Wearing the suit
Today was the first day of our school's Early Interview Week ("EIW"), which, despite the misleading name, is the major On-Campus Interviewing ("OCI") program according to the number of students and employers who participate.
Actually, it isn't exactly "on campus." It's at a very suburban-looking Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town. But that's beside the point.
Presumably, the point of the whole exercise is to provide an opportunity for employers and students to meet, talk, and get to know each other. Although each interview is usually limited to 20 minutes in order to accomodate everyone, there is some small chance that accurate impressions of one another are formed during the interviews. Obviously, these can't be very deep or detailed after only twenty minutes, but that's what callback interviews are for, I suppose.
Needless to say, you can't learn very much about a firm in only twenty minutes. Nor can a firm learn very much about you. There just isn't time. The inherent limitations of information exchange in such short interviews make some of the conventions of this program seem even stranger than they would otherwise.
For example, one convention that all students follow is to wear a very conservative suit. There might be a few rebels out there, but for the most part everyone today did what they were supposed to do, and wore virtually the exact same clothes as everyone else. Variety among men was limited to whether you had a button-down collar or not; among women, whether you wore pants or a skirt. Looking around the room, I was impressed with how successful everyone seemed to be at dressing just like everyone else.
Now, this convention might not really matter to an employer looking for information about potential new associates. The firms want lawyers who look professional, and if wearing a conservative suit to an interview can demonstrate that you're capable of this, I'm sure the employers appreciate the demonstration. But there are other conventions, about things other than clothes, that probably do diminish the value of the limited amount of interview time. These conventions are about what to say in an interview. Some of the ones I heard recently: "never let the word 'lifestyle' pass your lips"; "don't ask about the firm's summer program"; "give this kind of answer if you're asked why you want to work in this particular city."
Advice like this is probably not bad--no one wants to make real gaffes in any interview. I wonder, though, if there aren't too many of these pieces of advice floating around. I know my classmates are a diverse bunch of people, with different talents, personalities, and goals. But how can an employer know anything about this in only twenty minutes? Especially if every student is trying so hard not to say anything unconventional?
I'm going to guess that these interviews aren't actually very useful for learning much about students or about employers. That's probably not their purpose. In only twenty minutes, the only thing that a student can count on learning about a firm that goes beyond what they've learned already is that the firm isn't (or is) peopled entirely with troglodytes. The only thing that an employer can count on learning about a student is that the student isn't (or is) a troglodyte. Sometimes both sides get lucky and learn more about each other than just this basic information. But I'm guessing that in the vast majority of cases, the most important information that's exchanged in these short interviews is that the previously known information about the other party (from the website, or from the resume) is more or less reliable. The real information exchange has to happen later at the callback interviews.
So what, if anything, follows from this? From a student perspective, don't get too uptight about the interviews, unless you really are a troglodyte. And don't draw too many conclusions about a firm, unless you were interviewed by a panel of green-skinned lawyers with horns and long canine teeth.
From a firm perspective, well. . . If the student walks in wearing a tie that ends midway between his sternum and his navel, he might really be a troll. Sometimes you can't tell from the resume.