Sally Kay, a partner at Cooley LLP, has been participating in Santa Clara Law’s OCI for over seven years and below shares how to have a seamless first impression with your interviewers at this year’s OCIs .
So you’ve poured over the listings of the firms that are conducting on campus interviews. You’ve thought carefully about the kind of work that you want to do and determined, from a practice perspective, which firms are the right fit. You’ve done your research on those firms, getting a good sense of who the people are and recent matters they’ve handled. You’ve talked with fellow SCU students who summered at those firms to get their impressions. Fully satisfied that you’ve narrowed your list to the right firms, you proudly submit your error-free, one page resume (which includes your GPA) and your customized-to-each-firm cover letter to the firms on your list. You wait patiently for the news and… Hooray! You have been selected for an on campus interview at one or more of your selected firms. Congratulations! But, now what?
The OCI experience is not like your typical interview. In many ways, it’s as much speed dating as it is interviewing. Thankfully, there isn’t someone annoyingly blowing a whistle or ringing a bell every five or seven minutes and telling you to change tables. But you are still challenged to convey enough information about yourself in a scant 16 or 17 minutes and make an impression of such magnitude that the interviewer would be crazy not to call you back to the firm to meet more of his or her colleagues.
Sure, the schedule shows 20 minute interview slots. But don’t be fooled – in order to stay on schedule, that interviewer needs to walk out to get you, walk you back, make a few minutes of small talk, get to the heart of the interview, wrap things up, walk you out and then go back and jot enough notes to remember you and the conversation so as not to mix your conversation up with the 20 other conversations they are having the same day. In order to stay on time, and to make sure we don’t make you late for your next interview slot, we are really only able to spend 16 or 17 minutes with you. You already know that you need to have your research together about the firm and have to be able to answer questions about anything on your resume. Interviewers expect that. But in doing the hard part, some candidates forget to think about the obvious things…
Before: Look in the mirror. Does your suit fit? Does the shirt match the suit? Is the suit clean? Are your nails clean? If your nails are polished, are they chipped? Hair clean? Combed? Teeth brushed? Breath fresh? Even before you say hello, your appearance makes an impression. You want to make sure that the interviewer isn’t so distracted by your appearance that they don’t hear your words. Forget the cologne or perfume. Spit out your gum. Put on your best smile. When you smile, we smile.
During: If you are going to shake hands, make it a real handshake. Make eye contact. Sit up straight in the chair. Don’t bounce your leg up and down or fidget with your hair or clothing. We want to see a poised, confident candidate in the chair across from us. Make sure you know which firm you are speaking to – it’s fine to have a note pad with you with the name of the firm and your well-tailored questions for that firm, etc. We realize that you may be speaking to several firms and we’ll respect your being organized. Listen carefully to our questions so you are answering what we are asking. Give us honest, sincere answers to our questions, not the answers you think we want to hear. If you give us the same answers as every other candidate, there’s nothing to distinguish you from the others. Do enough mock interviews to lose the “ums” and “ahs.” Don’t be afraid of a few seconds of silence while you formulate your answer. Don’t be afraid to enjoy the experience. Don’t be afraid to be you.
After: Send a thank you to your interviewer. If hand written notes are your thing, hand write away. If email is more your thing, fire off that email. While it is likely never going to be a factor in determining whether or not you’ll get the call back, I think it is important for a couple of reasons. One, if you are the only one on the schedule who doesn’t send one, the interviewer will likely notice. And two, the legal community is a very small one. Even if you don’t get the call back now, you may very well cross paths with your interviewer in the future – across the table on a transaction or at a future interview. Leaving that interviewer with a positive last impression will always serve you well.