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nolovelawst

Getting far but failing to close: tips/pitfalls in later stages of interview process

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Hi all,

Longtime lurker. Great forum which often has the answers I'm looking for. But something has been eating away at me lately and I can't find another topic that addresses it. 

For some context, I'm a western Canada 2L who is starting to get a bit nervous as articling week approaches (shocking, I know). Looking to work big law or large regional, with my eye on a few specific places (I've reached out to them and networked a bit, already).

I went through both the 1L and 2L summer OCI process for large/med firms. I have been getting far pretty consistently (in-firm interviews, dinners, etc.) but have failed to close on anything. From speaking to my friends (who were successful), it seems like I'm doing the right things. Good Interviews, being *genuinely* interested, conveying that interest, hitting it off with people at dinners, etc.

I don't want to get too hung up on myself here, but I just thought it would be great to start a general discussion about common factors that will push one candidate over the other in the later stages of the process. Surely there are a TON of variables at play, including "fit" and a lot of other intangibles (plus maybe a wee tiny bit of chance).

In other words, when firms are down to their last 20 candidates for 5 jobs, what starts to matter?

What are some strategies that a genuinely interested applicant could employ to give themselves a leg up when it comes to those later stages?


------------------------------------------
Don't want this to be just about me, but I have lurked this forum long enough to know that people will ask:

GPA is top 11-20% of class (consistently B+, couple of As and A+)...ECs are very strong...have work experience before/during law school (some of it law related)

Interview skills are hard to self-evaluate, but I would rate ~70-85 percentile range depending on interview style.

In short, there is a reason I'm getting far in the process. 

 

 

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Record yourself doing a mock interview. Do you talk too much? Do you talk too little? Are there consistent themes in the questions you received during interviews? Do you have weird nervous ticks? Are you comfortable with silence? Do you look uncomfortable? Can you shift from selling yourself to being personable effectively? Do you actually respond to people's questions, or do you go off on tangents on things you want to talk about? Do people generally consider you argumentative or annoying? Do you seem arrogant? Do you seem uninterested?  Are you fulfilling all dress code requirements? 

Realistically if you have good grades and make it to infirm and dinners consistently but never get offers, you are doing something that people don't like at an intuitive level. The content of your speech might be right, but that's only 20% of human communication. Generally if you are doing something noticeable no one will ever tell you to your face what bothers them. You'll have to really look at the recording in a very critical way, because there is something going on you have missed. If you can't find anything, you might want to talk to a recruitment coach and get them to be as honest as possible.

The key to those final rounds is to be relaxed but engaged. They should feel that you are comfortable around them, but there is still that level of deference. They pick people they want to work with, that they will see everyday. That is the vibe you want to convey.

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6 minutes ago, Kemair said:

Record yourself doing a mock interview. Do you talk too much? Do you talk too little? Are there consistent themes in the questions you received during interviews? Do you have weird nervous ticks? Are you comfortable with silence? Do you look uncomfortable? Can you shift from selling yourself to being personable effectively? Do you actually respond to people's questions, or do you go off on tangents on things you want to talk about? Do people generally consider you argumentative or annoying? Do you seem arrogant? Do you seem uninterested?  Are you fulfilling all dress code requirements? 

This is great advice.  The practice of recording yourself works wonders for public speaking (you would be appalled at all the awful ticks and habits and quirks people have which are off putting, all of which you are oblivious too until you see it yourself), and I'm sure it's true for interviews as well.  

In my own experience on the other side of the table doing interviews, people who do surprisingly poorly (relative to paper expectations) typical have one or two traits which just turn people off.  Examples that I can think of include:

(i) Low energy, they come across as disengaged or uninterested (and, in fairness, during the OCI or in-firm process, they might genuinely be tired)

(ii) Too loud/too quiet:  I once had dinner with a student who seemed to yell every word out of theirmouth - it was like eating next to the speaker at a Guns and Roses concert, and this coming from a guy with a reputation for having a booming voice.  There were other reasons we wouldn't have hired them, but man, that was a big one. Conversely, people who are too quiet/timid - interviews are painful if we have to pull stuff out of you.

(iii) Arrogant/obnoxious:  Some candidates want to come across as confident.  Confidence is good, but it should flow naturally.  If you try to be confident, it can come across as arrogance or obnoxiousness.  Similarly, there's subset of candidates who thing big law lawyers are asshole bros - we're not (certainly not the people doing interviews), don't try to appeal to us at that level.   

