Career Services’ guide to the August Early Interview Program

BY MARK WEBER

As we head into the summer, rising 2Ls and 3Ls should be thinking about the 2009 Early Interview Program (“EIP”) when hundreds of employers from all over the globe will travel to Cambridge for the sole purpose of recruiting HLS students. While the size of the event may seem overwhelming, the Office of Career Services (“OCS”) is here to demystify the process and to help you best prepare for EIP.

The optimal starting point is also the simplest – note the key EIP dates and deadlines so you have a temporal framework for your EIP preparation:

July 15:Deadline to Submit Resume to OCS for Review

August 5-10:Bidding on Employers

August 14:Deadline to Complete Summer Evaluation

August 21:EIP Preparation Program (on campus)

August 24-28:Early Interview Program

Sept. 14-18: Flyout Week

While the EIP process is straightforward, the recruiting season can be an exciting, overwhelming, and emotional time. You will face career choices that require quick decisions. You will also be weathering the current economic climate and striving to try to keep the rest of your life in balance. With some planning and thought you can accomplish all of your goals and make the EIP experience productive, manageable, and even enjoyable.

Getting Ready for EIP

Throughout the summer OCS will be in touch with you regarding what you need to be doing to prepare for EIP. Check your HLS email for our emails, podcasts and other helpful materials and keep in direct touch with OCS if you so desire. Your should return to campus with an EIP interview schedule that reflects a targeted geographic preference, a general sense of what you are looking for, and a list of employers that genuinely interest you.

Though most of you will not be on campus this summer, OCS advisors will be here all summer long and will continually reach out to you to help keep you on track. Here is a list of the resources we will provide:

Weekly Emails / OCS Blog: Each Monday during the summer you will receive an email from OCS. We will alert you to key deadlines, interesting blog postings, and critical portions of our website. We will try to keep you abreast of the most pressing issues for that week. We will also regularly update our blog, Hire Ground. Hire Ground contains market information, frequently asked questions, “Day in the Life” profiles of practicing attorneys, and much more. You should add Hire Ground to the list of online publications you regularly check throughout the summer.

Weekly Podcasts: Each Thursday during the summer you will receive (via email) a link to a podcast taped by an OCS advisor. Topics to be covered in the weekly podcasts are: Narrowing Down Geographic Locations, Practice Area Overview, Researching Firms, International Job Searches During EIP, Updating Your Resume to Reflect Your Summer Job, Effective Bidding, 3Ls: Summer Assessment (Should I Bid for EIP?), Preparing/Studying for EIP, Dress Code, Hotel Etiquette & Reception Etiquette, and Pre-EIP Legal Economy. We will also provide links to these podcasts on the OCS website.

OCS Website: 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,” “Job Search Materials,” and “Researching Employers” sections of the website will be particularly helpful during the bidding stage.

Webcasts of Prior OCS Programs: Hopefully you have attended OCS-sponsored panels, programs and receptions throughout the 2008/2009 academic year. These programs covered certain areas of expertise and regions and dispensed advice about job search materials and tactics. To the extent that you missed them, all of these programs are webcast and available on the OCS website. In addition to contacting panelists that were of particular interest to you to further discuss their careers, do not hesitate to seek out alumni that can easily be identified through searches on lexis or martindale.com.

Mock Interview Program: This program is available to all rising 2Ls and 3Ls participating in EIP who signed up prior to the April 17 deadline. Through this program, OCS will match each participant with a private sector practitioner for a mock interview. The mock interviews will take place in June and July and are meant to simulate what you can expect during EIP interviews. At the end of the session, the interviewer will give you feedback and offer tips on how to improve your interviewing.

Market/Headhunter Series: Top headhunters from New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Southern California, Northern California, Atlanta, Texas and Miami visited the HLS campus this spring (either in person or virtually). Their presentations can be watched on the OCS website under “Headhunter Market Overviews.” They will also make themselves available for individual appointments with students during the summer. Watch your inboxes for notice of appointment dates and times. These professionals operate almost exclusively in their given markets and, therefore, are able to provide detailed information about the cultures, selectivity, and areas of expertise of all of the EIP firms from their city.

Summer Counseling Appointments: Talk with the career services professionals here at OCS. We are available by phone or in person – make an appointment through our online Appointment Manager. 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.

The Basic 4-Steps to EIP Preparation

As you can see from the above list of resources, summer communications from OCS will walk you through what you need to be thinking about at each juncture to be adequately prepared for EIP. While there will be deadlines, choices, and different steps that need to be taken along the way, keep in mind that the overarching process has 4 critical steps:

1) Do a Basic Self-Assessment

Focus on where you believe you are most likely to personally and professionally succeed – think about what will make you happy. 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 work experience. 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 detailed work of copyediting, or because the people were great?

Engage in active discussions with friends, family, and professors about their experiences and your career goals.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 EIP 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.

LISTEN TO THE RESEARCHINGEMPLOYERS PODCAST

You will receive a link to this podcast in an email from OCS on Thursday, June 18, 2009.

OCS WEBSITE

The OCS website offers many employer research tools ranging from search engines that list employers in particular regions to those that rank employers in certain fields. The site also discusses different locations and ways to approach narrowing your choices.

