BY MARK WEBER
The purpose of this article is to de-mystify the fall On-Campus Interview Program, the most visible of the Office of Career Services’ numerous job search programs, and to help students prepare for the intense, exciting and busy weeks ahead. Harvard Law School’s On-Campus Interview Program (OCI) is the nation’s largest on-campus interviewing program, with hundreds of employers coming to Cambridge to recruit you. OCI starts with a state of the art on-line bidding system that schedules three intense weeks of interviewing. It culminates with “flyout” week at the end of October when HLS students journey around the nation, and even around the world, to interview with potential employers.
While the OCI process is very simple and straight-forward, the recruiting season is a very exciting, overwhelming, and emotional time. One student observed that participating in OCI is a little like being Sandra Bullock, wildly driving the bus in the movie “Speed.” You face seemingly endless career choices and quick decisions with little time to reflect, meanwhile keeping the rest of your life on track (because, of course, you are a full-time student). The blessing and the curse of coming to HLS is that you have so many choices and so many options. But with some planning and thought you can “slow down the bus” and make the experience more productive, more manageable, and even enjoyable.
Getting Ready for OCI
There are many ways to tackle the OCI process. A surprisingly popular method goes something like this. A student glances at the OCI calendar above his desk and remembers that he had better submit his OCI bids since the deadline is coming up. The night before bidding closes, he sits down at his computer. Based on a general sense that he would like to be in a city and his classmates’ comments that the best firms are in D.C. and New York, he searches the list of D.C. and New York firms and picks names he recognizes. Since he only recognizes two or three names in each city, he surfs over to the Am Law 100 to get the names of other “top” firms. Satisfied that he has selected the best firms, he submits his bids.
The Office of Career Services does not recommend this method!
Throughout the summer you have received OCS Summer Scoop and emails guiding you through the OCI preparation process. Ideally, you have returned to campus with a general sense of what you are looking for and a list of employers that interest you. We realize, however, that not every student has had the opportunity to devote time to preparing. If you are in this group, donÕt despair and revert to the approach described above. Instead, we suggest the following four-step process:
1) Do a Basic Self-Assessment
First, take some time to think about what you truly want in a career. The OCI process is a whirlwind experience, even for the most organized students. Resist the forces that cause you to lose sight of what makes you happy. Focus instead on where you think you are most likely to succeed personally and professionally. Sorting through these complex and personal issues is a highly individual process. Use the methods that work for you. Some suggestions:
* Recall what you liked and disliked about previous employment. Sit down and get the list on paper. Try to capture the underlying qualities that were important to you. For example, if you enjoyed editing your school paper, was it because the deadline pressure was invigorating, or because you liked the detail work of copyediting, or because the people were great? * Engage in active discussion with friends, family and professors. Listening to the experience of others, as well as expressing your own thoughts to others, can be enormously helpful.
* Talk with the career services professionals here at the Law School. All of the OCS Career Counselors have a J.D. and have worked in a variety of practice areas and geographic locations. Take advantage of their experience and expertise.
* Attend panels, programs and receptions offered in conjunction with OCI and engage visiting attorneys and panelists in discussion. You can also use the Alumni Advisory Network, an online database co-sponsored by OPIA, OCS and the Alumni Center that can be accessed from the OCS and OPIA websites.
* Finally, be sure to do some of the self-assessment exercises that are available on the OCS website under “Career Exploration.” 2) Research and Select Employers
When you are bidding for OCI you face the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of employers. A number of strategies and resources exist to assist you in researching employers.
* OCS Web SiteTo begin your research, be sure to visit the OCS website at www.law.harvard.edu/ocs. The website provides links to a variety of useful online resources as well as descriptions of hard copy resources available at the OCS office. Also available through the OCS website are the HLS Online Employer Directory, HLS Student Summer Job Evaluations and various Vault Report guides for firms and cities. Available on the web are the National Association for Law Placement Directory, Lawmatch.com, Lexis, Westlaw, and Infirmation.com (which hosts the “Greedy Associates” boards). The recruiting and job search preparation sections of the website will be particularly helpful during the bidding stage.
* Employer Web Sites Firm web sites are marketing tools; nonetheless they provide some important information. Though you may not find the time to look at every potential employer’s site at the bidding stage, you should never enter an interview without first looking at the employer’s site and the firm’s listing either in the HLS Online Employer Directory or the NALP Directory. If time is limited, look for certain basic information so you will not appear unprepared. Suggested areas: employer size, practice areas, location of branch offices, information about summer programs (if that is what you are interested in) and whatever they showcase on the main page. If time permits, a Lexis-Nexis search would also highlight if a firm has recently been in the news.
