put you onto somebody else who can help you.
When you meet people, you don’t have to worry about saying something witty or memorable. The best and easiest thing to do is to ask questions about the other person. What do you do? How do you like it? How did you choose it? Ask for advice about wherever you are in your job search. "I am trying to figure out what to do with my law degree. How did you decide?" "I'm trying to break into the Wallabadah job market. What would you do if you were me?" (Remember -- you never ask for a job, you ask for advice about getting jobs.)
The Job Goddess has spoken with students who have used very sneaky ways to make themselves visible to employers they were targeting. Going to CLEs taught by partners at firms they wanted to work for, and introducing themselves to the partners at the end of class; doing their homework at Starbucks, with a stack of law books conspicuously on the table, encouraging lawyers to strike up a conversation with them; taking menial jobs in buildings populated by law firms, wearing a suit to work every day, carrying a legal publication under their arm, and making sure they lingered in the lobby reading said publication, knowing lawyers would talk to them.
The fact is, you don't know when the next person you talk to will lead you to your next job.

Number four. Use LinkedIn.
The Job Goddess knows how badly you want to sit in front of your computer and have it spew out a job for you. So she will throw you a bone. Namely: LinkedIn. If you have not yet joined, the Job Goddess implores you sign up right now. Of all of the social networking media available, the Job Goddess likes LinkedIn the best for job search.
Give yourself a robust profile. Join every applicable group. When you want to approach employers, look them up on LinkedIn, and see if you know anyone there, or, more likely, know someone who knows someone there.
When you contact people through LinkedIn, the Job Goddess advises you to ask them for advice, not jobs. "I'm interested in the Buffalo Breath market, and I’d really appreciate your insights and advice about it. I have some specific questions..." and ask them for 10 minutes of their time to talk to you; you will learn much more talking to somebody then you will having them e-mail you, and you will be much more memorable yourself.
The Job Goddess could go on and on about LinkedIn -- and she will in upcoming blog posts. For now, suffice it to say that you need to be on LinkedIn.

Number five. Cast a wide geographic net.
The Job Goddess knows you so don't want to hear this, but it's true: when the job market is wheezing, you might have to look where you wouldn't have looked otherwise to kick start your career.
Particularly if you want a glamorous market, like New York or San Francisco, even in good times it makes sense to look at the towns over the bridges and through the tunnels. Small towns within spitting distance of big cities are often not as buffeted by a bad job market. Furthermore, you can always live in your dream city and do a reverse commute out to your job in a small town. The Job Goddess has talked to many people who talk about how satisfying it is to sit in an almost empty train and see people crammed like sardines going the other way.
Anyway, your first job is not your last job. Nobody expects you to stay in your first job more than a couple of years or so. You can always spin your first job into other jobs – in your dream city - later on. So don't put too much stress on that first gig.

Number six. There is no shame in paying the bills.
The Job Goddess is reluctant to mention this, but you need to realize that if it takes you a few months after graduation to find a job -- and it could -- you might have to do something in the meantime to keep a roof over your head. You know, retail. Waiting tables. If you shriek, "But I have a law degree!" the Job Goddess points out that she, too, has a law degree, but nevertheless spent more than a year after graduation waiting tables, delivering meals to invalids, taking on freelance writing projects, and in general doing whatever she had to do to pay bills.
Of course, your credentials are probably a lot better than the Job Goddess’s were, and your job prospects are probably a lot better. Nonetheless, she can't guarantee you'll entirely avoid menial work while your dream job ship is waiting to dock.
Anyway, remember that jobs, no matter how menial, give you the opportunity to meet new people, and you never know when the next person you meet will be your key to a great job. One of the Job Goddess’s favorite stories involves a new law school graduate who wound up working a register at Wal-Mart. Resisting the temptation to let his disappointment show -- there's nothing wrong with working the register at Wal-Mart, but it's not where most law students expect to launch their career -- he made a point of smiling and engaging in conversation with his customers. One recurring customer turned out to be a lawyer running for state attorney general. Mr. Cash Register Wal-Mart guy offers to help out on his campaign. He helps a lot, the lawyer gets elected, and names Register Guy special assistance to state attorney general. Ah, yes, the Job Goddess has a million of them… and they all wind up same way: with law students finding jobs.

The bottom line? In a tough job market, "You have to expect to do more of what you do when the job market is good," says Eric Bono of the University of Colorado Law School. More volunteering, more outreach. And, yes, you’ll face more rejection.

But remember: you will get a job. There has never been a law student who spent the rest of his life unemployed, and you won’t be the first. Just keep your feet moving in a strategic way, and good things will happen. The Job Goddess guarantees it.