Once you receive positive responses from your initial outreach, you should request a time to speak/meet with your contact. This conversation is often called an "informational interview."
What is an Informational Interview?
Informational interviewing is not interviewing for a job. It is a method of exploring career options and discovering opportunities that are not publicly advertised. Especially when speaking with lawyers you don’t personally know, an informational interview is a great way to make contact, ask the questions you really want answered, and draw upon someone else's experiences and personal contacts.
How to Conduct the Interview & Sample Questions
When arranging an informational interview, remember that you are the interviewer. Thus, the burden is on you to request and arrange the meeting and to plan the questions/topics of conversation.
If you are meeting in person, dress as you would for a job interview (but remember, you are asking for advice, not a job). Be prompt. Observe as well as listen. Be prepared with open ended questions such as:
- What are some of the particular advantages and disadvantages of this kind of practice?
- Could you tell me what a “typical” day is like for you?
- What do you like about your work?
- Are there things you dislike about your work?
- Is there any sort of path in terms of course selection that is particularly important in your work?
- Are there particular skills or personality traits that you think are needed in your kind of practice that might be different from other kinds of lawyering?
- What’s the future outlook for ______? (small firms, environmental law, prosecutors, whatever is appropriate).
- What would you see as the best way to get the skills and experience to best qualify me for this kind of Law/Legal Practice/Job?
- What do you suggest as the best way for someone with my experience to approach prospective employers?
- How should someone with my lack of experience approach prospective employers?
- How did you go about finding this job?
- Would you suggest any ways in which I could improve the content or appearance of my resume?
- Do you think there are things on my resume that prospective employers might object to?
- Can you think of anyone else that I should talk to? Would you mind if I used your name when I contact him/her?
You are in the “driver's seat” in this interview, so you need to keep the conversation going and be ready with the next question. As the interview proceeds, you may find that you need to re-focus, if the interviewer does not want to go in the direction in which you would like to go. Also, if this meeting becomes a job interview, you may have to switch gears and field more traditional interview questions. So, make sure to bring a copy of your resume, if you didn’t send it initially, and practice answering typical job interview questions before the meeting.
Be sure to send a thank you letter as promptly as possible. See our sample informational interview thank you letter (pdf) for ideas. Also, once you've left the meeting, be sure to make notes of your conversation. This will help you write your thank you letter and will give you topics to refer to when you speak again. Keep in touch with your contact through quick notes or emails to let them know of new achievements or your job search progress. After working so hard to build your network, you need to give it a little attention every once in a while to ensure that it remains healthy.