* The Callback Interview Callback interviews, the second round of interviews when an employer invites you to the office to meet and interview with a number of other attorneys, offer a unique opportunity to assess firm culture and get a sampling of personalities in the firm. To glean information about the firm at the callback, you need to be prepared. Don’t ask questions and listen for the reply. Answers are likely to be shaped by an understanding of what students want and expect to hear. Instead, ask specific questions and look beyond the words to get a sense of the place. How do people interact with each other? What are the offices like? How does the employer’s work setting feel to you? Formal? Quiet? Intense? Collegial? What adjectives would you use to describe the people? Do associates seem happy? Ask yourself some crucial questions to see if there is a fit. What type of people do you enjoy working with? Is there a match between what you observed at the firm and your own ideal work environment? What environment is most comfortable for you and/or what environment promotes your success and productivity? Bearing such questions in mind during the callback process will make you a more informed decision-maker.
3) Create a “Plan B”Even in an improving market it is wise to follow the old adage to “assume the best but prepare for the worst.” If your first choice options do not work out, what do you want to do? Again this is a personal decision that demands that you prioritize your desires. Which is most important: a firm’s prestige, the city, the practice area or something else? Where will you compromise? You may prefer a national firm located in a less sought-after city or you may be determined to settle in a given area even if you must consider alternate employers.
4) Finally, Take a Moment to Think Outside the OCI Box
Are there employers you should be considering outside the OCI process? Many law firms and other employers that may
interest you will not participate in OCI. Many smaller firms do not have the resources to make the trip to Cambridge and cannot always anticipate their summer or fall hiring needs. Other mid-sized or more geographically remote employers feel they cannot compete for your attention, so they allocate their resources elsewhere. OCS has many resources to help you identify non-OCI employers. Make an appointment with an advisor to learn more. Of course, OPIA can introduce you to the world of public interest and government employers, as well. Rest assured, these non-OCI employers would love to receive your resume and cover letter. Hot topics
Each year common questions and concerns emerge for students facing the OCI process. The following discussion addresses some of these issues to try and dispel any confusion or misinformation. Of course, you should always feel free to make an appointment with an OCS adviser to discuss your situation and personal concerns.
The economyStudents should approach this hiring season with confidence. While securing the most competitive public and private jobs is always a challenge regardless of the market, the recent downturn in legal hiring is abating. The second half of 2004 and the first half of 2005 did not see the layoffs and firm closures of the prior two to three years. We are hearing from legal recruiters (headhunters) around the country that firms and corporate counsel’s offices have been hiring laterals. Since lateral hiring is usually an early indicator for new associate hiring, we are very optimistic about this hiring season. Naturally, you should also approach OCI with clear eyes and common sense. If you are looking at a “hot” market, for example such as L.A. or D.C., you should be realistic and make sure you bid on an appropriate array of firms, not just the most competitive.
GradesThere is no pre-screening in the bidding process. OCS guidelines require that all HLS students have an opportunity to interview with the employers of their choice during OCI. Employers will not see your grades until they receive your transcript at the on-campus interview (remember to bring a transcript!), so you have an opportunity to overcome less than stellar grades by impressing them in person. Most employers consider grades as only one factor among many in the hiring process. This is not to say that grades donÕt matter. The most sought-after employers in the most selective markets have an abundant choice of highly qualified students. Keep this in mind when you choose employers for interviews and diversify your bids accordingly. If you are concerned about your grades, come in and talk to an OCS adviser.
Number of bidsOCI bidding is limited to a maximum of 35 bids. Remember this is a ceiling, not a recommendation of how many firms to bid on. A more thoughtful targeted approach will likely be more successful and far less stressful than frantic interviewing with a ton of employers. As a reference point, on average last year’s 2Ls bid on 20 employers, received 15 interviews, had 8 callback invitations, accepted 6 of the callback invitations and had 4 offers.
Bidding lotteryOCS uses a lottery system to assign interviews to students after bidding. There is no pre-screening. A scheduling algorithm in the bidding program attempts to maximize students’ top choices, taking care not to conflict with academic class schedules. Students typically get approximately 75% of the interviews they request. In addition, your resume will be sent to all employers with whom you bid