Getting information from an informational interview
October 5, 2007 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I've set up some informational interviews. Now, what do I ask the people so I don't seem like a dumbass?

I'm an attorney looking to move to a larger metro area. I've contacted a few alums for advice. I know that I want information on hiring trends, opportunities they may know about, and other advice that can help me get a handle on where to apply and who else to talk to.

Problem is, I'm new to this networking thing. Should I just ask these questions straight out, or do I need to couch them around small talk and other banter?

It's a nerve wracking process, but I need to do it. It's just that these people have given me some of their time. I don't want to waste it.

Any tips from people who have networked their way to jobs or networked, period, in the past would be welcome.
posted by reenum to Work & Money (7 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You do need to warm up with small talk.

If you know them personally, ask them what they have been up to since school, and if they've heard from former classmate X.

If you don't know them, maybe ask them if they've been back to campus, talk about how OMG wasn't professor Y such a drag, etc. Talk about your shared school experience first, then move on to your questions.

The purpose of networking is to build relationships. Relationships are formed based on shared experiences. You must build a foundation of shared experience. Also, you both need a chance to warm up to each other a bit before pumping for information. It shows that you are civilized and not stand-offish. Don't worry, it is not a waste of time.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:35 AM on October 5, 2007

Most people are happy to talk about themselves, so you can ask people about their jobs, what their work day is like, their colleagues etc as a way of breaking the ice. But if they have agreed to see you they are likely expecting you to ask them the sort of questions you want answered, what firms are growing, does anyone specialize in the exact area of law you are most interested in.

And "do you know anyone else I can talk to?" is a pretty standard question.
posted by shothotbot at 6:41 AM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: Sometimes it helps to have a mental agenda so you don't feel you're wasting time. Assuming you've got at 30 minute block of time.

5 Minutes - Intros, warm-up chatting.
10 Minutes - What makes law practice in that locality unique? Business practices? Particular judges? Difficulty in starting/joining a practice? Important profession associations you should join?
10 Minutes - Job hunting questions - where, what firm, referrals.
5 Minutes - Thanks and ask if you can call again for more advice.

The other thing is in the start of the interview confirm how much time the person has available. A simple, "I don't want to waste our time, do you still have 30 minutes?" will be appreciated.

Good luck!
posted by 26.2 at 6:48 AM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: OK here's how it ought to go ( and you only need 15 minutes):

You: Hi, great to meet you, thank you for your time.

Her*: No problem, no problem. It's always nice to talk to a fellow alum. What were you curious about?

You: [One question that relates to her specific expertise, that is designed to show that you've done your homework and are not going to waste her time asking "what do lawyers do, anyway"]

Her: [Answer]

You: [Follow up question that shows you've been listening]

Her: [Answer]

You: That's interesting, great. One last question: [say something about your ideal position and ask if she thinks you have a shot]

Her: Yes, I think someone with your background should have no problem finding that sort of work here. In fact, you should talk to my friend at ....


Her: No, you might want to try doing x for a few years before you get into that field.

You: Thank you so much for your time. I noticed [her or her firm's recent success] and it was a pleasure to speak with you. Have a great day.

Meanwhile, you're writing pertinent notes in your professional, leather covered notebook. IMMEDIATELY AFTER, you write a professional thank-you note and mail it to her. I've never gotten a job without networking. It's really the way to go.

Oh, and be nice to the secretaries.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:12 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all phone interviews, since I live in the Midwest and am looking to move to one of the coasts.

So, I guess the secretaries won't have as much interaction, other than to patch me through.

I know I need to ask them about the market and the hiring climate. What are some good questions you guys have used in the past?
posted by reenum at 7:53 AM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: Always, always avoid asking anything you can find via newspaper, professional newsletter, or general research; and focus on questions that can't be answered by anyone else you know. That means you should ask each interviewer/ee different questions based on their particular expertise.

If you're asking a patent attorney in Palo Alto the same thing about the market that you're asking a tax lawyer in DC, you're doing it wrong.

If you ask the patent attorney whether your undergraduate mechanical engineering with a bioengeneering minor would be enough to get you in the door at a large, well known patent firm, you're doing it right. The follow up is, are there any firms that you, personally, would recommend for someone with my interests and qualifications?
posted by sondrialiac at 8:25 AM on October 5, 2007

Best answer: I'm a tax lawyer in NYC working for a relatively big firm. I'm not sure about informational interview techniques, but might be able to give you some information and am always happy to network. Email's in my profile if you want to talk.
posted by lorrer at 10:56 AM on October 5, 2007

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