by Chris H.
Welcome everyone to Tuesdays with… Chris?!? I know I can’t be nearly as charming or insightful as Tali, but I will endeavour to be half as helpful.
Joey Joe Joe Shabado Jr. from 123 Fake Street asks: “OMG, guys, someone just told me OCI applications are due in a couple weeks and I don’t even know what OCIs are… or where to even begin!?!? HEEEEEELP?”
Well, Joe. Thanks for your well thought out, and not at all made up question.
OCIs are kind of exactly like the O.W.L.s in the Harry Potter books, except instead of a series of practical examinations in spell casting and alchemy, they are a series of applications and job interviews for law students who want to summer and article at downtown Toronto law firms. Okay, so slightly different.
OCI is an acronym for “On Campus Interviews”. While technically the OCI is only one stage of much longer, multi-staged process, which involves call day, in-firms, cocktail parties, dinners and walking barefoot over hot coals, the term “OCIs” for whatever reason is used to refer to the process as a whole. (Secret reason: lawyers love acronyms.)
Step one is the written applications, which is what I want to focus this post on. This stage is definitely the most work and, in my opinion, the least fun. The key is to get started early. Here are some thoughts I’ve pieced together about the two major component parts to every OCI app: the cover letter and the resume.
Cover Letters Made Easy – The Three Paragraph Solution
If you’re applying to 25-30 firms, which is not outrageous since most firms will likely look exactly the same to you at this point, then the idea of writing 25-30 individualized cover letters can seem like a terrible ordeal. I have an easy tip to cut down your workload. I can’t take credit for inventing it because I’m pretty sure law students have been writing cover letters this way for centuries (FACT: Plato got 20 OCIs and did all of them on the same day). It’s a simple three paragraph strategy:
Paragraph 1 – Introduce yourself: This is your short opening salvo. Tell them who you are, where you come from, what this letter is all about and what you’re applying for.
e.g. “My name is Neville Longbottom, and I am a second year law student at Hogwart’s University, Faculty of Law. Please accept this letter and the attached resume, transcripts and list of tentative upper-year courses as my application for a 2011 summer student position at Gryffindor Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw LLP.”
Paragraph 2 – What you want and why they have it: Explain what kind of summer and what kind of legal career you’re interested in. Then let them know why you think their firm can give you that. This is where you can show off all the research you’ve done and that this cover letter was written for them, and isn’t just a form letter. It’s okay, and probably smart, to stay general in describing your legal interests, after all, you’ve only been in law school for a year. If you set it up right, this should be the only part of your letter that changes substantially from firm to firm.
e.g. “I am looking for a diverse and challenging summer experience. The flexibility of the non-rotation summer program at a full service firm like Gryffindor Hufflepuff is appealing to me, because it would allow me to gain experience in a number of different areas as I continue to develop my specific legal interests… I spoke with your associate Ron Weasley at my school’s career fair and enjoyed what he said about the magical firm culture at your offices…”
Paragraph 3 – Why you have what they want: This is where you get to brag about your experiences and skills that would make hiring you an offer they can’t refuse. Pick a couple of the absolute highlight points from your resume, and elaborate on how those experiences contributed to skills and qualities you can bring to the job.
e.g. “…In my experience volunteering with Hogwart’s Legal Aid, I honed my research, drafting and oral advocacy skills. As captain of my law school Quidditch team, I took initiative to fill a leadership role among my peers…”
It’s not something you have to stick to, by any means, but I found this three paragraph method made writing 28 cover letters much much easier. The trick really is to have a general skeleton that you can mould to each firm depending on your research and what you like about them.
Rockin’ Resume Recommendations
Every resume is different, but here are a few general tips I can offer:
Highlight your strengths: There’s no set format to an OCI resume, so structure it to fit what makes you look good. For me, that meant putting my extra-curricular activities section front and centre. But for someone who worked 10 years as a nurse, engineer, firefighter and/or the red power ranger it might mean putting more emphasis on your past employment experiences. Don’t feel boxed in by your template.
Be Inclusive, Show your Personality: You will be told by a lot of people, “Don’t put that on your resume”. My advice would be “If it feels right, do it.” Don’t be afraid to include things from high school if you think they are impressive. Don’t be afraid to put the name of the political party you worked for.
Everything Has a Purpose: This is the flipside of my last point. You shouldn’t include something if you can’t think of why you’re including it. You need to be able to explain how each experience translates into job-ready skills, life lessons, etc. Speaking of translation, if you decide to put down that you’re fluent in a second language, you will be asked to use it on the job (ask Gill or Josh).
The “Interests” Section is Sneakily the Most Important: Do not underestimate the sneakiness of that 5-bullet point section at the very bottom of your resume. I guarantee that you will be asked at least one question about something from your “interests” section. I put “Creative Writing” in mine, and an interviewer asked me to give an example of something I wrote and to send him a copy! No joke. Luckily, he enjoyed my award winning holiday poem about former Toronto Raptors guard Jalen Rose enough to invite me for in-firms.
And once you’ve got all your apps together, quadruple check them because spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and just straight up mistakes can be deadly. (I heard if you put “Mr. McGowan” on your Cassels app, Leigh-Ann will send ninjas to get you!) Get your room mate, your best friend, your dog that you taught to read and write (you know you went to all that effort for something), and start guilt tripping family members into proof-reading your stuff. Your Career Services office may also have a review service, but make sure to submit early. The more eyeballs, the better.
Most law schools offer a central collection and delivery service as well (I know Queen’s has this). This service is money, so use it. The deadline is usually a couple days earlier so be wise to that.
Hopefully these tips are helpful. Good luck with your apps everyone!
UPDATE: Leigh-Ann now informs me that all the firms are collecting their written OCI Applications electronically starting this year. What times we live in…