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The purpose of an informational interview is to get information that will help you in your job search. It is not an interview for a job. This process, if conducted skillfully, can be a valuable source for networking leads, knowledge and "inside information" on employer hiring criteria and decision-making. A well-prepared informational interview can open doors for a job in the future because it can be an opportunity to network, to determine which qualities and skills are most relevant to an employer, and to learn how an employer fills vacancies.
Note: The Official Guide to Legal Specialties provides an overview of 30 legal practice areas. It can be useful as a guide to determine an initial list of practice area or employer types you want to investigate.
Martindale Hubbell and city bar directories contain lists of attorneys by specialty. The Moritz Alumni Directory lists attorneys by state, city and practice specialty. Law professors frequently have a good alumni network. Friends and family can often introduce you to attorneys as well. Your career advisor can also help to identify individuals who may be willing to conduct informational interviews. Do not limit yourself to doing informational interviews with only attorneys. Many professionals work with attorneys in their organizations and can share insights and connections.
Call or email the individual to request an informational interview. Make it clear that you want an informational interview and are not asking for employment. You can start the conversation by explaining that he/she has done what you hope to do and that you are hoping to get advice to inform your job search. Plan on an interview lasting from 30 minutes to an hour and offer to interview in the workplace, over the phone, or at another location such as a coffee shop. If you sense the individual whom you are contacting may not have time, ask if he/she might suggest someone else with whom you could conduct an informational interview. Indicate when you will be calling to explore the possibility of an interview.
Preparation should encompass two areas: (1) research about the interviewee, the organization and the area of practice before you go to the interview, and (2) developing questions you will ask. Because of the limited amount of time, skillfully planned questions are essential. Call one day in advance to confirm your meeting date. It is also a good idea to send the individual a copy of your resume prior to your meeting so that he/she has a better sense of your experience.
Conducting Your Interview
Depending on the location of the informational interview, dress in a suit or business casual attire and allow plenty of travel time; enter the office itself five to ten minutes in advance of the meeting. You should go prepared with a copy of your resume, a detailed list of questions. If possible, observe the work environment. Are employees on a first name basis? Is there talking and laughter or silence in the halls? Do employees display personal items in their offices? You can learn a great deal about an organization's culture by what you see and hear prior to the actual informational interview.
Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and begin the interview. Feel free to take notes and ask follow up questions. At the end of the interview, extend your thanks. Ask for names of others with whom you might talk about the particular job or practice area. This will expand your network of people to interview and put you in touch with more potential employers.
Write a thank you note within a day or two of the interview and keep in touch with those informational interviewers whom you wish to cultivate as mentors. If the person you met has made a suggestion, indicate in your thank you note what you have done or will do to follow up on that suggestion. If resume revisions were suggested, include a revised resume. People are more likely to help those who take advice seriously. Keep the person apprised of your job search every two or three months. If the person does not hear from you, he/she will assume you are employed.
If you are successful as an informational interviewer, you will have an overview of job duties and a clear sense of how well-suited the position is to your unique skills and abilities. In addition, you should know how an employer recruits and selects candidates. Finally, you should have a network of mentors who can assist in the job search. Knowledge is power in the job search and informational interviewing is a great tool for gaining understanding and connections.