Keep calm and OCI
If each year of law school were to have one central theme, 1L would be about grades, 2L about finding a summer job, and 3L about tying up loose ends. Although this is a reductionist view of law school, it is one that permeates the experience.
I first heard about On-Campus Interviews (OCIs) in 1L during Orientation Week. It was described to me as a speed dating-esque process in which you have 17 minutes to impress potential employers. Second-year students congregate at a hotel, enter the ballroom, and find themselves met by row upon row of curtained-off booths. I was told every interview was different; they could range from formal interviews to informal chats about a trip to Thailand or an intramural hockey team. Just like that, before I had even cracked open my first casebook, I was already worrying about how future Julia could impress top firms.
As the year progressed, I found myself more concerned with case briefs, outlines, and exams than OCIs and Bay Street firms—but they were hard to disregard completely. In September and early October, it seemed to be all the 2Ls were talking about. I remember overhearing a particularly animated conversation in the lounge between a 2L and her friend in 3L. What I gleaned from the conversation was that it was important to bring snacks and an extra pair of panty hose. I filed away this information for future Julia’s use.
OCIs loom large for most students because they offer the first real opportunity to make an impression in the legal world. The OCI process is a competitive one, as students jostle for coveted positions with top firms and aim to showcase themselves as the best and brightest. Even for students without an interest in “big law” careers, the OCI process may seem like a necessary rite of passage. After all, if the ultimate goal is to get a job, where else can a student be exposed to so many different employers?
With that in mind, I met with Gillian Ready and Julie Banting from the Career Development Office (CDO) to discuss how to prepare for the OCI process. As a law student concerned with statistics, I asked how many students actually get summer jobs through the OCI process. According to the 2014 summer student survey, which had a 64 per cent response rate from second-year students, 52 per cent of 2Ls obtained employment through formal recruitment processes. Twenty per cent of students reported obtaining employment through a posting at Queen’s Law, while 13 per cent acquired jobs through a self-directed job search. The remaining 15 per cent either returned to a previous employer (five per cent) or found their jobs through other (one per cent) or unreported (nine per cent) means.
Students often want to compare Queen’s Law to other schools and there are numerous “ranking” systems that exist. The important thing to realize is that data can easily be skewed. For instance, reporting may be handled differently at other schools and the school’s size may be a factor. Additionally, the definition of “elite law firms” is open to interpretation. According to the CDO’s records, at the beginning of third year only 15-25 per cent of Queen’s students are without an article. By the end of third year, almost everyone has been placed.
Julie and Gillian emphasize that there is a certain artificiality to the OCI process. Because employers are actively seeking out students, rather than the other way around, OCIs are not indicative of most hiring processes. A career in law can seem daunting and it is natural to want to break it up into steps like getting a summer job or getting an article, but focusing on these individual goals can often obscure the bigger picture. A career in law is more than a summer job or an article, and learning the skills necessary to get (and keep) a job is at least as valuable as landing a position through the OCI process.
The ability to self-assess your values and interests is crucial for making yourself stand out in an interview. Be yourself, and remember: employers want someone who wants to work for them. It will be a long summer and potentially a long articling year, especially if you have to spend energy pretending to be something, or someone, you’re not. Be prepared to answer difficult questions. For instance, an interviewer may comment on a particular grade of yours. Focus on taking ownership: What did you learn? How have you moved forward?
At the end of the day, don’t worry if you didn’t get any OCIs or if they don’t go as planned. There will be other opportunities and other untapped markets. Consult the job postings at school, especially during the winter semester. Create a target list and attend sessions run by the CDO. Did your cover letter/résumé reflect you well? If you got OCIs but no in-firm interviews, or if you didn’t ultimately get a position, can you re-evaluate your interview style?
OCIs are just one opportunity among many. If you enter the process with an open mind, you will be successful either by coming out with a job or learning about yourself in the process. Your life and happiness will not ultimately be determined by the outcome of this process, so make sure to enjoy yourself along the way. Go forth and conquer! Oh, and don’t forget to pack snacks.
Julia Zisser (2L) is a Features Editor for Juris Diction.
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