Informational interviewing (aka networking) does two things: first, it allows you to gather information and advice. Second, it helps you develop professional relationships. You will use these skills throughout your career.
For job searching purposes, the information and advice that you obtain through informational interviewing will help you make a more informed decision about what you want to do and will also help you refine your job search strategy and materials. People who enjoy their work are happy to talk about what they do and are usually willing to help. In return, you must be prepared to use their time effectively.
Identifying Potential Resource People
Identify people who are doing the type(s) of work you're interested in. Write the names on a piece of paper-this process is more real when you can hold a piece of it in your hands. Start with people you know:
- Classmates and former classmates
- Law school faculty and staff
- Law school alumni
- Undergraduate institution alumni
- Extended family
- Friends and neighbors
- Social contacts
- Church members
- Former supervisors and colleagues
- Volunteer organizations
- People you've met at CLEs
In addition to asking people you already know, think about other sources for names of people who might be able to provide assistance:
- Trade magazines and journals
- CLE faculty rosters
Making the Initial Contact
Call, write, or e-mail each person, briefly explain your background and why you're contacting him or her, and ask if you could meet for fifteen (or twenty, or thirty) minutes. Make it clear that you're not asking about a job or for a job. If you got the person's name from someone else, be sure to mention the referral person's name. Conclude by saying what your next step will be (calling in a week to see if there is a mutually convenient time to meet, etc.).
Conducting the Informational Interview
Once an individual agrees to meet with you, research that person and his or her organization. You should state your purpose for the meeting and briefly describe your background (e.g., education and work history). After this, your focus should shift to the other person. You may wish to inquire about:
- His/her background-education, work history, how he/she got the job
- Responsibilities and day-to-day duties
- What he/she likes/dislikes about the job
- Qualifications for people interested in entering this field
- Advice for people interested in entering this field
- Opportunities in this field
- Alternative Career Questions (if relevant)
- You may also wish to ask for:
- A critique of your resume
- Advice about interviewing
- Advice about related fields that might also be of interest
- Referrals to others who might have additional information or advice
Wear business attire to the meeting and be sure to turn off your cell phone. Also be aware of the time - if you asked for fifteen minutes, take only fifteen minutes.
Express your appreciation at the end of the meeting, and also send a thank you note. For general information see the thank you notes page.
Develop a system to keep track of your networking activities-names, dates, and times, and notes about what happened at each meeting. Keep these people apprised of your job search activities, and let them know when you secure a position. Many of them will become your colleagues after you've entered your chosen field.
A Networking Top Ten
Below are some networking skills that can be incorporated into your repertoire. Although they may seem fairly obvious and elementary at first glance, many people fail to ever use them and instead think of networking as “contrived” or a “chore.” Think these tips and consider that when used properly and intentionally, doors may be opened to you, in unexpected ways. For more detailed information, take the Networking Semianr offered throughout the year.
- Relationship Building – Networking is the creation, nurturing and expansion of relationships, both personal and professional. Many job opportunities come from your friends or from their friends. It is not “who you know” but “who knows you.”
- Where to Start: Establish your list of people you can rely on for personal and professional assistance. Create a list of your contacts. This includes family (immediate and extended) partners, personal friends, neighbors, current and former employers, friends from law school, graduate and/or undergraduate, members of community groups. Now expand that list to include the above people and their contacts.
- Reestablish relationships with former friends, acquaintances, colleagues and law professors: Checking In Call or email them, letting them know that you do not expect a job from them, but that you are seeking their advice and assistance. Ask them how they are doing, what they are up to personally and professionally, then bring them up to date with your activities and accomplishments. Look for common ground and mutually beneficial ways to connect. Keep in mind relationships are a two way street and involves helping others, so view this as an exchange of information and assistance.
- Get out there and be noticed: Establish yourself as a leader. Join local/specialty/minority bar associations and volunteer for committees, CLE’s/public speaking, serve on boards; write for bar journals or op-ed sections of newspapers, provide pro bono legal services for local bar association programs (Housing Justice Project, Volunteer Legal Services, VAPWA or Neighborhood Legal Clinics, Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Program, etc) provide consultation to non-profit/community organizations and become active in local government or political campaigning. Impress those around you with your skills, hard work and dedication. Name recognition is important when you are expanding your network.
- Making connections with those you meet: As you are working in any of the above activities, get to know those working with you. Ask questions, find out about their interests, how they got involved in activity, where they practice, how they got where they are now. Tell them your interests and goals and let them what you are interested in pursuing. Make sure you weave your skill set into the project/activity and that you are interested in expanding/changing/starting your career. Let the person/s know you enjoyed meeting them and working with them, and you are looking forward to seeing them again. Tell them you are interested in learning more about the work they do (unspoken: and meeting the people they know) Always think of “the next step.”
- Set up “informational interviews” with attorneys working in the practice areas you are most interested in pursuing. E-mail or call them requesting 20 minutes of their time to get information and advice regarding their area of expertise. Make it clear that you are not seeking a job, but want tips for pursuing this area of practice. Let them know you are interested in learning about their career path. If you have been referred to this person, by a friend, colleague or family member, mention that. For example: “ My neighbor, Judy Jones, suggested that I contact you about my interest in family law. She told me you have been involved in mediating disputes, arranging adoptions and working with GAL’s and that you might be willing to provide me with information about how I might get more training in these areas. I am a 2L at Seattle University School of Law and have taken Family Law, Family Law Clinic, and ADR. I would love to learn about the family law section and any CLE’s offered in this area. Please let me know if there is a time that is best for you to meet. I will call you next week to arrange for the time that works for you. I look forward to meeting you. Thank you.
- Prepare for the Informational Interview. Dress professionally. Be on time. Do not overstay. Ask the attorney about his/her education, work experience/ “career path”; ask what qualifications are needed to enter this practice area and what opportunities are available in this field; seek advice regarding resume and interviewing; ask him/her for recommendations regarding classes, CLE’s, bar activities, etc. to demonstrate your willingness to work hard to achieve your goals; and ask for referrals to other attorneys working in this or similar practice areas who may also be willing to offer advice and information.
- Thank those who help you. Follow up with a phone call, note or e -mail. Politeness is appreciated and promotes a good relationship.
- Be a good listener. The more you know about a person, the more you can relate to them. In turn, they will remember you when a job/referral comes along. You only make a first impression once.
- Be Optimistic. Think of networking as campaigning. You want to “win”.