How To Plan An Informational Interview

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Here are 12 tips if you’re asking for an informational interview and would like to be respectful of your interviewee’s time.

Recently, I shared some job search tips for lawyers seeking their first legal jobs or those looking to re-enter the legal workforce. One tool I mentioned that can be helpful when looking to break into a market is the informational interview.

Here are 12 tips if you’re asking for an informational interview and would like to be respectful of your interviewee’s time. (Note: I refer to the person you’re hoping to speak with as the “interviewee” rather than the “interviewer” because, in an informational interview, you are the person asking questions to obtain information from the interviewee. Remember that this is not a job interview, in which you are on the receiving end of the questions.)

1. Send an initial e-mail or LinkedIn message that:

a. makes it clear that you are asking for an informational interview and on what topic(s),
b. offers enough background on yourself as necessary, but as succinctly as possible,
c. shows how you are connected or how you came across the interviewee’s profile,
d. states the time commitment you are looking for (no more than 20-30 minutes!),
e. offers several time slots when you are available but invites the interviewee to offer alternative times, and
f. asks permission to send your resume and a list of questions you’d like to ask. Follow up with these items only after the person has agreed to speak with you, but at least a day in advance of the call.

2. Be sure your messages are free of any typos and include a proper signature block and link to your LinkedIn profile. Do not, however, shower the person with so much information or a full job application bundle such that it seems like “homework” just to navigate your request.

3. If you do not hear back from the prospective interviewee, it’s okay to follow up, but wait 7-10 days. No one likes a follow-up 12 hours later when you are asking for a favor.

4. You may offer to speak by phone or by Zoom, but make it the interviewee’s choice; do not push a Zoom meeting on someone. Offer to send a calendar invite. If you do offer a Zoom meeting, be prepared to send a meeting link.

5. Be prepared to take the lead in the conversation. It’s fine to remind the interviewee of your basic experience, but do not waste time repeating your whole resume.

6. Keep the informational interview to the time frame you requested.

7. Follow the interviewee’s cues as to how formal or informal your conversation will be, but err on the side of treating this like an actual interview. It’s great practice for a true interview!

8. Take notes if you can, but above all, be sure to LISTEN to the answers to your questions. There’s nothing more annoying than plodding through a list of pre-ordained questions when some have already been answered earlier in the conversation.

9. At the end of your interview, ask if there is anyone else the interviewee recommends you speak with, including anyone they might introduce you to. Ask for their suggestions on next steps.

10. As I discussed recently in The Importance of Authentic Networking, any networking or relationship building must be a two-way street. Always ask your interviewee if there is anything you can assist them with. It may be something as small as sharing a link to an article they might enjoy or sharing news of your shared alma mater. Just be sure to ask how you can reciprocate. And ask permission to stay in touch and ask what method they prefer.

11. Be sure to follow-up with an immediate thank you message the day of the interview. Send any articles or reciprocity you’ve promised. Connect with the individual on LinkedIn if you haven’t already.

12. If your interviewee agrees that you should stay in touch, stay in touch! If you’re conducting multiple informational interviews, you may consider keeping a spreadsheet with names of interviewees, notes on your conversations, and reminders to follow up every few months.

If used correctly, the informational interview can be a powerful tool for you in your job search. Good luck!