My Experience of the First OCI Interview (and 4 buried tips that will help nail OCI)

Tags: interviewing articles

Anticipation compounds anxiety, and anxiety shows on your performance during interviews.

Both anticipation and anxiety builds up slowly over the summer as you head towards your first interview.  You can minimize it by training and by preparation, and you can master it by practice, but no matter what you do, that anxiety will still build.  In fact, the more you do to prepare, the more anticipation there is, and the more anxiety will build.

This is a little counterintuitive, but what it means is not that you should not prepare, but that you should prepare more.  Why?  Because the anticipation only builds due to the fact that the brain knows preparation is not the real thing, and your body will react anxiously as you draw closer to the real thing.  But the moment that first real interview hits, the anxiety will crest, and fall from that point on. This is because through preparation, you will have learned what to do and say at the real thing even if you have never experienced it.  That first experience of the real interview will be nerve-wracking, but teach you 1. that the real thing is not so different from what you have prepared for and 2. that you actually have all the information and knowledge you need to crush every one of the interviews after the first.

In that sense, the first interview is a crucial juncture in the law student’s career. Almost all of us who have gone through it had nerve-wracking first interviews, but those who prepared well came out of it ready to deploy their preparation to improve drastically their second interview performance, whereas those who did not prepare lost their footing and stumbled even more nervously into the next interviews:  their anxiety compounding with each successive bump in the road.

So, that wave of anxiety only crests for those who have prepared, because in the excitement and anticipation, built up through all those months of preparation, the 1L has become anxious for that first moment when their training will be tested.  But when that first moment has come and gone, they realize that the next interview will be no worse than the one they’ve just seen, this is when the training takes over and produces success.

I had prepared for OCI by going to practice interviews, and even interviewed at local recruiting fairs in the city where I did my 1L summer internship.  I mock-OCI-ed as much as I could, making it as close to the real thing as possible. Like many of us who haven’t worn suits much before then, I even made sure to wear my suit till I was comfortable in it.  This was a good thing: having since interviewed many potential recruits, I’ve found that woodenness and discomfort in a suit shows.  Some might find it endearing (I do because I was once there), but you shouldn’t take that chance (some of these people who will be interviewing you were born in suits).

Even with all of this preparation, my first interview was a bust. I actually chose for the first day a much more ill-fitting black suit rather than the tailored silver-grey one that I had acclimatized myself to during the summer, because the night before my I thought it might be too flashy and wanted to scope things out before I finally settled on my wardrobe.  

My first interview, with a V15 NY firm that should have been a target, felt like a reach to me because I was anxious.  I hesitated in answering, reserved my strongest answers because I tried to project a sense of calm rather than confidence, and failed to sell myself sufficiently because I thought that I should be more composed than to take initiative and control of the conversation.  The interviewer was no different from most that came after him, and was in fact more mellow and easygoing than many.  This interview should have been a lock, and it would have been if it came later in the week. (For the reverse situation, where reach candidate crushes the interview and turns the reach into a lock, see our guest article on dealing with adverse facts, posted to the Girl’s Guide to Law School blog.) 

Coming out of it though, my preparation told me almost right away what mistakes I had made and how to change them (someone with no preparation would have only known that they bombed the interview, but not why or how to right the course), and by the next day I was in that grey suit, shoes shined, chest high, and projecting supreme confidence rather than some imaginary air of “composure”.  

Sometimes, I do still wondering if that interview would have turned out a differently if I had not been anxious, and it was a firm i would have considered going to.  But that is only idle wondering: I know quite well that it was impossible for me, as it would be for you, not to be anxious.  However, this experience taught me a few things about managing OCI that I thought would be useful to impart to other interviewees:

1. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation, this is the foundation to success, no matter how confident or nervous you are fundamentally.  Without this, all other advice is worthless.

2. You should treat the first interview as a throw-away.  However well-ranked or desirable the firm is, consider it a lost cause.  This way, you minimize your nervousness going in, and maximize your ability to come out of it clear-headed, however bad the interview was.

3. Following upon the previous piece of advice. If you have any control over it at all, try not to have your first interview be one of your dream law firms. The reason should be obvious.

4. And following upon point 3, if you have any control over it at all, you should try to front-load safety firms first. Psychologically, with call-backs already in hand from safety firms, you become much more confident and ready to face target and reach firms.

More to come on OCI and preparation in the coming weeks.

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