A couple weeks ago, we hosted our first national event – OCI in the Era of Coronavirus. Through a series of panels and with a diverse group of womxn of color leading, the National Womxn of Color Collective (NWOCC) provided invaluable insight into the OCI process with a focus on the womxn of color experience. This free event inspired attendance by students across the country who gained valuable advice and engaged in thought-provoking questions.
This event was led by NWOCC Director of Programming & Events, Sonja Chen. Chen recounts, “Our first official NWOCC event brought together a diverse group of womxn of color from different professional backgrounds to address the challenges and opportunities that this year’s OCI experience presents. This event addressed the perspectives of womxn of color in the legal field in a holistic and empowering way…” We can’t share all the details but here’s a recap –
PANEL I – OCI During Coronavirus
Jennifer Carriòn (Diversity Recruiting Manager, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP)
With the world undoubtedly transformed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this panel discussed how the OCI experience has been impacted. From the job market to the hiring process, Carriòn provided her expertise on how to best manage interpersonal and technological challenges during this time.
Carriòn discussed important action steps when interviewing with law firms. She also recommended that attendees create a contingency plan to account for issues with technology and properly communicate any issues to an interviewer. In addition, she reminded attendees not to forget to present their best selves during the interview. Carriòn warned that while lighting may not be held against you, an applicant who doesn’t dress the part most likely will.
When it comes to the hiring process, Carriòn likened it to being “a little bit like the wild Wild West.” She explained that every school and law firm has their own timeline. Although it has increased anxiety, Carriòn encouraged attendees to be more intentional with their communication with firms to set themselves apart. To do so, she suggested they attend virtual events, send a personalized thank you email, and follow-up for information and clarity (but not more than once or twice). She also advised that while firms are reducing their incoming hires, she has not noticed any long-lasting impacts on pay for first-year associates.
With Carriòn‘s advice, we are sure that attendees will be prepared to conquer OCI in this new normal.
PANEL II – Personal Branding: How to Balance Being Yourself with Meeting their Expectations
Speakers: Tiffany Wong (Account Executive, Allison+Partners) & Christine L. Wang (Attorney Recruiting Coordinator – Hanson Bridgett LLP)
Our second panel focused on something a little different: your own personal branding. As our panelists advised, everyone has a personal brand. And good news! It can always be made better, and you are completely in charge of how you appear to the world. There are some paper qualifications that influence your personal brand (such as being part of NWOCC, for instance!). The more of these paper qualifications, the better. But if these paper qualifications were all that mattered, there would be no need for the interview.
To establish the right brand, you have to be clear, consistent, and memorable. As the panelists pointed out, Michelle Obama has a clear brand. When asked, our participants jointly offered “confident,” “classy,” “well-spoken,” and “intelligent” as adjectives to describe her personal brand as seen through media and her interactions.
Similarly, we can establish our own brand and market it when we meet attorneys. Exploit your brand by following up with new connections and remind them of how you want to portray yourself. Send a thank you email, stay connected, keep them updated with your positive news, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Most importantly, we need to prepare ourselves for the interviews and plan out our elevator pitch, which is a quick message of who we are and what we hope to gain. Panelist Wong provided a clear example of a message map: having a core message and coming up with evidence and scenarios to prove your main message through experiences, examples to back up behavioral questions, and your values. Panelist Wang then facilitated the STAR Method, which describes the SITUATION, TASK, what ACTIONS you took, and what the RESULT was).
Overall, our panelists encourage you to always ask questions. It’s the one thing you can control. Come in with 3-4 questions prepared during the interview to send the message that your personal brand is a thoughtful and engaging person. With this advice, we are sure our attendees will establish their own personal brand as clear as Michelle Obama’s!
PANEL III – Network & Networth: Navigating Law Firm Culture
Speakers: Rocio Guadalupe Mendoza (Partner, Baker MacKenzie) & Jennifer Wilson, Associate (Jones Day)
Our third panel focused on workplace culture, what it means, and why it matters. Panelists advised attendees that it was important to pay attention to what law firms present in making a determination whether to apply or accept an offer. They encouraged attendees to ask the hard questions to ensure that their future employer will provide the necessary support and opportunities that best suit them.
