Informational interview-Questions?

Informational interview questions for patent law

Dear Readers,

I have another list in store for you today. It is a list of questions that I commonly ask on a informational meeting. Some of these questions are general and could apply to any job. But a lot of them are focused at a technical advisor or a patent agent position. So here are my top 10 list.

First, I ask about his/hers personal background. I suggest that you find a person that has a similar background to yours and are/where at some point in the same job you want. They will understand where you are coming from and honestly, they will be your best bet for advice and guidance.

  1. What was your previous experience from patents? Most of my interviewees are PhDs that transferred over to the law profession. This question gives my an idea about what I need to learn to successfully get the job. In many cases, my interviewees did not have any prior experience.
  2. Do you remember your major concerns when you started to consider the transition to patent law? This questions can ease my own mind. Everybody are anxious and nervous when changing their career. The best way to quiet those concerns is by hearing that someone else had the same concerns as you are having.
  3. What attracted your interest in becoming a patent agent? This is a general question. The answer gives my a lot of different things. First, it gives me something to think about, do I feel the same? Am I interested for the same reason? Secondly, it gives me reasons that I could further use as my reasons in interviews. Most people DO NOT say they were financially interested.
  4. How did you prepare for the patent bar exam and did you pass it before getting hired? The patent bar exam is a tough test and there are classes and books  written about the best way to prepare for the test. However, classes cost up to $2000 and the books are around $20-110. Thus, I want to know if the interviewees spent their money on the classes or if it is possible to use only the books to prepare. The second part of this question relates to the fact that most firms pay for their technical advisors to take the class. I want to know if the specific firm might pay and if I would be better of taking it before applying to firms. Looks like an innocent question but it is huge.
  5. Did you apply for any technical advisor positions? How many positions did you (if any) apply for before getting your current job? This question is a measurement of how many positions I might need to apply for before even having a chance. In most cases, interviewees knew someone within the company but others applied to 7 firms or more (10 is currently the record).
  6. Did you have do adept your research reading or writing when transitioning from academia to law? I have dropped this question from my list of things to ask. Most responses were vague, little or no change or mostly just changes that were associated with the career change, i.e. writing science talk to legalese, whatever that is.
  7. What was (if any) the hardest part of the transition from academia to law? The answer to this question warns me of the “dangers” that lie ahead and further allows me to prepare myself mentally for those dangers. Common responses involved billable hours and pressure.
  8. Any word of advice on preparing my application to law firms? Did you include examples of technical writing or peer-reviewed articles? This is a open window to show the interviewees your resume (but only if they ask for it). Get their feedback and listen to their comments. Remember to proof-read your resume (over and over) and get at least two others to read it over. Then read it again. The second part is more specific, since most vacancies ask for a writing sample. This again helps you to specifically focus your resume and application to the specific needs and requirements of the firm your interviewee works for.Next, I focus on the specific position and the firm. Here you need to do a lot of research. You do not want to ask obvious questions about the firm that can be found on its website. The most helpful link to find out about the firm and its expertise is NALP. Find your firm and look at the hiring trends etc. Below are just a few questions that I include about each specific firm.
  9. How many billable hours are expected for the certain position? This is important and gives you an idea what is expected. If you do not know what billable hours are, look here.
  10. Does the specific firm help have a tuition program for technical advisors/patent agents. Some do, others do not. Some expect you to go to law school (e.g. Finnegan LLP) and others do not.

These are just ideas to get you rolling. If you have questions that you think I missed, especially when applying for a technical advisor/patent agent position, please comment.

Informational Interview

Dear Reader,
I am going to briefly describe my planning before the an informational interview.

1. The Hunt
First, I identified law firm in my area, typically using google.com: “Biotechnology law firms”, “patent law biotechnology” etc. etc. Then I read over the staff, starting with partners and tried to determine if that partner had a) Finished their PhD before getting a job with the company (bonus points if that person entered law school during that time, indicating evening school), b) done biology related PhD and then if the partner had been a postdoc.
After partners, I would try to identify groups within the company such as Biotechnology Patent group and go through the entire list of associates and find someone that had a similar path to what I want to embark upon.

2. The Contact
To date, I have sent emails that are specifically directed at the person, no general emails! I read general emails like I read spam mail, I don’t! I do not expect to read general emails either.
I start by introducing myself first and state what I am doing and what I want to do.

Dear Mr. Partner,
My name is #insertname and I am a postdoctoral student in #Department at #University. I am looking into ways of using my scientific experience to enter patent law.

Then I describe why I choose this person for advice. The research you have done above (1. The Hunt) comes in handy for this sentence.

I noticed on #FirmsName website that we share a similar background in science and you have successfully made the transfer from the bench to the bar. Thus, I look to you for career advice.

Then I go into a bit more detail what my plans are. I want to try to show the person that I am serious and have put a lot of thought into this career path. You also want to have your path listed because if this person thinks that she would not be able to help you, you can save yourself and this person a lot of time. If that happens, you normally get a negative-positive reply such as: “I am not sure if I can help you but I know a person that might…”

My proposed path is to become a patent agent and ultimately a patent attorney, #InDetail

As for the final sentence, I try to make it a strong salespoint by reassuring this person that I mean business and that this person will not waste his/hers time by meeting me. In addition, I suggest to meet at anytime available and under different scenarios. Finally, do not forget to put the words INFORMATIONAL MEETING, because otherwise the person will be turned off by talking to someone that is going to beg for a job. Remember, this is not a meeting to get a job, this is a meeting to get insight into the position and ways for you to get a job. Again, NOT to get a job.

Thats it really, I am limiting my contacts at the moment due to work but I have had a 100% success rate using this. It is mostly about doing the background research about the people and the company. The last minute preparation for an informational interview is going to be my next post, Informational Interview Part 2.

Thanks for reading and please leave your suggestions in the comments.