Rock OCI and Get the Job You Want: Interview Tips

Photo of Questions MarksCongratulations, you’ve got an on campus interview! Let’s get you prepared.

Common Summer Associate Interview Questions

Luckily, most summer associate interview questions are softballs, as long as you’re sufficiently prepared. The interviews are short, and the interviewer is tasked primarily with figuring out whether you’re sincerely interested in the firm, and whether you’d be a good fit. Consequently, he’s probably asking everyone the same basic questions, and any detours will arise from interesting elements of your résumé, so you have some control over what will be discussed.

The Easy Questions

Here’s what you’re likely to be asked in an on campus interview:

  • How do you like law school?
  • Why are you interviewing with our firm?
  • Why do you want to work in our Chicago office?
  • What sort of law are you interested in practicing?
  • What are your favorite law school classes?
  • How did you like your 1L summer job working for Judge Smith?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

These questions are easy to prepare for, and you’d be wise to have answers ready to go.

How to Organize Your Thoughts on a Bunch of Indistinguishable Firms

When you’re doing a bunch of interviews in a row, it’s critical to come up with a system to tell them apart, so you don’t wax lyrical about how you’re dying to spend the summer in Washington, D.C. because you love politics, only to realize you’re interviewing with the New York office of the same firm. Or, in my case, not realize you were interviewing with the D.C. office, leading to a blank stare and awkward pause when asked the inevitable “Why D.C.?” question.

One approach that worked for me (most of the time!) was to go to each firm’s website the night before and get familiar with the basics: where were their offices, what kind of work did the firm specialize in, what were they bragging about on the site? I’d then print out a copy of the homepage, to jog my memory. To that, I’d attach a small index card, with notes about the firm, why I was applying there, and any questions I wanted to ask. A few minutes before the interview (or in the elevator if my interviews were back-to-back), I’d read the index card and glance at the website printout. Done, memory refreshed!

It’s not necessary to know everything about the firm. All you really need is a decent reason for applying there, which means they’re located in a city you want to work in, and do the type of work you want to do. If they’re known for that type of work, even better, but at least you won’t make an ass of yourself by telling a litigation shop that you’re excited to work in their M&A department.

What About the Tough Questions?

Certain topics are like catnip to law firm interviewers, and they just can’t stay away. If there’s something odd on your transcript or résumé, be prepared to discuss it. Handled well, a “difficult” question can actually help your cause, since it shows you can keep cool under pressure, so don’t freak out if an interviewer veers into areas you’d rather avoid. Just give a non-defensive explanation, and stay calm. Practicing in advance with a friend can help.

For example:

  • What happened in Contracts? (If you have one bad grade, people will ask about it.)
  • How in the world did you go from architecture to programming to law? (If your background is weird, people will ask about it. I must have answered this question a hundred times.)
  • Why did you leave your last job after only six months?

For questions like these, it’s helpful to have a standard answer rehearsed and ready to go, so you can answer the question concisely and move on.

What happened in Contracts?

You know, I just had a bad day, to tell you the truth. It was one of my favorite classes, and I thought I understood the material, but I wasn’t feeling great on test day, and I guess other students just did a better job on the exam than I did. It’s disappointing, but I suppose it happens…

One bad grade isn’t the end of the world, so don’t make it a bigger deal than it needs to be. In many cases, the interviewer has his own story about that one terrible grade, which he still remembers 15 years later, so don’t sweat it.

The Most Important Question of All

The question you’re most likely to be asked, which a shocking number of law student interviewees are unprepared for, is this: Do you have any questions for me?

This is one question which clearly has a wrong answer, “Um, not really.” Wrong. You must have a couple of questions prepared for the interviewer! If not, you look lazy and disinterested, which can be fatal to your chances.

It’s best to tailor your questions to the firm, but these are always good in a pinch:

  • How do you like working at this firm? What are the pros and cons?
  • What do you do in a typical day at the office?
  • What type of person is successful at your firm?
  • Are there areas (geographic or practice area) where the firm is thinking of expanding?

Throughout the on campus interview, stay calm and pleasant, and it will be over before you know it!

Don’t forget that you’re also interviewing the firm, so take a moment after the interview to jot your impressions of the firm on your index card for future reference.

Master OCI and Get the Job You Want

Read on to get the information you need to get the summer associate position you want:

Return to Summer Jobs 101.

Have additional questions on OCI interviewing? Leave them in the comments!

Image by oberazzi via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


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