Through a unique partnership between the Office of Career Services and the Legal Practice Program, William & Mary is focusing on integrating critical career development skills into the curriculum. The annual Alumni Mock Interview Program for 1Ls, held this year on January 30, is just one product of this collaboration designed to ensure students are prepared for their summer job searches and beyond.
The mock interview program has been conducted each January for more than 20 years, but this was the first year where it was required for all 1Ls through their Legal Practice course. The collaboration with the Legal Practice Program was made possible with the support of Professor Laura R. Killinger, the program's director, and also includes a full line-up of skills-based Career Services programs designed to help 1Ls be the most competitive applicants they can be. Ahead of the internship application season last fall, Career Services conducted resume and cover letter workshops during Legal Practice class time. This January two interview skills workshops were added and culminated in the mock interview program, where each 1L had a one-on-one interview with a William & Mary graduate practicing in the student's interest area.
"This program was intended to get students aware of the impression they make during an interview, aware of what someone else's perception of them may be, and aware of things that they're already good at, as well as what they can improve upon," said Cinnamon Baker, assistant dean for Employer Relations. "Not everybody knows their own weaknesses. The best thing you can ever do for yourself is to get feedback from someone else."
With about 15 minutes of interviewing and 15 minutes of debriefing, students had the opportunity to build a personal connection with an alum while learning more about how to better prepare for future interviews.
"The mock interview was particularly helpful because I realized that even though I had thought about questions ahead of time, I still needed to think through my answers more thoroughly and develop formulated responses," said 1L Sarah Edwards.
Thirty-eight alumni, representing a vast array of career paths in both the public and private sector, participated in this year's program. With the help of an instructional video prepared by Career Services and evaluation sheets based directly on employer feedback of what they look for in candidates, alumni were able to provide specific, personalized feedback on students' performance.
"As much as I enjoy the recruiting process, it is frustrating to see a student not do their best in an interview because they are nervous, or miss opportunities to make a connection with me, or just flub a common interview question," said William M. Connolly, J.D. '94, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath, who traveled from Philadelphia to participate. "This was my first year participating in the mock interview program, and it was tremendously fun to stop the 'interview' after 10 minutes or so, shift gears, become the student's advocate and talk through with them how they might present themselves more effectively."
Recognizing that the spoken word often has a different impact than it would have in the student's mind or on a page, Connolly advises students to practice answers to common interview questions out loud with a friend. He also suggests reaching out to young alumni at the firm or organization prior to the interview. This demonstrates an extra level of interest and helps students formulate better questions to ask during the interview. While young alumni might not be making hiring decisions yet, they can provide helpful tips for the interview process.
"I think some students are a little surprised at how pleasant and conversational an interview can be, and sometimes miss the opportunities to make their best connection because they are waiting for the explicit leading question that will give them that opening," said Connolly. "For example, if I ask about a job you had, don't just describe the job. Be prepared to talk in a natural way about what skills or experiences it gave you, or what your performance said about you, or anything that will go beyond 'just the facts' and give me some insight into why you would be a great hire for my firm."
This year's program also featured a faculty-alumni luncheon that facilitated candid conversations on how William & Mary can continue to prepare successful lawyers. Alumni shared what they're hearing from the marketplace about specific, practical skills that employers are looking to find in students and discussed with faculty how training for those skills might be incorporated into the school's curriculum.
"Next year we'll have just as robust a program. We'll email alumni in November asking for participation in the January 2016 program, and we hope they will participate when they get the call to action," said Baker.
Editor's Note: The Career Services Office welcomes hearing from alumni who'd be interested in learning more about how they can help with the 2016 Alumni Mock Interview Program or other Career Services events. For more information, please contact Cinnamon Baker at [[w|cabaker]].
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.