Rejection is never easy, especially early on in your career. If you struck out during on-campus interviews (OCI), you may feel like your career ended before it even began. Was it something you said or did, was it the perceived economic slowdown, or was it that you just missed the cut? It can be easy to get caught up in the why, but you shouldn’t get stuck there. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, here are some things you can do and places you can look to land that job.
After you have taken some time to get over the rejection from OCI, it is important to evaluate yourself. Did you tank in the interviews? Maybe your writing sample could have been better. Whatever the issue may have been, take it on headfirst and fix it. Check in with your career services and ask if the firm(s) had any feedback on your performance. Be ready to listen, take any constructive feedback, and make a plan to change it. If the firm(s) didn’t give any feedback, ask career services to reach out to the interviewers and find out the why behind the rejection. After you hear the feedback, utilize that information, and improve. All that said, it’s important to remember that very few people get hired during OCI, so even if you interviewed well, they may just not have had a spot for you. The important thing is to take a good look at your experience and learn from it.
After you have evaluated what may or may not have gone wrong during your OCI experience, now is the time to shape things up. If you didn’t practice interviewing before (as in mock interviews), start practicing now with anyone who is willing to do a mock interview with you. Even if you did practice, keep at it. With each practice interview, you will develop a more natural style and rapport that you can take with you into the future. You should also take another look at any written submissions and have others review them, too. Maybe you missed a typo, or could benefit with an overhaul of your resume. Make sure you format each resume to the job description you are applying for to eliminate risk of an automatic rejection. Think about the questions and answers your interviewer gave and incorporate that information into your resume to make you more appealing going forward. If you think your grades were an issue, now is the time to buckle down and bring those grades up. A lot of law students struggle during their first year, so re-commit to your studies and improve your GPA and class rank.
Join the Crowd (Leadership and Externships)
Another way to beef up your experience is to take on leadership positions and enhance your leadership skills. If you are a member of a club at school, run for president or other leadership position. Adding those skills to your resume increases your marketability. Another avenue to gain valuable experience is to sign up for externships and clinic opportunities. Externships and clinics are a great way to get to know people in the legal community and give you plenty of opportunity to gain real-world experience. The more firsthand experience you get in these roles, the better.
Expand Your Horizons
Many suggest that if you didn’t get an offer from OCI, you should look to placement opportunities outside the typical OCI firms. Mid-level, small, and boutique law firms often don’t make the trip to campus for OCI, and hire on different timelines. Keep a watch out for postings from career services and job boards for those types of jobs. If you had your sights set on a particular location during OCI, investigate and apply for jobs in other areas of the country. Look at what connections you have to those locations and make a bid for jobs in that area. A lot of BigLaw firms have satellite offices or are expanding to less competitive markets, and need associates to fill in the gaps. You need to set your focus on as many opportunities as possible and start applying.
Other places you might land are government jobs and clerkships. There are a lot of excellent jobs for law students in both those areas, whether it be local, state, or federal. From prosecutors’ offices to appellate courts to public defender offices to government regulatory agencies and anywhere in between—there are many agencies that will give you all the valuable experience you want. If you have enough course credits, obtain your practice certificate. You will do a lot of practical lawyering while your cohorts are stuck doing document review. If you land a job clerking for a judge or magistrate, you will see and experience cases from all sides, which can help you narrow down the type of law you want to practice in the future. And don’t forget—a lot of heavy hitter law firms specifically want associates with that clerkship experience. All these employment opportunities can be invaluable when you apply for jobs after graduation.
If a government job isn’t your thing, look for opportunities in the non-profit sector or pro bono opportunities. Organizations like the ACLU, The Innocence Project, or state or regional domestic violence survivor groups (just to name a few) have legal internships available where you will do practical legal work for a worthy cause. Many firms tout their firm’s involvement in such projects, and gaining that experience while in law school can give you a leg up on the competition while potentially bringing substantive pro bono matters to a firm. There are also opportunities for roles in-house and with start-up companies. At the end of the day, not scoring an offer during OCI doesn’t have to mean you missed out. There are copious opportunities to do good legal work while you are still in school that don’t involve working in BigLaw.
Network Your Way In
Just because you didn’t make the OCI cut doesn’t mean it’s time to throw in the towel with your networking efforts. Make an effort to contact any current connections and ask for their advice. Reach out to family and friends and ask if they know of any potential connections or job opportunities. There are plenty of ways to expand your networking circle and still land that dream job. Connect with alumni from both your law school and your undergrad—find those contacts at law firms and reach out. Keep going to those law school events to meet new people and make those important connections. Contact bar associations in the location you want to work and ask to be connected with members in that area. Even cold emailing or reaching out on platforms like LinkedIn can help. When you reach out to people at the firm and explain your interest, ask to meet for lunch or coffee. Pick their brains about why they work at the firm and what they love (or hate) about it. Even if it doesn’t result in an immediate assist for a job, you can use the insight they gave you when you do interview again. Another way to connect is to attend presentations or CLEs. Get the contact information from the presenters and reach out afterwards. The important thing is to genuinely make the connections and follow up with them—don’t just use them and forget about the effort they made. While a connection may not have an immediate payoff, it will still be beneficial at some point in your legal career.
If you are interested in a particular area of law, start writing blog posts and articles about the subject. Learn what you can and spread the word. While it’s extra work on top of an already demanding school schedule, blogs and articles are great resume builders, and your efforts may get noticed by people in a position to hire or recommend you to a firm. If you keep a regular writing routine going, you may have an opportunity to interview these people for an article and forge beneficial connections that can lead to an interview or a job.
At the end of the day, the fact you didn’t get an OCI offer isn’t the end of the world. There are still many ways to find that dream job. The important thing is to remember that not getting the offer doesn’t define you—it’s what you do after that rejection that will set your path to a successful legal career.
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