Etiquette for Informational Interviews


The following article was prepared for the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (FACLBC) Mentorship Program. 

Law students and job seekers alike are often encouraged to seek out informational interviews. These can be a good way to learn more about a firm and to introduce yourself. So suppose you’ve contacted a lawyer whose work you find interesting, and he or she has kindly agreed to meet you for coffee! You’re a bit nervous but excited about the opportunity to learn about his or her practice. You also figure you should make a good impression as well, because you never know when these encounters may turn into a job opportunity or a lead. Part of presenting yourself well is conducting yourself with the proper etiquette. To assist with that, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Dress appropriately.  While there is usually no need to come in a suit (as you would a job interview), ensure that you do not dress too casually either.  Opt for business casual as a happy medium. This way, no matter if your meeting companion is dressed formally or in business casual attire, you will not make him or her feel uncomfortable with the mismatch between you.
  2. Be punctual.  Treat this like a job interview and arrive on time or a few minute early.
  3. Wait to get your coffee.  Even if you are there early, wait until when your companion arrives to order your coffee. It can be a bit off-putting to your companion if he or she arrives expecting to order coffee together and you say, “Oh, I have one already”. This leads to the further awkwardness of you sitting at the table as he or she lines up for coffee alone.
  4. Stand up and greet.  So let’s say you’ve got Tip #2 down, and you’re sitting at a table when you spot your meeting companion walk in. As your companion approaches, make sure you stand to greet him or her with a handshake. Remaining seated simply does not convey the same respect or enthusiasm.
  5. Shake hands professionally.  When shaking hands, ensure your handshake is firm – in other words, not limp and not too strong. You may want to practice with a few people ahead of time and get some feedback.
  6. Offer to treat.  Be prepared to offer to treat for coffee.  Your meeting companion is volunteering his or her time to you purely out of his or her generosity and kindness. The least you can do is offer, and it is as simple as saying, “Can I get you a coffee?” He or she will most likely decline and offer to treat you instead. The appropriate response is to insist once more and perhaps say that you would really like to, or that it’s the least you can do because you appreciate his or her time. If your companion allows you to treat, this is a great – it allows you to show a small token of your appreciation. If you get overruled, your gesture will nevertheless be appreciated.
  7. Come prepared to have a coffee or some other beverage.  In conjunction with Tip #6, remember that you are there to “meet for coffee”. This does not necessarily mean that you must drink coffee, if it isn’t your thing. However, do have some sort of beverage. It can be a little awkward for your companion if you propose to meet for coffee only to say that you don’t need anything at that time. There is also something about sharing the same activity together that helps to build rapport.
  8. Respect your companion’s time.  If it was communicated that the coffee meeting would be a certain length of time, be mindful of when it has been about that long. Ask the lawyer if he or she is still doing okay for time. You may say something like, “I see that it’s been half an hour and I want to be respectful of your time.” This gives an opportunity to end the meeting if the lawyer needs to return to the office, or gives him or her the option to continue the conversation further.
  9. Expressing interest in a position appropriately.  If you find that you are interested in applying at the lawyer’s firm, it is usually more appropriate to inquire about this towards the end of the informational interview (rather than right at the outset). You might broach the subject by stating that based on what you’ve learned, you would be interested to apply and you wonder if there is a position available. If the lawyer answers that there probably isn’t, you can ask about providing your CV anyways just in case. You can also inquire if he or she knows of any other lawyers at other firms you could similarly meet with, or who might be hiring.
  10. Send a thank-you note.  Soon after the meeting, make sure you send an email or a card to thank the lawyer for his or her time. It is nice to include a brief message to let him or her know what you learned or appreciated about the meeting. If you expressed interest in applying for a position, you can also enclose your CV as well.

Some of the above tips may seem a bit obvious. However, when you’re nervous and focused on remembering your list of informational interview questions to ask, good etiquette can be easy to overlook. However, as with other things, these meetings do get easier with practice.

Good luck!