Ten Steps to Effective Informational Interviewing
May 24, 2016
By Mike Gotham, Perkins Coie, Director of Recruiting & Retention, and Shelley Levine, Perkins Coie, Attorney Recruiting Manager
If hearing the word “networking” makes you uneasy, then the idea of an informational interview may cause you serious discomfort. Many people shy away from informational interviews, which is unfortunate: studies show that informational interviews often play a critical role in a job search. In fact, statistics show that the majority of jobs are secured through networking and personal contacts.
Unlike a job interview, an informational interview is not intended to lead directly to a job offer—it is a meeting intended to help you get advice on your job search and to expand your network. Informational interviews can also help you think about and refine your career goals and your job search. While it may seem awkward to contact a stranger to seek advice, informational interviews are quite common. Most people can remember how difficult it was to land their first job and they are happy to spend a little time helping someone just starting in their career.
Below is a step-by-step roadmap to make informational interviews easy and effective:
1. Compile the names of people to contact, and be expansive in creating your list. Ideally the list will be comprised of people with whom you have some connection: they may be attorneys who graduated from your college or law school, a friend’s relative, a referral from a favorite professor, or someone you heard speak at a conference. Keep a record of the people you’ve contacted (and when) so you will always have a list of your contacts.
2. Send an email to your contact explaining that you’re looking for advice on your job search. Be sure to note your connection right up front (“I am currently seeking a summer job in Portland and my friend Jennifer Smith suggested I contact you to find out more about the legal community in the city.”) Attach a resume so your contact will have information about your academic background and work experience. If you do not receive a reply in a week, call or send a follow-up email message. My rule is only follow up once; if two requests do not trigger a reply I move on to another contact. If your contact is not able to meet, you might politely ask if she can recommend someone else for you to contact.
3. It is quite common for informational interviews to be done by phone. If you will talk with your contact by phone, it’s important to be somewhere for the call where you will not be interrupted and where there will not be any noise in the background. If you will meet in person, meet at a time and place that is most convenient for your contact.
4. This is obvious, but bears emphasis: be prepared for your meeting. Research your contact’s educational background and career so you not only understand the work she has done but also have a good idea of the sort of advice she might provide. For example, is this person practicing in the precise field you are interested in or is this a more general meeting about the state of the local legal market?
5. Prepare an agenda for yourself for the meeting with specific questions you want to ask. It’s critical to think about the sort of information your contact can provide and tailor your questions accordingly. This will avoid asking questions your contact cannot answer, which can be awkward for you and for her. Remember that this is not an interview where you will be responding to questions; it is up to you to ask questions and guide the conversation.
6. Begin the meeting with small talk to establish a connection and pave the way for your conversation. Most people enjoy talking about themselves so ask your contact questions about herself and her career to get the conversation started.
7. Although you will likely send your resume in advance of your meeting, if you will meet in person and do not send your resume in advance, bring copies of your resume in case your contact wants to review your background. And be prepared to discuss your academic career and work experience. Keep in mind that your contact may want to assess your qualifications before recommending you to a friend.
8. Avoid asking about job opportunities. This meeting is not about getting a job offer; your focus should be on collecting information that will be helpful in your job search generally, e.g., information about the type of work you hope to pursue and the legal community in which you want to work. Your contact knows you are looking for a job; if she knows of one that would be appropriate for you she will tell you about it.
9. Remember that your contact is busy so keep your meeting short. Twenty to thirty minutes is about right. Near the end of your meeting, ask your contact if there are additional people she could suggest you contact for further advice. Be sure to inquire if you may use your contact’s name when you contact these other people.
10. Send a thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting. The message may be sent by hard copy or by email, but it should be a personalized note sincerely thanking your contact for her time and her assistance.