“Why would we consider someone with your GPA for a job like this?”
That’s the first question I received from a biglaw firm’s interviewing attorney when I sat down in the interview room. It was late August, I had just landed from a callback interview in a city I had never been and hustled back for this OCI interview. No doubt, the question caught me off guard. My face probably turned bright red and I was starting to get defensive.
My first thought: “why would you even bring me in for an interview if you had just wanted to take jabs at my GPA?”
It made no sense to me.
I realized this was likely not the firm that would be my summer associate destination. As a headstrong law student who felt emboldened following my first-ever callback, I took a breath and said “I am every thing that is wrong with the law firm hiring system.”
I explained that I was 1 person away from an A- in Torts (as if this speech would have swayed them) and that I narrowly missed being top third and that my pre-law school work experience in consulting was way more important.
I cringe as I write this now but in the moment, I was grasping. Grasping for a job and a way to claw out of this median GPA-focused interview ambush. The rest of the interview was one of the worst I had – I never recovered in the subsequent 19 minutes. Oh well. Sometimes you just have to shrug those moments off and move to the next one.
Here are 5 tips I picked up in the OCI interviewing process that helped me get offers…though (surprise!) not with that firm I described above.
(1) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Write down a list of things you want to mention about the firm. I ran a spreadsheet with key details from all the firms on my OCI list, similar to the spreadsheet I used to reach out to alums. It was a lot of work to prepare but well worth it. The most important information is the stuff you want to ask in the interview. They won’t quiz you on the number of lawyers in the firm or office locations, but your homework will be evident through your questions. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I can tell based on the first question whether we were not a student’s first choice because they simply took no time to think through a question about the firm.
(2) Question Everything
On that note, you need to have questions ready to go. I rarely catch a student flat-footed when I ask them for questions but every now and then…it gets awkward. You know I’m going to ask you, and I know that I don’t really care what the questions are…but we both know you need to ask something. Good questions center on recent firm news (i.e. a big deal that made headlines or a prominent case, etc.) or ask me about my experience at the firm with some indication that they actually read my firm profile. It’s been beaten to death on any self-help forum, but people love to talk about themselves – give them that opportunity.
(3) Acknowledge Your Interviewer’s Situation
When you step into that interview, you are 1 of 10, 15, or even 20 other students that the attorney will be interviewing that day. It is a grind. I always appreciate when the student can put themselves in my shoes and acknowledge that “you must be nearing the home stretch” or something like that – it shows they are taking this interview seriously and thinking about how it feels to be on the other side of the table.
(4) Rehearse Your Answers
You know you’ll get some questions about your background, why you chose law school, and why you want to work at this firm. Rehearse a nice 1 minute overview of your professional life in front of friends and family and ask them to give you feedback. It should be tight and succinct, and possibly relate to how you will be good in a client-service business.
(5) Be Enthusiastic
If you can’t fake it during a 20 minute interview, then re-consider your approach to interviewing. This will come more naturally to some, but I am always looking for enthusiasm in their law studies, their backgrounds, and why they want to work at this firm as a must have.
OCI interviewing is a crapshoot – so many factors are beyond your control once you step into that room. Your background is set, same as your work experience and the school you attend. All you can do is control what happens in that interview room. And you definitely can’t go back to change your GPA.