By now, you’re a skilled sailor in virtual seas. You’ve attended classes, social events, and panel presentations through Zoom and have customized your workspace for optimal connection and participation.
You may also feel comfortable with the concept of a virtual OCI process. If you haven’t already met with potential employers, through mock interviews or otherwise, you’ve read posts and attended programs about how to put your best foot forward. You know to dress for success and have a few ideas about how to engage your interviewers.
But the virtual OCI process will test your preparation, organizational skills, and endurance as much as your interviewing skills. As you head toward more in-depth preparations, we offer 10 tips for making the most of the process.
1. Carefully track and review all communications related to OCI logistics.
It will be critically important that you catch all communications and alerts related to OCI logistics. That includes communications from both your school and potential employers. Develop a filing system if that will help. You won’t want to miss or lose track of messages with interview schedules, sign-on information, interviewer changes, or information that employers might require from you ahead of callback interviews.
2. Limit distractions.
Distractions come in many forms. They can relate to your tech setup, your lighting, or the noise or activity around you. The goal in limiting distractions is to produce an environment that will allow you and your interviewers to devote maximum focus to your interviews, and to limit competing demands for your attention.
You will want to ensure that you have a quiet space, uncluttered background, and secure connection for interviews; will engage in interviews in an area free from activity—either behind or in front of you; and have functional lighting, audio, and video.
Close windows, draw blinds, turn off your phone, and let people around you know that you’re interviewing. Be careful about harsh backlighting, which will be distracting to interviewers and could make your face seem dimly lit. You should also turn off any TVs in the area. Even when muted, they can project colorful and changing light. And disable any pop-up notifications on your computer.
Once an interview has started, do not look down at your phone or watch. If you are comfortable with your self-view, you might minimize or disable it so you can focus on the interviewer and not on your own video.
If you think that it will be difficult to ensure proper conditions for your callback interviews, check with the organizations that will interview you about whether they provide related support. For example, Neal Gerber Eisenberg will help students access a secure wi-fi connection and a quiet space for interviews.
3. Organize your approach.
Your virtual OCI experience will be unlike in-person interviews in that you will likely participate in every one of your interviews—whether a screen or callback—from exactly the same physical location. You won’t have the experience of visiting different offices to help you recall information about certain firms.
Prepare notes that you can review before each interview to refresh your recollection about the firm, the interviewer, or key points of interest. But don’t attempt to read them during interviews. You won’t want to miss an important comment or question from an interviewer.
When you have a free minute after any interviews, jot down notes that will help you remember the firm and important information. You might be surprised at how the pace and volume of interviews affect your ability to recall who said what.
4. Show, don’t tell.
Help interviewers remember you by providing vivid illustrations of the skills and attributes you possess. That will also help interviewers connect the dots between your experiences and the needs of their respective organizations.
You can show your diligence and preparation by asking questions that demonstrate knowledge of the interviewer or firm. For example, those who choose to interview at Neal Gerber Eisenberg might ask about our robust virtual summer program in 2020, our participation in the Mansfield Rule, or our Vault Best Law Firm rankings in the categories of Wellness (#7) and Pro Bono (#26).
It’s a good idea to practice interviewing. Practice will help you bridge the virtual divide and communicate in ways that are conversational, concise, and memorable. A mock interviewer can help you uncover any distractions or potential interruptions you hadn’t anticipated, and any counterproductive tendencies you might have—speaking too quickly, looking offscreen, or interrupting the interviewer, for example.
Every year, Neal Gerber Eisenberg participates in mock interviews across the schools from which we recruit. Our approach to interviews is to help students present the best version of themselves and to evaluate them on that basis, as opposed to posing questions designed to trip candidates up.
6. Test your tech setup before interviews.
Why is this a tip of its own? Because this simple step will help you avoid a lot of potential heartache. You may have a lot of confidence in your setup and its reliability. You just don’t want the one time that your setup fails to occur when you have a full slate of interviews in front of you.
7. Use your interview time wisely.
As you seek to establish rapport with your interviewers, it may be tempting to spend too much time engaging in pleasantries or exchanging pandemic-related stories. Be mindful of the limited time that you have. Come to your interviews prepared with a few talking points, and be prepared to pivot to them gracefully. But be aware when your interviewer is probing for certain skills or attributes, and be ready to follow the interviewer’s lead.
8. Find a connection.
Interviewers often connect with and remember candidates who share a hobby or outside interest. The best connections are those that help candidates explain to interviewers what they would be like as colleagues—their passions and motivations, leadership skills, intellectual curiosity, discipline, or ability to work on a team. If you happen upon a connection with an interviewer, especially an uncommon connection, leverage it to stand out in a crowd.
9. Energy sells.
The virtual interface can be a drag on interpersonal communications. It is harder to read social cues about when to talk and when to listen. The awkwardness can dampen the natural ebb and flow of conversation and limit the extent to which your personality and enthusiasm come through during interviews.
Do your best not to let that happen. Energy sells. Interviewers associate it with passion, drive, and innovation. To ensure that you have energy to give, eat and sleep well before your interviews. During the interviews themselves, sit upright and look for opportunities to discuss things about which you are passionate. That will help you to produce energy that is authentic.
10. Mine newer avenues for information about employer culture.
The current environment has created fresh opportunities to uncover information about the culture of potential employers. How has the firm tackled the country’s reckoning with systemic racism? How has it helped attorneys and staff operate during the pandemic? In what ways has the firm carried over its “inclusive” or “collegial” culture to a virtual environment? What has the firm offered to support the well-being of attorneys and staff in these challenging times?
Look for answers that provide specific examples of the firm’s conduct, as opposed to general philosophies about these matters. For example, Neal Gerber Eisenberg conducted a series of roundtable discussions on systemic racism and inequity, has offered a bevy of resources to help employees cope with the loss of normalcy during the pandemic, and significantly boosted the nature and type of virtual interactions to help people stay connected. Asking about activities like these will help you distinguish between potential employers and determine which ones are the best fit for you.