OCI & In-Firm Interview Tips: Having a Professional Conversation

Anita Herrmann

JD/MBA OCI Interview Skills Panel Session - presented on Sep. 27, 2017 by the JD/MBA Students' Association

By: Max Steiner

JD/MBA’2019, VP Alumni of the JD/MBA Students’ Association and Hennick Fellow, Programs & Special Projects


Every year, law students go through the challenging and exciting process of OCIs (on campus interviews).  As JD/MBAs, thankfully there is no need for us to explain our interest in corporate law, noted Rocky Swanson, Associate of Borden Ladner Gervais, one of last night’s panelists.

On the other hand, as Torys Articling Student Keton Motta-Freeman pointed out, we are going to be asked instead why law?

This week, the Osgoode-Schulich JD/MBA Students’ Association sat down with seven alumni and 15 JD/MBA students. We had a frank conversation about what works and what does not during OCIs and in-firm interviews. One constant identified was that anxiety levels always fly high, to which Rocky Swanson recommended to keep an Advil handy in your pocket.

Jasmine Godfrey JD/MBA’19 moderated our panel through several tough questions grouped into two categories:

  • what works and what doesn’t during OCIs and in-firm interviews?
  • how do you leverage your JD/MBA, now and later in practice?

Interviews: What works at OCIs and In-Firms?

There are so many things to pay attention to, and what questions to ask in an interview are at the top of most lists. Should I ask about flexibility or how a firm uses summer students? How do I steer questions to highlight my strengths? The JD/MBA students wanted to know what questions students should ask to stand out at OCIs, and also to learn meaningful details about the firms they were meeting with.

Our panelists quickly came to the consensus that the notorious fit is very important but undervalued, and is something that students should pay more attention to.  The individuals sitting at opposite sides of the table during an interview are both trying to determine whether they are going to work well together in the long-term and despite the firms’ best efforts, students sometimes get overly excited about prestigious firm names, yet end up with colleagues they just can’t find common ground with.  All panelists reiterated that the clearest route to success is to fit into a firm’s unique balance of work and play.

As one progresses into the in-firm interviews, the fit becomes an exceedingly important factor to watch out for.  If there is a strong interest in the firm, it is always a good idea to ask to meet more people, and to never forget to send thank you notes, as  Goodmans Associate Money Khoromi (left) pointed out, avoid copying the same thank-you note (or template) to people within the same firm, as they will share it with each other.

Over-achievers by nature, most law students have an impressive set of skills. However, reciting your resume will not get you very far – do not bore your interviewers with things they already know. You should use stories that colour and humanize your experiences when answering questions. While every interview is different, don’t forget that you are having a conversation, and pay attention to your interviewers’  answers. Students routinely tend to fire off questions, but fail to listen to the response.  This is unfortunate because they miss out on often useful pieces of information and the potential for real conversations.

How to use my JD/MBA in Interviews and in Practice

We learned from the panel that, during OCIs, and especially if you are interested in a business law practice, your extra year of school (i.e. the MBA you are working for) will pay silent dividends. Our panel agreed with Rocky Swanson, who suggested a simple re-framing of law or business to law and business. Another point raised by Keton Motta-Freeman to keep in mind was teamwork, highlighting the MBA’s focus on working in groups.

The coming years will see many of us moving into practice, and the utility of our dual-degree will vary. Several on our panel agreed that for those in complex transaction work, few things surprise and please a client so quickly as a lawyer catching bankers’ financial errors. While far from an expectation, you should always strive to deliver added value where capable. Even if you are not in high finance, McCarthy Tétrault Associate Cristian Blidariu pointed out, your MBA will nevertheless give you a broad understanding of commercial issues.

The most important thing at OCIs

For many students going into OCIs next week, what one piece of advice is truly essential?

Although you should certainty be prepared and know what is on a firm’s website, the most important thing at OCIs, however, is to have an authentic and relaxed conversation.

Relax, you’re having a professional conversation. It’s not recorded.

Time and time again we sweat the tiny details, important as they are, you want to show up relaxed and professional–just not to the point where you are comfortably leaning back in your chair, as one panelist recounted.

Students under-perform when they overthink their answers to the extent that they sound rehearsed, which may ultimately come across as robotic (firms are cautious and tend to shy away from socially awkward behaviour as it will not present well in front of a client).

The key take-aways from the session were to be professional, relaxed, and look for long-term fit.

The Osgoode-Schulich JD/MBA Students’ Association would like to thank everyone for their participation.

We would especially like to thank our Osgoode and Schulich Alumni, and their respective firms for donating their time and wisdom.  We hope they will come back to help future students as they did for us.