How To Master The On-Campus Interview

Published: Aug 11, 2022

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We’ve reached that magical time of year—On-Campus Interviews, or “OCI,” when rising 2Ls across the country are trying on suits, buying portfolios, rehearsing answers to common interview questions, and pouring over the websites for the firms on their schedules in a frantic attempt to tell them apart. Some law students may be eagerly looking forward to OCI, but many approach OCI with some combination of anxiety, exhaustion, and possibly even dread.

It’s understandable to feel any or all these things—after all, OCI is a big deal. But OCI can be an empowering opportunity, if you remember that an interview is just as much for YOU to learn something about a prospective employer, as it is for them to learn something about you. We can’t emphasize this enough: A successful on-campus interview is a two-way street.

While making a good impression is important to secure the coveted callback interview, don’t lose sight of your interview’s other, equally important purpose as a chance for you to learn about a law firm you might want to work at, from someone who currently works there. This is an invaluable perspective that you really only get in the interview context—and yet, far too many law students squander the chance because they don’t understand this truth. Read on for tips on how to get the most out of your OCI experience.

Use Resources like Vault Law

If you’ve ever tried to research firms, you might be left with the impression that they all seem… kind of the same. That’s a perfectly reasonable impression, especially given that most firms participating in OCI offer the same things on paper: large corporate and litigation practices with a few niche areas, impressive clients, landmark deals and lawsuit victories, big-name attorneys, diversity and inclusion programs, great career outlooks, and dazzling summer programs. Moreover, law firm websites are about marketing, so for law students largely unfamiliar with the law firm world, it’s almost impossible to glean what differentiates these firms—including their practices and initiatives—using just their websites. The danger here is that law students run the risk of thinking that because firms all seem the same, that they are the same. That couldn’t be farther from the truth!

This is where resources like Vault Law can make a real difference. Vault Law has the inside information you need to tell firms apart. Through comprehensive—and anonymous, so the answers are real—associate surveys, Vault Law gains a peek into what firms are like on the inside, and even better, provides that information in bite-size profiles. Use the unique insights gained from Vault Law profiles to pinpoint areas you want to know more about for each firm and to craft targeted questions for your OCI interviewers.

Interviewers are resources too, so use them.

An on-campus interview represents 20 uninterrupted minutes with one or more attorneys who work at a firm you (theoretically) want to work for, and those people can give you valuable information. Too often, law students view the directive to preparing questions for their interviewer as some subtle form of torture and default to the handful of generic interview questions that are acceptable, but also, candidly, often pointless.

Here’s a great example: “What is the firm’s culture?”

To be clear, this question won’t get you into trouble or make you look bad. It’s a “safe” interview question. It’s also probably not going to tell you anything useful about the firm. Think about it: what is your interviewer really going to say, other than broad descriptors like “collegial,” “professional,” “supportive,” and so on? Remember, it’s your interviewer’s job to present his or her firm in the best possible light, in order to attract candidates. Even if your interviewer is deeply unhappy at that firm and strongly dislikes the culture, you certainly won’t hear about it—find me an interviewer who is willing to say, “Actually, this firm is full of jerks” and I guarantee you that person won’t be working there much longer!  

Think about what you actually want to know about the firm (so long as the information you want is something that your interview can realistically tell you). Maybe you want to know how summer associates gain exposure to different practice areas, because it’s done differently at different firms. Or maybe you’re someone who thinks you want to find a firm to settle in and make partner. Why not ask your interviewer something like: What traits do you think help an associate make partner at this firm?

By the end of OCI, you may have gathered some eye-opening data that will really inform your decision, especially if you are lucky enough to land multiple callbacks.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Of course, all this advice should be taken in the context of getting the job, because all the information gathering in the world won’t help you if the firm doesn’t invite you for a callback. You absolutely still need to make a good impression, and above all, this means making sure that the questions you ask are a) appropriate for a screener interview (don’t ask about vacation time or compensation in a screener); and b) questions that demonstrate a modicum of deep thought (no asking questions you can easily answer on the firm’s website). It also means posing your questions in a professional manner and presenting the best version of yourself—and on that last point, we have good news:

Asking thoughtful questions in a professional manner during an interview will also make you seem like a more engaged, dynamic, and ideal candidate, and significantly boost your chances of getting a callback. In other words, a double win for you.

So get those questions ready, and good luck.