Fall Recruiting-What Every Law Student Should Know (A Special Installment from the Desk of a Working Mom)
By Jennifer Guenther • September 08, 2010•Writers in Residence, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job
I have done recruiting for my law firm for seven years now, first doing the call-back interviews, then OCI (on campus interviews), and now as the co-chair of the committee for final summer hires. There are always those students who stand out, who have top grades and an engaging personality that make them hot commodities for any law firm. But good grades or a good personality alone do not make a great candidate. There are other ways to make you stand out in an interview and be memorable for all the right reasons.
As a law student, I remember the frustration of trying to get that first interview, let alone a call back interview. I also remember the feeling that all the interviews seemed to go to the same people over and over. As a recruiter, I now have a good understanding of that and why certain resumes stand out more than others.
Getting the First Interview:
First, as much as good grades do not always mean a good future lawyer, any given firm is interviewing at six or more schools and has probably reviewed hundreds of resumes before deciding on the few candidates to interview on campus. Grades are an easy way to distinguish one candidate from another. It is important that attention be brought to any really good grades, honors, or scholarships that give a good sense of a serious and determined student. Everyone can have a bad class or even a bad semester, but hopefully your transcript can show a growing understanding of the subject matter and an increasing GPA over the course of law school
Grades, alone, are not generally enough to distinguish a student among 50 or 100 other resumes from that same school. It is also important to show involvement in activities other than simply going to class. Whether that involvement is in the community at large or in club activities on-campus, it should be meaningful. A candidate who does one or two activities, but is on the board or chairs a committee, is much more attractive than a candidate who is a member of multiple organizations simply to pad their resume. I am looking for someone who shows passion and dedication to the things they are involved in, someone who will bring that same passion and dedication to the workplace.
Finally, every law student must realize that their writing skill is one of the most important tools they bring to the trade. Nearly every aspect of the law, whether it is transaction, litigation, criminal defense, or corporate, requires the ability to write clearly and concisely. A resume should be typo free and easy to understand. Any writing related activity, such as a law journal position, publications, or high score should be highlighted. And your writing sample should be clear and without error. It is assumed that any writing sample used from a law school class has been reviewed multiple times and so any errors in that writing sample are going to weigh heavily against you.
Because so many of the writing samples we receive are from a class or heavily edited, I find that the most telling item to determine whether a student can write is their cover letter. This is an often overlooked part of the “package” that many students turn into a form document, simply filling in the name of the firm in the appropriate place. The cover letter, however, is a great opportunity that tells me whether the student actually researched the firm ahead of time, their ability to organize and punctuate, the areas that the person believes they are interested in, and whether they have a good insight as to why they are studying the law. That may seem to be a tall order for a single page document, but a lot can be said in a few paragraphs. And when those few paragraphs are thoughtful, it provides some comfort that this particular student is spending as much time trying to find the right fit as we, as a firm, are doing and looking for our summer associates.
The On Campus Interview:
You got the interview! Congratulations. But now the work begins. You are still competing against a dozen or more from your school for the coveted call-back spot. Now is not the time to let your ego get the best of you. Making the first cut means that you, along with all the others who made the first cut, meet the basic criteria of the firm interviewing. Prepare and give it your all--while you may be interviewing against the number two ranked person in your class, it is important to realize that you are also someone the firm believed could be a good fit.
For the interviewer, call-back interviews make for a very long and tiring day. When you are meeting 12 or 15 people and asking each of them similar questions, it is often difficult to separate the people in your mind at the end of the day. As the candidate, it is your job to be as prepared as possible and make it easy for the interviewer to remember you.
Research the firm ahead of time. Find out what areas of law they practice, where they are located, how many attorneys and offices they have, and, if possible, who you will be interviewing with. If getting a job there would mean moving, be prepared to explain why you would be willing to move and stay in the area. If there are particular areas of law that interest you, point that out, but keep in mind that the firm is likely looking for someone that could fit in multiple practices areas, depending on where their needs are at the time. Think about what additional information you would like to know and ask it during the interview.
When talking about your education, be prepared to explain any poor grades. Think about why law school is important to you and why you want to become a lawyer. Be prepared to talk about your activities and how those are incorporated into your life. Think about the areas that you excel in and about how you plan on improving in those areas that come less naturally. Be passionate about what you do and don’t be afraid to offer up something personal. Sometimes it is the personal, non-law related things that make a candidate really stand out.
The web is currently full of interviewing advice, but be cautious in following such advice. For example, there is a current line of thinking that if you are asked a question, you should try to turn it around and get the interviewer to begin talking about themselves. That doing so, because everyone loves talking about themselves, will make you more likeable. This is annoying. Don’t do it. It leaves the interviewer with no information to judge you by in comparison to the other candidates. And never lie. It is okay to occasionally say you don’t know an answer, but are open to new ideas.
It is natural to be nervous during an interview, but also important to understand that you are there because the interviewer thought you were worth their time to speak with. They are looking for a good fit as well as a promising student. And they want to know about you.
The Call-Back Interview:
The “call-back” is the final stage in the fall recruiting process. By now, each firm has spent anywhere from 50 to 100+ hours in reviewing resumes, interviewing on campus, and deciding who should be brought back to the office. This is a hard decision because there are generally only a limited number of spots for call-backs with many exceptional and qualified candidates. Sometimes a particular candidate will have a great interview, but won’t receive the call back simply because there were also other great interviews.
If you are offered a call-back interview, please carefully consider whether you really want to work at the firm. It is very frustrating to sit in on a call-back interview with someone who clearly has not researched the firm and has no idea of the geographic area. I remember from law school that some student treated call-backs as a competition – how many could they get. After spending a 100+ hours on narrowing candidates, such an attitude leaves a very bad taste for the firms interviewing.
During call-backs, you will usually meet with different attorneys than those you met with on campus. These attorneys will often have some final decision-making authority as to who is hired for the following summer. The same rules, therefore, apply as are listed for on-campus interviews: be prepared, research the firm and area, be on time, provide updated information if necessary, think about and be prepared to answer any weak spots on your resume, and answer questions thoroughly. Be ready to ask questions as well. And never, ever, be rude to any member of the firm from the janitor, to the receptionist, to anyone else you might meet there. I always ask and have immediately cut those who act badly towards staff.
There are also some obvious things that shouldn’t be necessary to point out, but which I have seen happen: don’t come in smelling of alcohol; shave; shower; dress professionally; avoid subjects related to politics, religion, or other touchy areas unless they are pertinent to something on your resume; be on time; call if an emergency does come up; have extra copies of your resume, transcript, and writing sample; be confident—now is not the time to be shy—even if you have to pretend; don’t lie; be proud of your accomplishments.
It is easy to feel dejected if you are rejected from any stage of this process. And it can be very discouraging knowing that more than a hundred candidates are vying for only a few spots at any given firm. But it is important to keep in mind that fall recruiting is not the end all of the job search. It is a tool that is provided to students and should be used as an opportunity to really hone your resume and work on interviewing skills, and to think about what it is that you are most interested in. Finding a job is not just about the company liking you, but about you liking the company enough to want to invest your time and energy there. If you don’t get the OCI interview, then seek out the part-time position at the solo law firm, apply for internships, and continue to do things that you feel passionate about and that make you a more rounded candidate for the future.