(iv) Self-pity and the myth of the perfect life.  Not too common, but you occasionally get the students who want to tell you how hard they've had it (I suppose, implicitly, making their accomplishments even more impressive).  And, to be fair, there's a way to do that that works.  I think of two candidates - both of whom subsequently became solid lawyers - who innocuously dropped into the conversation that they didn't speak a word of English when they came to Canada in their teens (but were now A students), or  how their family fled some war torn shit hole (can I say that?) when they were kids.  It wasn't a point they were making, it was just something that they mentioned in passing (or, at least, so it seems).  And, yeah, that's exactly the sort of person I want to hire (provided everything else is up to snuff). But it has to be subtle - too much and it comes across as whiny. Worse, in some cases, the hardship complained of really isn't that much of a hardship, making the candidate seem ever more oblivious.  I recall one candidate who kept referencing what she thought was the significant obstacle that she had overcome in her life to be where she was (and she was accomplished, I'll give her that), and I couldn't help but think that I could name dozens of other lawyers who had it way worse than her.    

(v) Too academic:  This sort of varies from firm to firm, but some people are great on paper, but you start talking to them, you slowly realize that they should stay that way.  Now, this is sort of firm specific, some firms (or some practices) have the capacity to take on someone who is a bookish genius, because they can put his or her skills to good use (I always think of Blakes when I say that).  But I certainly remember a guy who was a stellar student, who was obviously very smart (his grades were the best I have ever seen) and which none of us could ever picture pitching something to a client (nor could we picture him being happy drafting board resolutions at 3 in the morning).  I'm sure someone snaffled him up, but our firm was more entrepreneurial than others, and he wasn't a good fit with us.  

 

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Posted (edited)

Thank you both! I'll definitely try recording myself.

Incidentally, I did a few mock interviews and was told I would be OK. That is only a specific, fixed data point. Still, I think I have the basics down. 

Regarding the factors you both gave, I'm leaning a bit toward "talks too much". Energy (too high) may be an issue too, since it could make one appear arrogant. This all may not come through during a mock, since the same pressure is not there.

Appreciate the feedback, and I'll keep this all in mind as I go to articling week.

 

Edited by nolovelawst
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For what it's worth, every year we'd interview people who we thought were perfectly good, and would be happy to work with, who nevertheless ended up number 40 on our list, well outside the range of people we might hire.  So the lack of luck so far isn't (necessarily) a comment on your employability, you might just be "slightly" less compelling than some of the people we did hire.   

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28 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

But I certainly remember a guy who was a stellar student, who was obviously very smart (his grades were the best I have ever seen) and which none of us could ever picture pitching something to a client (nor could we picture him being happy drafting board resolutions at 3 in the morning).  I'm sure someone snaffled him up, but our firm was more entrepreneurial than others, and he wasn't a good fit with us.  

I wouldn't have taken your offer anyways.

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A good standard to go by would be that you should always speak less than the senior lawyers. 60-40 is a good ratio, but depending on the person maybe even 70-30. The conversation should be more fun for them than it is for you. Interviews are the time to show your competence, but the dinners and infirms are the time to make them feel good about how interesting they all are by inquiring into their interests. Good luck!

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6 minutes ago, Jaggers said:

I wouldn't have taken your offer anyways.

I'm awfully temped to go back,  and change my original post to read" "none of us could ever picture him pitching something to a client, given his disconcerting habit of playing with his testicles when speaking..."  :)

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6 minutes ago, Kemair said:

A good standard to go by would be that you should always speak less than the senior lawyers. 60-40 is a good ratio, but depending on the person maybe even 70-30. The conversation should be more fun for them than it is for you. Interviews are the time to show your competence, but the dinners and infirms are the time to make them feel good about how interesting they all are by inquiring into their interests. Good luck!

Eeeh, don't do that.  We're interviewing you, not the other way around.  It's a bad sign if I'm doing more of the talking (I mean, it's generally a bad sign, but particularly during interviews).  We don't need to have our ego stroked by some second year law student.  We're not going to hire you because you told us we're great and amazing - we know that.   We're going to hire you because you show us that you're equally great and amazing. While interviews are a bit more structured (we have questions, you have answers, you have questions, we have answers), by the time it ends, or by the time you get to dinner, it should really be like a conversation on a first date - really, that's what it is.  

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1 minute ago, maximumbob said:

Eeeh, don't do that.  We're interviewing you, not the other way around.  It's a bad sign if I'm doing more of the talking (I mean, it's generally a bad sign, but particularly during interviews).  We don't need to have our ego stroked by some second year law student.  We're not going to hire you because you told us we're great and amazing - we know that.   We're going to hire you because you show us that you're equally great and amazing. While interviews are a bit more structured (we have questions, you have answers, you have questions, we have answers), by the time it ends, or by the time you get to dinner, it should really be like a conversation on a first date - really, that's what it is.  

