The Art Of The Informational Interview
The typical person heading into a job interview at a law firm has done his or her homework. Generally this involves finding out whatever details and background information are available about the company and its principles, while also learning about the specific position being offered. Yet invariably, no matter how prepared one is, an interview is a high-pressure, high-stress situation. You’re aware that you have just this one chance to make a good impression, and that your interviewer has likely heard it all before, so it may be difficult to actually say anything that would impart a favorable or distinctive view of you, regardless of your qualifications. Is there anything an interviewee can do to up the odds in his or her favor?
There is, in fact, and it’s called the informational interview. Please note that the informational interview is not a backdoor way to finagle one’s way into a job, and it should never be viewed as such. Your interest is in gathering information – about a specific type of job, company, or industry – and that’s all. Anything else and you then become the reason why many people try to shy away from meeting with others for informational interviews. Don’t be that person.
So what is the purpose of an informational interview exactly? Just that – to find out specifics that you wouldn’t be able to get otherwise, in order to make yourself more marketable. Let’s say you’re working as in a public interest setting, and are interested in exploring the private sector. One of the questions you’ll certainly be asked in any interview will revolve around why you want to make that switch, and how well you know what working in the private sector involves. You might think you know – after all, the internet is an amazing tool for scouting out useful information – but you don’t know things from a personal standpoint. And that’s where the informational interview is most useful especially when looking for attorney jobs. Meeting with someone who works in private practice can yield numerous gems of wisdom, about expectations, the hierarchy, corporate politics, moving up in the firm, and so on. The possibilities are endless.
When setting up an informational interview, remember that that person is doing you a favor. Be prompt, respectful of their time, and again, remember that the words “So are you hiring?” in any permutation should not pass your lips. Don’t be high-maintenance – meet at a time and place convenient for the person with whom you’ll be meeting. If you can do this over lunch, all the better – that gives you a chance to pick up the tab as a thank you to the person taking time out of his or her busy day to help you out. And make sure you follow up with a thank-you note, so as to leave the most favorable impression possible. After all, even though asking about job openings is a cardinal sin, it always pays to have someone in your corner, especially if that someone is working for a law firm that’s hiring or in a type of job that you’re interested in.
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