Informational interviews help you broaden your professional connections, discover new (often unadvertised) opportunities, and flesh out your potential in a different role or type of firm than your current one.
When done right, you benefit greatly from even one informational get-together. But how do you make sure you set these moments up to be impactful and successful for you? It all starts with planning and preparation.
Before You Do Anything, Take a Step Back to Prepare
Preparation and Research are Key
First things first: Get your professional house in order before you reach out to others and ask them to commit time to meeting with you and sharing their thoughts. This will show them that you’re thoughtful about how you approach informational interviewing, which is an indicator that you’re diligent in other ways. It will also show them that you’re mindful of, and will be efficient with, their limited time.
So first, before reaching out to anyone, figure out what type of lawyer you’re looking to speak with, and what information you hope to glean from them from any meeting. Without being clear on this, the process will end up being aimless, and most likely any resulting meeting will be, too.
Identify Specific People and Topics
Once you identify the information you need, and who you need it from, do some additional research. This will help you further refine the information you’re looking for and in return, receive more valuable information when you meet. In addition, it will give you important background knowledge and help you close in on the most relevant candidates who will be most likely to provide the information you’re looking for, and who are most likely to be a valuable connection in your circle going forward. Then, drill down even more on the group of people you’ve focused on, identifying the topics you can go over with each, and where you can diverge and focus on each lawyer’s unique experience. Discussing overlapping topics is a helpful way to compare and contrast and get to a real picture of what their role, company, or career path is like, while discussing their unique aspects will yield the most interesting information and take you in unexpected, productive directions.
Refresh Your Professional Look
Before connecting with so many potential new connections, it’s a good idea to update your LinkedIn profile and any other public-facing platforms that reflect on you as a legal professional. At the very least, make sure your LinkedIn profile is sufficiently complete and up-to-date before you reach out to anyone for an informational interview. While it doesn’t have to be perfect and polished, and even a minimal profile is okay at this point, given that anyone you reach out to is likely to check LinkedIn to get a better sense of you, this will lend credibility to you and your request to meet, and make the whole experience go better. Another thing to review your professional profiles for is consistency with your current professional narrative, so that your story and relevancy to who you’re reaching out to is crystal clear, enhancing your interactions with them from first contact.
Some Rules of Thumb about the Process
Make Your Appreciation Clear and Be Flexible
When you ask a lawyer to meet you for an informational interview, you are asking that person to take time out of their busy schedule to do something for you, so make sure you express your appreciation at the outset and defer to their preferences and schedule as much as possible. While this may seem obvious, it just doesn’t happen automatically or can get lost in email communication, so be sure to be clear about how enthusiasm and appreciation over this person willingly sharing of their time and energy to help you. This sets a positive tone at the outset. Then, as you plan, follow their lead and make the meeting as easy and convenient for them as possible. When it comes to time and place, one major rule of thumb is to offer to meet at or near their office (assuming it’s reasonable for you to do so). This is just common courtesy and will show that you’re trying to be as respectful of their time as possible. Again, this sets a positive tone and will not only make them more likely to agree to meet with you, they’ll more likely to approach it positively.
Consistent with the appreciation offensive suggested above, be sure you’re messaging your gratitude from the start. This includes thanking the person for taking the time to read your email (or accept your call). Be clear that you appreciate their time and show it, by being succinct, clear and quick in getting to the point. Make sure that you don’t come off as if you’re simply looking for a job, even if the informational interview is one step in that process. Don’t try to force a busy associate or partner into a hiring manager role.
Very quickly, get to an explanation for why you’re reaching out and how you think they can be helpful to you. Be specific about what aspects of this particular lawyer’s position or background makes you think he or she is someone to speak with. If someone they know suggested you reach out, be sure to mention this as it will instantly personalize your attempt to connect. Briefly explain your goal for the informational interview, such as wanting to learn what experiences they had and steps they took when they switched from corporate law to litigation, for example.
An Overview of Logistics
- If at all possible, arrange an in-person meeting, which is the best way to connect with (and impress) someone and create an enduring connection. Of course, you should graciously accept a counteroffer of a phone call, but your initial ask should be for a short, in-person meeting.
- Regarding materials, keep it casual and avoid attaching anything. Attaching a resume can be a real turn-off for the recipient as it can be construed as asking for a job (or a referral for one).
- When it comes to the actual scheduling, make it as quick and easy for them as possible by offering up as many dates and times as you can reasonably do. The quicker you can help them get to a date and time that works, the better for you and the more likely they’ll commit to it. Once your meeting is scheduled, send a calendar invite.
Be Resilient and Look Forward
One final word about resilience and persistence: Even if you do everything right, some lawyers will simply not get back to you, or will decline to connect with you in any meaningful way. That’s life. Lawyers are busy. Don’t let it get you down and try not to take it personally. After all, they don’t really know you, do they? If you don’t hear back and you really want to connect with the person, then by all means follow up after a week or two, politely, to see if they might be up for a quick chat. If not, or if you never back, the best thing you can do is move right on and reach out to more people with whom you’re likely to have productive conversation.
The goal is not necessarily to meet with every single person you reach out to (though that would be great), but to identify and actually meet with whomever you can to have an insightful, engaging conversation that will help you direct your career. So, put your effort into those people and continue moving your process forward.
While it may be difficult at first to get the hang of finding and scheduling these productive conversations, you’ll find that you will quickly find your preferred style and it will become like second nature in no time.
In the next week, reach out to one person you’d like to meet for an informational interview, following the tips in this article.