In a participant poll, panelists asked what was most valuable when searching for an employer. Based on percentages, attendees voted the following as the most important factor (most to least): (1) work life balance; (2) emotional and spiritual gratification; (3) prospects for promotion; (4) compensation; and (5) autonomy. Panelists then went through each of these categories and discussed ways to achieve this in one’s firm.
During the thought provoking and vulnerable Q&A session, Panelist Wilson encouraged attendees to find what their personality and work styles are to help facilitate achieving both their professional and interpersonal goals at work. Mendoza further encouraged attendees to create an internal and external reputation to ensure that one’s reputation isn’t just tied to the firm but in other significant ways. Both panelists stressed the importance of networking with and creating meaningful relationships with attorneys of color in the firm by taking the extra step of seeking connection with them. Even if that connection has to be via a virtual coffee date.
Mendoza and Wilson provided practical advice to push the envelope on how one thinks about how to network and how to create your network while navigating firm life.
PANEL IV – Seeing Through the OCI Sales Pitch: The Human Resources Perspective
Speaker: Tiffany McQueen (Senior Recruiting Attorney Coordinator, Kirkland & Ellis LLP) and Rachel Kronick Rothbart, Director of Career Services, USC Gould School of Law)
The fourth panel focused on the Human Resources aspect of OCI. As Panelist McQueen stated, “As long as you don’t come into your interview naked, it’s recoverable!” The panel opened up with breakout rooms among the members to practice how to introduce oneself over Zoom and discuss some common fears and anxieties. A main concern was the awkwardness of reaching out to attorneys so close to OCI and not seeming genuine. As womxn of color, we are used to putting others before ourselves. However, other students will be hustling during this time, so reach out despite your uneasiness. Panelist Rothbart recommended that attendees reach out to their law schools’ Career Services Offices for a possible list of summer placements, and to contact 3L students who summered at the firm or to filter the firm’s website for alumni to reach out to.
Another concern was determining whether a firm’s cultural fit is right for you. For those losing sleep over this important decision, you’ll be relieved to learn that you should go with your gut and instinct on the cultural fit, but it’s not an end-all situation. Attorneys come and go, which may impact a firm’s culture, and you should not view this as your “forever firm.”
That being said, there are some ways to gauge a firm’s culture. Watch how the attorneys interact with one another during the interviews. Are they straight-laced or more casual? Are they distracted while answering your questions? You probably don’t want to be at a firm with aloof attorneys, so seek someone else at the firm to see if that was a one-off experience or whether the firm doesn’t actually care all that much about its summer associates. Also, be specific about what you want. If you get a callback, don’t be afraid to reach out and request someone to interview you (ie. someone on the hiring committee or a diverse associate).
If your grades are not great, there’s no way around it. But if presented with the opportunity to explain your grades, be honest about it. Talk about your leadership positions to supplement your grades or explain any personal reasons why your grades are not as high as you hoped. Show that you are capable and resilient! With their advice, our panelists will surely navigate the HR aspect of OCI smoothly.
THANK YOU to:
all of our wonderful panelists for their time and insight;
our moderator and NWOCC Director of Programming & Events, Sonja Chen, for all of her hard work and being a great moderator (her first time);
NWOCC leadership for their contributions and support; and
each and every attendee for joining us!
Chen summed the event up perfectly, “In taking a few steps back to examine our personal branding and elements of what we desire in our workplace culture, we cultivated a lively discussion about the many facets that are involved in the OCI process. We covered how hiring practices have changed because of the coronavirus, what is involved in creating a Messaging Map, how to concretely pursue information about a firm’s culture, and different strategies to establish our professional reputation. [W]e look forward to embracing these perspectives with this mindset in future events.”
By: Brittany Gail Thomas, Director of Communications & Trinh Truong, Chief Marketing Officer