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By: Taye Akinola, CRP

Greetings, TPS Nation! We hope today’s post finds you high on sanity, low on stress, with an absolutely ample serving of caffeinated happiness sitting desk-side. Taye is here to share some simple tips to keep in mind when conducting your next informational interview. What is an informational interview? Well, according to Wikipedia: “An informational interview is a meeting in which a job seeker asks for career and industry advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, and to find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions.”  There’s your definition – here’s your article.

Spend a few moments online and you will discover a variety of articles and blog posts explaining what an informational interview is and what one can hope to gain from it.  As Jamie stated above, the main purpose is to give the interviewer information regarding a certain vocation, profession or career path. This article will discuss my personal experience in conducting informational interviews, as I sought my first paralegal position within the DC area.

While many offering advice on this subject encourage job seekers to connect with the types of people he or she aspires to be, I decided to go a different route. I wanted to connect with people that I aspire to work with – more specifically, attorneys. While it would make sense for me to reach out to other paralegals for insight in the profession and more specifically, how to secure my first paralegal job, I decided I wanted to interview attorneys because often, not always, they usually end up in the interviewer’s chair and ultimately make the hiring decision when it comes to paralegals.

In my previous article, I discussed networking and the success I found after I learned from my mistakes made while attending a recent white house event. With the business cards I collected at that event, I decided to reach out three attorneys at prominent law firms in the DC area to get to the heart of what they are looking for in a paralegal. And let me tell you – the information I received was insightful, informative and further solidified my interest and desire to become a paralegal.

Here are some tips for conducting a successful informational interview (based on my experience):

  • Pick people you already have some personal or professional connection to and approach them to ask if they will allow you to conduct an informational interview. The people I selected are in the same fraternity as me, so we already have some kind of mutual interest and connection.  This will allow me to ask for an informational interview so I can pick their brain and learn more about the legal profession.
  • When the people you select agree to be interviewed, give them several options regarding how (in person, via phone or e-mail), where (what is most convenient for him/her), and when they would like to be interviewed (lunch, after hours or on a weekend). It bears mentioning that the people who agreed to let you interview them are doing you a favor (definitely something to keep in mind).
  • Research the person you plan to interview.  Visit the firm’s website, look up his/her online bio and see what other notable tidbits you can find on Google. This will show the interviewee that you take this interview process seriously and will also allow you to develop a list of questions you want to ask.
  • Develop a list of good, open-ended questions for your interviewees to gain insightful answers – a few examples:
  1. How did you choose this career field?
  2. What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?
  3. What skills, talents, and personal qualities are most essential for a     paralegal position?
  4. What advice would you give to someone in my shoes?
  • Allow yourself room for some follow up questions during the interview. This can provide clarity, leave you with a better understanding, and allow you to learn some interesting tidbits of information from the interviewees. In other words, have questions ready, but allow the conversation to flow naturally and take an interesting turn if it is beneficial.
  • Following the interview, send the interviewee a “Thank You” note via e-mail or regular mail. This will show how appreciative you are of them taking the time to do the interview. Tell him or her in a line or two what specific information you found incredibly helpful from your discussion.
  • Lastly, keep in touch with your interviewee. If you see an interesting article, share it on occasion. The goal is to keep the dialogue going
  • Ask the interviewee if there is anything you could do to make a better impression to a future employer. This person may be able to offer tips to help you overcome a weakness or cast yourself in a better light, after all, he did just meet with you and sit through an interview you conducted. Seek his or her honest feedback in that regard.

Whether you are looking to break into the field or interested in possibly switching practice areas, an informational interview is a terrific way to glean some insight from respected and admired professionals who do the work you may one day want to do. It is a great way to gain an insider’s look into the legal profession  overall or a particular practice area or firm size. Whether you are interested in learning more about a “day in the life” of a particular person or simply asking questions to help you make a solid career decision in the future, consider scheduling an informational interview to put yourself on the right track. Use these simple tips as a guidepost to get you started. See where it takes you.

If you have any additional tips to add to those I included on my list, please leave them in the comments section below. Happy Interviewing!

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I must admit I’ve never conducted an “informational interview,” but it sure does sound like a fantastic way to practice one’s interaction and interviewing skills; learn more about a cool person who does exactly what you may one day wish to do; and open an ongoing dialogue (and possibly a door or more) with a respected and admired professional. If I were looking to switch practice areas or a newbie wanting to glean some insight from a pro, a scheduling a would go!

Have an absolutely fantastic week in the land of legal, TPSers! We’ll see you at the week’s end. Until then, wrangle that papyrus and guard those esquires.