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!

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