If somebody has a habit of overpowering conversations and talking too much, then they are going to have to curtail it a bit until a proper back and forth conversation comes naturally to them. I'm only referring to the dinners and infirms here. 60-40 is a great guideline for someone who tends the other way.

You never have to compliment someone to make them feel good about themselves, a skilled conversationalist does it in quite innocuous ways. You mention a first date, but if the other person doesn't leave that date feeling good about themselves and the other person, it hasn't went well.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Kemair said:

Record yourself doing a mock interview. Do you talk too much? Do you talk too little? Are there consistent themes in the questions you received during interviews? Do you have weird nervous ticks? Are you comfortable with silence? Do you look uncomfortable? Can you shift from selling yourself to being personable effectively? Do you actually respond to people's questions, or do you go off on tangents on things you want to talk about? Do people generally consider you argumentative or annoying? Do you seem arrogant? Do you seem uninterested?  Are you fulfilling all dress code requirements? 

...

 

2 hours ago, maximumbob said:

This is great advice.  The practice of recording yourself works wonders for public speaking (you would be appalled at all the awful ticks and habits and quirks people have which are off putting, all of which you are oblivious too until you see it yourself), and I'm sure it's true for interviews as well.  

In my own experience on the other side of the table doing interviews, people who do surprisingly poorly (relative to paper expectations) typical have one or two traits which just turn people off.  Examples that I can think of include:

(i) Low energy, ...

(ii) Too loud/too quiet: ...

(iii) Arrogant/obnoxious:  ...

(iv) Self-pity and the myth of the perfect life. ...

(v) Too academic:  ...

 

Oh man... As someone with ~5-6 of experience in the blue collar world (construction and oil patch) all this stuff is intimidating and a tad bit ridiculous. The biggest company I worked for, at the time, operated in 22 countries. The interview was amazing. I walk in, we shake hands and he straight away tells me he doesn't have my CV and has no idea where he put it. I hand him a copy. He spends a full minute looking at it, trying to find oil patch experience. He looks at me all puzzled and asks me if I have any plant/oil patch experience. I say I don't have any. He then spent at most another 2 minutes asking me about my certs and experiences before he hired me. The job paid just under 100k, with tons of benefits and a mouth-watering union pension. 

Sure, it's a different world, but there are more similarities than differences. In a plant you're still working with other people. You still have clients (plant staff, contractors etc...). Heck, the life of thousands of people could be in danger if you fuck up somehow. I guess there are a lot more law students than people willing to work up north on the patch, so oil patch related companies are a lot more likely to take a chance with you. 

I'll have to learn to play this game. I wonder if there are people willing to sit down with you and have mock law interviews for money. Has anyone come across this? I've never done a legitimate "white collar interview" in my life. That's going to be an issue. Sitting down having dinner with a bunch of overly uptight suits who are watching every one of your moves is going to be a major challenge. 

 

 

Edited by Abii

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Not sure if you did West Coast or TO OCIs, nolovelawst (I think Toronto, though?) but my experience on the hiring side of the table is that a huge factor at the very end is how certain we are that you will say yes. If we're 99.9% certain that we're your number one choice, and that you would certainly say yes if the offer was made, that can really push you up the charts. Playing your cards close to your chest pushes you down the list. I know you say that you "conveyed interest" but you might want to assess how exactly you're expressing that interest. 

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Posted (edited)
11 minutes ago, Abii said:

I'll have to learn to play this game. I wonder if there are people willing to sit down with you and have mock law interviews for money. Has anyone come across this? I've never done a legitimate "white collar interview" in my life. That's going to be an issue. Sitting down having dinner with a bunch of overly uptight suits who are watching every one of your moves is going to be a major challenge. 

You know what, it really isn't that different.  It's not rocket science, it's not a process you have to game, and you really shouldn't need to do practice interviews (given the OP's lack of success, and give his stated grades, it sounds like he is doing something off, but that wouldn't be the norm).

I will say this, if you go in with the perception that you're having dinner with a "bunch overly uptight suits who are watching every one of your moves" you will find it a painful experience.  Particularly because the people who get sent off on dinner tend to be the funny, engaging and relaxed lawyers.  If you go with the perception that you're having a nice dinner with a couple of guys (or girls) who are distinguishable from you only by virtue of being a few years older (because, really, if you're gonna be a biglaw lawyer, isn't that the only difference?), you'll find it a far more pleasant experience.

Also, I wonder whether your boss on the oil patch would have hired the bookish academic guy, or someone who whines about his life, or who's an asshole.  Maybe you're right, if they need the manpower badly enough, but I wonder.  

