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Is an 'Informational Interview' a Waste of Time?

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on September 29, 2014 9:57 AM

Landing an interview is great. You can impress the interviewer with your penchant for witty quotes from "Spaceballs" and then you're off to the races!

What? It's an informational interview? That sounds like the booby prize of interviews: "Yes, I'll go spend my time to get a guarantee of absolutely nothing in return." Well, maybe. There are varying schools of thought about the informational interview. In the interest of public service -- because, if anything, we're here for you -- here are some things to consider about informational interviews:

What Am I Doing Here? You're Learning, That's What.

Networking these days isn't as simple as dropping your business card in the little bowl and hoping you win a free sandwich. Networking is a long game -- a game you start by establishing rapport with people. One of these methods is the informational interview. Don't walk in expecting a job or even hoping for a job. All you're doing is meeting someone -- just like a first date doesn't mean you're going to get married.

You're also genuinely interested in figuring out what the heck goes on at this company, law firm, whatever. Informational interviews are especially helpful in preparing you for an actual interview at a place with a really esoteric practice area. Think of it as a type of reconnaissance.

Also think of it as a way to dispel the "unknown unknowns." If you're thinking about applying to a particular firm or in a particular practice area, an informational interview is more authoritative than a Google search at telling you what people in that field look for when hiring. At an informational interview, you can be candid and say, "If you were hiring me, what would you want to see on my resume?"

Ain't Nobody Got Time for That?

Tony Beshara, who's looking to sell some books about getting a job, calls the informational interview "bogus." There's the obvious reason: "You want to be talking to, and interviewing with, people that can hire you." But there's another reason: "Most business people do not have time for informational interviews."

That one's sort of true. My experience is that some kinds of people don't have time for informational interviews. If you want to have a chit-chat with a senior partner, try for an associate instead. If you're looking for a judicial clerkship, judges are way too busy to talk to you, but their clerks aren't. And it doesn't hurt to ask.

As a former boss advised me, if you're interested in a position, take a lawyer out to lunch, because lawyers love two things: Going to lunch and talking about themselves.

What are your thoughts on the "informational interview"? Tell us via Twitter (@FindLawLP) or Facebook (FindLaw for Legal Professionals).

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