BY MARK WEBER
Assistant Dean for Career Services
As we head into the fall On-Campus Interview Program (OCI), the Office of Career Services would like to de-mystify the process and help you prepare for the intense, exciting, and busy weeks ahead. Harvard Law School’s OCI is the nation’s largest on-campus interviewing program. Hundreds of employers from all over the globe will travel to Cambridge for the sole purpose of recruiting HLS students. OCI begins with a state of the art on-line bidding system that schedules three intense weeks of interviewing. This process culminates with “flyout” week at the end of October when HLS students travel around the nation (and even around the world) for callback interviews with potential employers.
While the OCI process is very simple and straightforward, the recruiting season can be an exciting, overwhelming, and emotional time. The blessing and the curse of coming to HLS is that you have so many choices and options. You may face seemingly endless career choices requiring quick decisions, while trying to keep the rest of your life on track (because, of course, you are a full-time student). With some planning and thought, however, you can make the experience more productive, manageable, and even enjoyable.
Getting Ready for OCI
There are many ways to tackle the OCI process. A distressingly popular method goes something like this: A student glances at the OCI calendar above his desk and realizes that the bidding deadline is tomorrow. He hastily sits down at his computer, and, based on a vague sense of where he would like to work and comments he’s heard around the Hark, searches for recognizable names of D.C. and New York firms. Since he only recognizes a few names in each city, he surfs over to the Am Law 100 and the Vault to get the names of other “top” firms. Satisfied that he has selected the best firms, he submits his bids with just hours to spare.
The Office of Career Services does not recommend this haphazard approach!
Throughout the summer you have received the links to OCS Online and emails guiding you through the OCI preparation process. Ideally, you have returned to campus with a targeted geographic preference, 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, don’t 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 may 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. Some suggestions:
2) Research and Select Employers
During OCI, you face the daunting task of sorting through hundreds of employers that all seem to look alike. Use the following resources and strategies to help you research and distinguish employers.
3) Create a “Plan B”
Even in a strong market it is wise to follow the old adage, “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 requires you to prioritize your desires. Which is most important: a firm’s prestige, the city, the tice 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. Do not get discouraged if you have to put your “Plan B” into action. You will still have wonderful career choices that each offers different experiences and opportunities.
4) Take a Moment to Think Outside the “OCI Box”
Keep in mind that there may be law firms and other employers that may interest you that will not be participating 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 private sector non-OCI employers. Make an appointment with an advisor to learn more. In addition, speak with OPIA to investigate public interest and government employers. Rest assured, these non-OCI employers would love to receive your resume and cover letter.
Each year, students facing OCI share many of the same questions and concerns. The following discussion addresses some of these common issues and attempts to 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.
Students should approach this hiring season with confidence. While securing the most competitive public and private jobs is always a challenge regardless of the market, legal hiring remains steady and relatively robust. While this can change as the result of economic and market forces, the immediate picture is that of a strong market for lawyers. 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 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, 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.
There is no pre-screening in the OCI 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 don’t matter. The most sought-after employers in the most selective markets have their choice of a very sizeable number of highly qualified students and often resort to grades as bright-line objective criteria to help differentiate between students. Keep this in mind when you bid for employers and diversify your bids accordingly. If you are concerned about your grades, come in and talk to an OCS adviser.
The Bidding Lottery and Your Odds
OCI bidding is limited to a maximum of 35 bids. This number is a ceiling, not a recommendation of how many firms to bid on. A thoughtful, targeted approach will likely be more successful and far less stressful. As a reference point, last year’s 2Ls on average bid on 22 employers, received 17 interviews, had 10 callback invitations, accepted 6 of the callback invitations and had 5 offers.
OCS uses a lottery system to assign interviews to students after bidding. A scheduling algorithm in the bidding program attempts to maximize students’ top choices, taking care not to conflict with class schedules. Students typically get approximately 75% of the interviews they request. In addition, your resume will be sent to all employers on whom you bid – even if you did not obtain an interview. If you are still unable to obtain an interview with a desired employer after the ADD/DROP period, we suggest that you email the employer’s recruiting coordinator and let him or her know of your continued interest in the employer.To get a sense of an employer’s past practices, check out the statistics on number of interviews, callbacks, offers and acceptances on the OCS website under “J.D. Students/Recruiting.” While statistics can’t provide information about such important factors as interview and academic performance, they can give a general sense of how many seek, how many are called, and how many are chosen.
The Road Ahead
You are at the beginning of your legal career, and it is unlikely that you or anyone else can predict exactly where your professional journey will lead. Think of the OCI selection process as the start of a personal journey and navigate thoughtfully. We hope that you are able to approach the process with enthusiasm and optimism; OCS is here to help make this possible over the next several weeks and beyond. Only you can chart your career path, not the Vault Reports, the American Lawyer or a consensus of your classmates or relatives.
Through the job search process, you will learn to take charge of your career. You should take advantage of the abundant career advising resources at HLS, from counselors to panelists, publications to websites. One of the most distinct advantages of attending Harvard Law School is the unsurpassed quality, potential, character and sheer number of your classmates. Over time, they will become your most effective network.
Soon campus life will return to normal and OCI will be behind you. In the meantime, remember that at no other time in your career will you go about finding a job in quite the same structured way. So, relax, be yourself, and enjoy!