BY MARK WEBER
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 straight-forward, 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. 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 about their experiences and your career goals. Listening to others’ experiences and verbally expressing your own thoughts 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 talk with visiting attorneys and panelists. Seek out alumni that can easily be identified through searches on lexis or martindale.com.
? 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 that all seem to look alike. Use the following resources and strategies to help you research and distinguish employers.
? OCS WEBSITETo 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, including the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) Directory, HLS Student Summer Job Evaluations, Chambers and Partners, Vault Guides for firms and cities, the American Lawyer, and more. The recruiting and job search preparation sections of the website will be particularly helpful during the bidding stage.
? EMPLOYER WEBSITESFirm web sites are marketing tools, and it is important to understand how the firm views and sells itself to both prospective clients and potential associates. 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 reviewing the firm’s site and its listing either in the HLS Online Employer Directory or the NALP Directory. If time is limited, prepare yourself with such basic information as: employer size, practice areas, location of branch offices, information about summer programs (if that is what you are interested in) and whatever the firm showcases on its main page. If time permits, a Lexis-Nexis or Google search will also reveal whether a firm has recently been in the news.
? THE CALLBACK INTERVIEWCallback interviews refer to the second round of interviews when an employer invites you to the office to meet and interview with a number of attorneys. Callbacks 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 and keep your eyes open to subtle (and obvious) cues. Don’t just ask general questions that you think they want 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? Are doors open or closed? Are people friendly or reserved? Then, consider whether there is a match between what you observed at the firm and your own ideal work environment.
3) Create a “Plan B”
In any 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 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. Do not get discouraged if you have to put your “Plan B” into action. You will still have wonderful career choices that each offer 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 privat
e 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.
Undoubtedly you are hearing about the softening of the legal market in many geographic regions. Please do not be unnecessarily alarmed about your prospects for OCI. Though it is true that many firms are experiencing reductions in force, HLS students have historically done well during recruiting seasons even in the most recessionary economies. At this time, consider focusing on what you can control and ensuring that you make the best of the opportunities and resources available to you through the OCI process. The vagaries of the economy are a reality of legal practice and this will not be the last time that you must deal with soft economic conditions. The best defense against a shaky legal market is a strong offense. Working up to your full potential, maintaining a positive attitude and taking advantage of the resources available to you to ensure that you are best prepared for the interviewing process is the most effective way to build a very strong offense that will ensure your success.
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 – which you can print from HLS MyPlan), 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.
Number of bids
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 21 employers, received 16 interviews, had 9 callback invitations, accepted 6 of the callback invitations and had 4 offers.
OCS uses a lottery system to assign interviews to students after bidding. As noted above, there is no pre-screening. 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 90+% 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.
The OCI process provides opportunity, not certainty. If, however, you diversify your bids and prepare and interview well, you will be well situated for your desired outcome. 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; and 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!