LAW FIRM ASSESSMENT GRID

You can locate this grid on the OCS website – if you go to the “Webcast by Semester” sect
ion, you will find it as an attachment to the “EIP Orientation” webcast. It provides all of the major categories necessary for a thorough assessment of a particular firm and will assist you as your sort out your choices.

EMPLOYER WEBSITES

Firm websites 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 employer’s site at the bidding stage, you should never enter an interview without first reviewing the firm’s site. If time is limited, prepare yourself with basic information such 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.

PRACTICING ATTORNEYS

Speak with as many attorneys as you can over the summer; you will likely be surrounded by them at your summer job. Get their recommendations on what to look for in a firm, specific firms, practice areas, and general advice on how to approach your career.

THE CALLBACK INTERVIEW

This last step happens after EIP, once a firm offers you a second round interview and invites you to the office to meet and interview with a number of attorneys. To glean information about the firm at the callback, you need to be prepared and keep your eyes open to subtle (and obvious) cues. Do not 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.” In the current uncertain economy, this is all the more true. We believe that HLS students will experience success during EIP even in this economy, but you will feel more comfortable going into EIP if you have at least explored the possibility of a “Plan B” ahead of time. If your first choice options do not work out, what do you want to do? 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 offer different experiences and opportunities. If the economy proves to be a barrier to your “Plan A” at this stage in your career, know that the market will rebound and you will be able to readjust to accomplish your first choice goals.

4) Take a Moment to Think Outside the “EIP Box”

Keep in mind that there may be law firms and other employers of interest that will not participate in EIP. Smaller firms – and even some medium to large firms in this economy – 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-EIP employers. Ideally cover letters and resumes should be sent to non-EIP employers by the end of July. In addition, speak with an OPIA advisor to investigate public interest and government employers. Rest assured, these non-EIP employers would love to receive your resume and cover letter.

Also keep in mind that OCS will host a much smaller interview program in the fall – the Fall Interview Program (“FIP”). You will receive a list of employers participating in FIP as well as all of the key FIP deadlines as the summer progresses.

Hot Topics

Each year as the recruiting season approaches, students 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.

The Economy: Undoubtedly you are hearing about the challenging legal market and the way law firms are responding to it. Though it is true that many firms have done layoffs, have deferred start dates for recent graduates, and have announced that they will host smaller 2010 summer classes, HLS students have historically done well during recruiting seasons even in recessionary economies. We also moved our interview program from the fall to the summer for the sole purpose of bolstering the already strong odds that most students who participate in EIP will find employment through the program.

When evaluating the economy and its effects on EIP, consider focusing on what you can control and ensuring that you make the best of the opportunities and resources available to you through the EIP process. Keep informed; know about how the economy is affecting not only law firms but the firms’ principle clients. During EIP interviews firms will be looking for students who have an understanding of the current conditions and their severity, yet who are able to balance that bad news with optimism, preparedness, and enthusiasm. You will stand out if you can keep your head above the paranoia, express your willingness to be flexible due to the firms’ uncertain needs, and show that you can stay cool under pressure.

The vagaries of the economy are a reality of legal practice and this will not be the last time you deal with soft economic conditions. The best defense against a shaky legal market is a strong offense. Work up to your full potential, maintain a positive attitude, and take advantage of the resources available to you to ensure that you are best prepared for the interviewing process.

Grades: There is no pre-screening in the EIP process; this means that employers do not see your grades before EIP interviews. They typically will ask for your transcript after your interview ends (remember to bring a transcript for each employer you will meet at EIP – which you can print from HLS MyPlan). This means that you have the entirety of your 20 minute EIP interview to overcome less than stellar grades by impressing the firm representatives 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 and how to factor them into the bidding process and/or address them during EIP interviews, make an appointment with an OCS advisor.

Keep in mind that the 2009 recruiting season will be HLS’s first with the new grading system. Employers have experienced our new grading system at a small number of other law schools, but will be adjusting to the sheer volume of HLS applicants with these types of transcripts. Regardless of your personal beliefs about the new grading system, it will accrue to your benefit to view this as opportunity to make
your past experiences, involvement on the HLS campus, and overall personality count for even more during the EIP interview process than they would have in prior years. If you have one LP or more on your transcript, please talk with an OCS advisor as you make bidding selections.

Number of Bids: EIP 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. If you are bidding for employers in one city only, you may very well bid for fewer than 35. If you are targeting two cities, you are more likely to reach the 35 mark.

Bidding Lottery: OCS uses a lottery system to assign interviews to students after bidding. As noted above, there is no pre-screening. An algorithm in the bidding program attempts to maximize students’ top choices. 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 periods, we suggest that you email the employer’s recruiting coordinator and let him or her know of your continued interest in the employer.

Your Odds: The EIP process provides opportunity, not certainty. If, however, you diversify your bids and prepare and interview well, you will be properly 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 the “Researching Employers” section of the website. While statistics cannot 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. Keep in mind that these numbers were compiled in different economies than the one we face today and also when the recruiting program was held in the fall rather than the summer.

The Road Ahead

You are at the beginning of your legal career. Think of the EIP 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 and to help you plan for EIP and your career. 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, blog entries to podcasts. 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.

Before you know it, the summer will be over, as will EIP, and campus life will return to normal. 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 be sure to use the summer to make important decisions, learn about the profession and prospective employers and also be sure to find time to relax and enjoy the summer which will fly by all too quickly.

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