I was not on law review at my school and I did not graduate in the top 20 percent (though my grades were pretty good, especially in my second and third years). But, I do have interesting extras which would arguably make me a strong candidate for an entry-level IP associate position.
What is my appropriate frame of mind when I am actually going to or in an interview session at one of these big law firms? Is it realistic for me to think that I have a very good chance at getting the job, especially if the firm bothers to fly me out there, etc.?
You would be the only person to notice but I have edited down your inquiry simply because you have asked a number of questions that can't be answered in one column. Perhaps over the next few columns I will be able to address some of the other issues that you have raised.
For now though, let's take a look at the question at hand: if you are asked to come to a firm for an interview, the chances are good that you will get the job. Oh, I wish that were true. What a wonderful world this would be if every time someone was invited over to a firm for an interview, an offer of employment was not far behind.
Unfortunately, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Just because you are invited to interview with a firm does not mean that you are going to receive a job offer. It doesn't even guarantee that you will receive an invitation to return for more advanced interviewing rounds. Of course, you could always say that your chances of receiving a job offer are much better if you are invited to the firm for an interview than for those who don't interview with the firm at all. But now I am just being silly.
I wonder what books are advising you that you will receive an offer if you accept an invitation for an interview? I suggest that you put those books away for the time being because that is not the best advice to take into an interview. If you walk into a meeting with a law firm thinking that an offer is forthcoming, you might find that you need an attitude adjustment. Interviewing is tough and extremely competitive, particularly in today's economic climate. Granted, a positive attitude is the best way to tackle any situation, including interviews. However, it is important to keep in mind that nothing is a given and that you must sell yourself in order to get asked back for more interviews before an offer can even be mentioned.
Your mindset as you walk into an interview should be positive, but always with the thought in your mind that there are many other candidates out there who are probably interviewing for the same opportunity. Your mission on a first interview is to make sure that you secure a call-back or advanced round interview. You must prepare yourself for your interview with that goal set as the main objective of the meeting.
I do think that it is a positive sign that the firm is willing to fly you out to their location; however, I cannot begin to tell you how many people are reimbursed for traveling to an interview but do not get any farther than that first meeting. As I have said so many times before, first impressions are critical. It has been my experience that a decision to not hire someone is made in the first 60 seconds of an interview. Mind you, I said a decision not to hire. It is so important to make a good initial impression so that the interviewer will want to continue on with the interview with an open mind, not with the mindset that you are not going to be hired.
Once you have made that all-important positive first impression, you must continue on in the same manner so that at the end of the meeting the interviewer wants to bring you back for more advanced rounds. If the interviewer perceives that you are overly confident or too smug about receiving a job offer, you can basically count on the fact that you will not receive one.
Even with your "interesting extras," the attorneys at the firm will need to feel that they like you and that you will fit in before they extend an offer to you. Clearly the firm feels that there may be a good match based on your paperwork, and that is why they are spending the time and money to fly you out to them for face-to-face interviews. The important thing for you to remember is that no one hires a resume. What you say and how you portray yourself and your skills as an attorney will be the determining factor as to whether or not you will receive a job offer. Good luck!