The Art of the Informational Interview

by Vault Law Editors | April 06, 2012

Last week, we looked at the many networking opportunities available to law students and lawyers, including formal events, social networking sites, and volunteer organizations. But once you’ve expanded your network of contacts, how do you take the next step of putting those new relationships to use?

Step one: Just ask.

It can be daunting to get in touch with an accomplished practitioner, but keep in mind that successful attorneys are accustomed to receiving networking emails and are often quite open to providing guidance. The key is finding—and explicitly stating—any connection that you share with your target contact. This can be a direct link, such as a shared alma mater or mutual friend, but it can also be as simple as a shared interest in an area of the law. State your connection in the subject line of the email to ensure your message will be seen—for example, “Fordham alum seeking career transition advice,” or “Question about careers in antitrust litigation.” If you met your contact at an event, it’s a good idea to put the name of the event in the subject line.

Make your introductory email short and to the point. State your name, background, goal, and question or request:

Dear Ms. Smith:

My name is Joe Lawyer.  I'm a graduate of Northwestern Law School (class of 2010) and have been practicing law in the general commercial litigation department of Jones, Jones & Jones here in Chicago since graduating. After working on a matter for a publishing company, I became interested in transitioning to an entertainment law practice. I am specifically interested in copyright and trademark disputes.

I know you are quite busy, but I was hoping you might have time to speak briefly about your practice and your transition from practicing at a large law firm to working at a smaller entertainment boutique.

Thank you so much in advance, and I look forward to speaking with you.

Best regards,

Joe Lawyer

Do not attach a resume to your email. Sending an unsolicited resume to a potential networking contact sends the message that you are only interested in speaking if the contact can offer you a position. You will receive far more responses if you frame your request as solely informational—even if your ultimate goal is to secure a job offer.

Step two: Be prepared.

Hopefully, your contact will respond with an offer to meet in person or speak on the phone. At this point, he or she may also request a resume (at which point, of course, you should send one).

In preparation for your call or meeting, carefully read your contact’s biography on the firm’s website. Pay attention to her career path (where she worked prior to her current firm), and the matters she has worked on recently. Dig in to this information: search for more information on her recent deals or cases, and visit the websites of the companies where she was previously employed. You should also review your own resume and make sure you are prepared to speak about any past experience you have.

Step three: Ask the right questions.

Prepare a list of questions you would like to ask during the meeting or call. You should be ready to direct the flow of the conversation, if needed. Examples of the types of questions you should ask during an informational networking conversation include:

  • What was your path to your current role?
  • What is a typical day for you like?
  • What types of cases do you focus on?
  • What advice do you have for someone looking to transition to this field?
  • What is the best way to find out about opportunities in your field?

Step four: Make your intentions clear, but don’t ask for a job.

Again, informational interviews are not about landing a position. It is not appropriate to ask your contact for a job (unless, of course, he or she brings up an opening that interests you). However, it is perfectly acceptable to make clear that you are looking for a new position, and to offer to provide your resume at the end of the meeting. Your contacts will be more likely to keep you in mind as they hear about new openings in the market if you do not pressure them.

Step five: Follow up

Always send a thank you note via email within one day of your meeting or call. This email should be short, but make sure to mention something about your interaction that was particularly helpful:

Dear Ms. Smith:

Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me yesterday. Our conversation was very helpful, and I especially enjoyed learning more about your recent trial. I will definitely look into your suggestion of joining the Media and Entertainment Law Committee of the Chicago Bar Association.

Best,

Joe Lawyer

Have you had a successful (or not so successful) informational interview? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below, or you can tweet us at @VaultLaw!

--Rachel Marx, Law Editor



Filed Under: Law | Networking


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