Edited by maximumbob
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2 hours ago, maximumbob said:

For what it's worth, every year we'd interview people who we thought were perfectly good, and would be happy to work with, who nevertheless ended up number 40 on our list, well outside the range of people we might hire.  So the lack of luck so far isn't (necessarily) a comment on your employability, you might just be "slightly" less compelling than some of the people we did hire.   

 

I fell in this zone of candidates recently in the Toronto 1L process (or at least I think I did - the firm may very well tell everyone the same thing to let them down softly). Is that something a candidate can consciously change, without coming across as fake, or is it just a lack of fit?

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4 hours ago, maximumbob said:

I'm awfully temped to go back,  and change my original post to read" "none of us could ever picture him pitching something to a client, given his disconcerting habit of playing with his testicles when speaking..."  :)

When the assistant walked by...:

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2 hours ago, Abii said:

 

Oh man... As someone with ~5-6 of experience in the blue collar world (construction and oil patch) all this stuff is intimidating and a tad bit ridiculous. The biggest company I worked for, at the time, operated in 22 countries. The interview was amazing. I walk in, we shake hands and he straight away tells me he doesn't have my CV and has no idea where he put it. I hand him a copy. He spends a full minute looking at it, trying to find oil patch experience. He looks at me all puzzled and asks me if I have any plant/oil patch experience. I say I don't have any. He then spent at most another 2 minutes asking me about my certs and experiences before he hired me. The job paid just under 100k, with tons of benefits and a mouth-watering union pension. 

Sure, it's a different world, but there are more similarities than differences. In a plant you're still working with other people. You still have clients (plant staff, contractors etc...). Heck, the life of thousands of people could be in danger if you fuck up somehow. I guess there are a lot more law students than people willing to work up north on the patch, so oil patch related companies are a lot more likely to take a chance with you. 

I'll have to learn to play this game. I wonder if there are people willing to sit down with you and have mock law interviews for money. Has anyone come across this? I've never done a legitimate "white collar interview" in my life. That's going to be an issue. Sitting down having dinner with a bunch of overly uptight suits who are watching every one of your moves is going to be a major challenge. 

 

 

Your school’s CDO will likely offer you interview preparation services including mock interviews for free and etiquette classes for the dinners etc. It was a new and intimidating world for me too.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Abii said:

 

Oh man... As someone with ~5-6 of experience in the blue collar world (construction and oil patch) all this stuff is intimidating and a tad bit ridiculous. The biggest company I worked for, at the time, operated in 22 countries. The interview was amazing. I walk in, we shake hands and he straight away tells me he doesn't have my CV and has no idea where he put it. I hand him a copy. He spends a full minute looking at it, trying to find oil patch experience. He looks at me all puzzled and asks me if I have any plant/oil patch experience. I say I don't have any. He then spent at most another 2 minutes asking me about my certs and experiences before he hired me. The job paid just under 100k, with tons of benefits and a mouth-watering union pension. 

Sure, it's a different world, but there are more similarities than differences. In a plant you're still working with other people. You still have clients (plant staff, contractors etc...). Heck, the life of thousands of people could be in danger if you fuck up somehow. I guess there are a lot more law students than people willing to work up north on the patch, so oil patch related companies are a lot more likely to take a chance with you. 

I'll have to learn to play this game. I wonder if there are people willing to sit down with you and have mock law interviews for money. Has anyone come across this? I've never done a legitimate "white collar interview" in my life. That's going to be an issue. Sitting down having dinner with a bunch of overly uptight suits who are watching every one of your moves is going to be a major challenge. 

 

 

Your Career Services Office will likely do a mock interview with you if you ask (ours do).

EDIT: Oops, sorry. Just saw providence's post.

 

My other advice would be to attend as many socials/beer-ups/networking events as possible in 1L and 2L to get yourself more comfortable talking to lawyers so they don't seem like uptight guys in suits. The ones you'll meet at those events are generally very social, easy to talk to and laidback. It will help you feel more comfortable in a white collar environment if you are not used to it.

Edited by Starling
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Things to check for:

-are you interrupting?

-are you jumping in with answers to the questions and thinking about what to say before they finish the question?

-are you picking up on their social cues - ie. when they banter about something, bantering back and forth vs. when they ask a serious question, answering it appropriately 

-do you have some idea of what specifically you want to do at their firm ie. litigation vs. solicitor work, specific practice area etc?

-do you have interesting and substantive questions for them? 

-are you making appropriate eye contact? (Not shifty but not too intense) do you fidget? Say um and ah a lot? 

-are you generally a well-rounded and interesting person? Do you read/watch the news, read for pleasure, watch movies, follow sports etc?

