How to Get the Most from Informational Interviews

I’d like to take advantage of informational interviews as part of my legal job search. What’s the best way to go about contacting people in the legal field? What questions should I ask?

First of all, you’re smart to want to purse informational interviews. Whether you’re a recent law grad or a seasoned pro contemplating a career change, they are a great way to gain valuable advice, learn about current employment trends, expand your legal network and get job-search tips from industry veterans. Another plus: Though you’re not yet interviewing for a legal job, you are getting your foot in the door by letting practitioners get to know you.

But it can be daunting to contact busy professionals and ask probing questions. Here are some things to keep in mind as you go about setting up and conducting informational interviews.

Know Whom to Contact

Know which practice area you want to focus on, and then reach out to connections in that particular field. If you’re deciding among several types of law practices (e.g., firm, corporate, government, non-profit, academia), you’ll want to interview professionals working in each area.

How to find them?

  • Search your social media connections and make inquiries.
  • Contact the career center at your alma mater for a list of alumni willing to be interviewed.
  • Ask family, friends and acquaintances whether they know of anyone working in those fields, and see if they’d make an introduction.

When compiling your contact list, consider mid- or even early-career lawyers as well as seasoned professionals. It’s good to get a diversity of opinions when seeking information. It also wouldn’t hurt your legal job prospects to interview people who work in organizations that you would like to join.

Contact Your List

The best way to reach out to potential interviewees is by personalized email. Compose a message that concisely lays out your intentions. Make sure to mention any acquaintances and/or professional associations you two have in common. You may want to attach your resume and any recent publications as a way to share your background and credentials. Do this for each individual contact. If you don’t hear back after a week, you could send a follow-up email or reach out by phone.

Prepare for the Interview

Rule number one of an informational interview: Do your research. You don’t want to waste valuable time — and come across as a lightweight — by asking questions to which the answers are easily found online. Make the most of your short time together.

Other tips: Prepare an elevator speech that neatly sums up your background, experience and interest in the practice area. This is a good way to kick off an informational interview. And be sure to dress the part: Even though it’s not a formal legal job interview, business attire is still the most appropriate.

Perfect Your Interviewing Strategy

As the one who asked for the meeting, you’re the one who drives the interview. Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • Can you describe your typical day?
  • What technical and interpersonal skills do I need to succeed in this field?
  • What are the industry trends to keep an eye on?
  • How would you rate the work-life balance of this job/industry?
  • Do you have any advice that you wish you’d received before you started out?

What to do Afterward

Soon after the interview, find a quiet place where you can review your notes and add other details while the meeting is still fresh in your mind. Within a day, send a written or emailed thank-you note personalized with some key points you learned from that person.

Conducting an informational interview is a great job search strategy. You get an insider’s perspective, helpful advice, another person in your professional network and possibly even leads for positions not yet advertised. To get the most out it, treat this experience as seriously as you would any legal job interview.