-are you sharing strong political or social opinions better kept to yourself? 

-are you taking the opportunity to turn genetic questions or interactions into a chance to sell yourself?

-are you prepared? Do you know about the firm? Have you studied your resume and cover letter?

-do you have a strategy to deal with any weaknesses?

-do you have a strategy to set yourself apart from the other candidates? 

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, maximumbob said:

This is great advice.  The practice of recording yourself works wonders for public speaking (you would be appalled at all the awful ticks and habits and quirks people have which are off putting, all of which you are oblivious too until you see it yourself), and I'm sure it's true for interviews as well.  

In my own experience on the other side of the table doing interviews, people who do surprisingly poorly (relative to paper expectations) typical have one or two traits which just turn people off.  Examples that I can think of include:

(i) Low energy, they come across as disengaged or uninterested (and, in fairness, during the OCI or in-firm process, they might genuinely be tired)

(ii) Too loud/too quiet:  I once had dinner with a student who seemed to yell every word out of theirmouth - it was like eating next to the speaker at a Guns and Roses concert, and this coming from a guy with a reputation for having a booming voice.  There were other reasons we wouldn't have hired them, but man, that was a big one. Conversely, people who are too quiet/timid - interviews are painful if we have to pull stuff out of you.

(iii) Arrogant/obnoxious:  Some candidates want to come across as confident.  Confidence is good, but it should flow naturally.  If you try to be confident, it can come across as arrogance or obnoxiousness.  Similarly, there's subset of candidates who thing big law lawyers are asshole bros - we're not (certainly not the people doing interviews), don't try to appeal to us at that level.   

(iv) Self-pity and the myth of the perfect life.  Not too common, but you occasionally get the students who want to tell you how hard they've had it (I suppose, implicitly, making their accomplishments even more impressive).  And, to be fair, there's a way to do that that works.  I think of two candidates - both of whom subsequently became solid lawyers - who innocuously dropped into the conversation that they didn't speak a word of English when they came to Canada in their teens (but were now A students), or  how their family fled some war torn shit hole (can I say that?) when they were kids.  It wasn't a point they were making, it was just something that they mentioned in passing (or, at least, so it seems).  And, yeah, that's exactly the sort of person I want to hire (provided everything else is up to snuff). But it has to be subtle - too much and it comes across as whiny. Worse, in some cases, the hardship complained of really isn't that much of a hardship, making the candidate seem ever more oblivious.  I recall one candidate who kept referencing what she thought was the significant obstacle that she had overcome in her life to be where she was (and she was accomplished, I'll give her that), and I couldn't help but think that I could name dozens of other lawyers who had it way worse than her.    

(v) Too academic:  This sort of varies from firm to firm, but some people are great on paper, but you start talking to them, you slowly realize that they should stay that way.  Now, this is sort of firm specific, some firms (or some practices) have the capacity to take on someone who is a bookish genius, because they can put his or her skills to good use (I always think of Blakes when I say that).  But I certainly remember a guy who was a stellar student, who was obviously very smart (his grades were the best I have ever seen) and which none of us could ever picture pitching something to a client (nor could we picture him being happy drafting board resolutions at 3 in the morning).  I'm sure someone snaffled him up, but our firm was more entrepreneurial than others, and he wasn't a good fit with us.  

 

Re: (iii) - my husband told me that he once interviewed a guy who said of their assistants “I’d hit that” and made jokes about how they must clean up in dating because they’re lawyers.

Re: (iv) I came from a war-torn country (not a shit hole! A beautiful place) and learned English at 11 or 12, but I would never have mentioned it in an interview. A) because I would get too emotional if I had to talk about it and B) because I wouldn’t want them to think I was looking for brownie points. I guess it sometimes came up in passing if they brought it up by asking me where I was from, etc. I would agree to be very, very cautious about bringing this stuff up on your own. 

 

Edited by providence

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11 hours ago, providence said:

Re: (iii) - my husband told me that he once interviewed a guy who said of their assistants “I’d hit that” and made jokes about how they must clean up in dating because they’re lawyers.

Re: (iv) I came from a war-torn country (not a shit hole! A beautiful place) and learned English at 11 or 12, but I would never have mentioned it in an interview. A) because I would get too emotional if I had to talk about it and B) because I wouldn’t want them to think I was looking for brownie points. I guess it sometimes came up in passing if they brought it up by asking me where I was from, etc. I would agree to be very, very cautious about bringing this stuff up on your own. 

 

Yeah, and the two guys I'm thinking of, I don't think they mentioned it to try to score points, I think it was just part of the narrative of their lives. 

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