asking HR for advice about a second-round interview

A reader writes:

I have a second-round interview coming up for an in-house legal position. This round of interviews is with senior management and will include the chief legal officer.

My contact person is the HR manager in charge of legal recruiting. I am wondering what type of information I can request of her about the folks with whom I will interview. In other words, may I ask for bios of these people? Or LinkedIn profiles? May I ask whether she has any advice for the interviews? Or whether there are particular topics I should be prepared to address? Those last two feel unprofessional, so I’m inclined to just ask for biographical-type of information, but is even that inappropriate? Many thanks in advance for your assistance.

Opinions probably differ on this, but I’d say not to ask for advice for the interviews. It risks coming across as if you’re asking for inside information to help you do well, which makes you look … not especially confident and even a little bit supplicating. I wouldn’t even ask if there are particular topics you should be prepared to address, because — unless you have some reason to believe otherwise — it’s likely that the answer is going to be the standard interview stuff: your experience, interests, skills, etc.

It’s not that the HR manager would gasp in horror if you asked or anything like that, but it’s going to come across as a little unnecessary and probably not garner you any information you don’t already know anyway.

There are times when someone will divulge some advice — “Jane really likes to hear about experience in area X, so make sure you emphasize that” or “Bob can be a little intimidating, but that’s just his face,” or whatever — but it’s better to let them volunteer that than to come across as if you’re looking for a cheat sheet because you don’t trust the process to work well on its own.

After all, remember that you are supposed to be interviewing the employer right back and working to figure if this would be the right fit for you — it’s not just a one-way assessment. So you don’t want to come across as if you’re just interested in impressing them at all costs. It’s about talking to them like normal people, being whoever you are naturally, and figuring out if it’s the right fit on both sides.

I also wouldn’t ask for bios or LinkedIn profiles, because you should be able to find those items yourself online; asking for them will probably make you look unresourceful. That assumes you have their names, of course; if you don’t, you can certainly ask for the names and positions of the people you’ll be meeting with. From there, you should be able to research them yourself. (If for some reason you don’t find information about them online, I wouldn’t go back and ask at that point either; it’s not so crucial that you have their bios that it’s worth asking the HR person to collect them for you.)

Good luck!

{ 20 comments… read them below }

  1. girlreading*

    I agree you should be able to find their LinkedIn profiles on your own and it’s ok to ask their names and titles from the HR Manager. Also, have you checked the firm’s website? They often have short bios about their employees on them. Or if you know the company has gotten any awards or involved with professional organizations, check their websites as there may some info about the employees. I wouldn’t ask HR for bios, I would think that was weird if I got that question.

    I also wouldn’t ask what topics to be prepared for, they’ll expect you to be prepared for anything is my guess.

  2. Molly*

    I’d agree that you can definitely ask for names if you don’t already have them, and do your own internet sleuthing. Also, I’ve asked in the email confirming time and place whether there’s anything particular they’d like me to bring or prepare, which I think comes across as especially thorough and opens the avenue to give advice if they’re inclined to do so.

  3. Joey*

    I think asking for names (and spellings if its a weird name) of the interview panel is about as much as you can do. HR Managers who share advice will typically do so without asking. They’ll typically volunteer advice to the folks who are the best candidates so far.

    And don’t be afraid to look at every web hit you get. If you can nail the persons info down even if its personal stuff it may not be relevant to the job, but it has a way of putting you at ease just knowing some of their personal background.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    I would ask more about the job. Ask about key needs and must haves. Ask what could be deal breakers and discriminating skills. It’s inappropriate to ask about the interview panel but OK to ask about additional info for the job that might not have been posted with the job rec. Then prepare based on the additional info (especially the key discrminators)

  5. Ann*

    Ok… I know this isn’t about the topic, but I’m wondering if any of you would be willing to give me some advice because I’m feeling a little panicky. I got a job offer (yay!) and now they want to do a background check. I hate admitting it, but I do have an arrest on my record. It’s a long story, but essentially I got a ticket for not wearing a seat belt. I paid the ticket with a money order through the mail (as per instructions) and then found out two years later that it was never received by way of being arrested (Not paying is failure to appear, failure to appear is a suspended license, driving on a suspended license is an arrest-able offence). I did not receive any notice that payment hadn’t been received or that my license was suspended. Also, I did not keep the $15 receipt for the money order for 2 years. I want to be completely upfront and honest about this so I’m going to e-mail the HR manager and tell them. But, what likelihood is it that they rescind the offer? I realize this is the height of paranoia, but aside from not wearing my seat belt I have never done anything illegal, and I’m terrified this is going to haunt me and destroy my job future.

  6. LMW*

    On a phone screen for a writing job I was told I’d need to take and assessment and submit some samples of previous work. I asked if there was any type of style or voice they were looking for, so I could send appropriate samples, and the guy gasped as if I’d asked for something totally unreasonable – like I was trying to cheat. I’d been a professional writer for seven years; I had a lot of samples and given the fact that it was a scientific subject but a quirky “hey our main conference room is in a treehouse” company I had no clue if they’d want more technical and straightforward, humorous or what. Needless to say, I did not get that job.

  7. Greg*

    I think the main reason you shouldn’t ask for advice (as opposed to names) is not because it will make you look bad, but because it is almost certainly a waste of time to expect HR to help you out in any strategic sense. A recruiter, yes. A line manager, maybe. HR, definitely not.

    1. PEBCAK*

      I don’t think that’s totally true…as AAM mentions, sometimes HR will volunteer stuff. In-house recruiters want to fill positions, and sometimes they know that certain managers are focused on the weirdest things. If they are not the hiring managers, they may see it as “oh, let’s make sure that Jane is satisfied so she’ll just check the box already”.

  8. AG*

    I think it’s appropriate to find out the names of the people you’ll be meeting with, and you can also ask “is there anything else I should prepare for or bring with me?” which will clue you in to any tests or anything they might have for you.

    One thing about Internet sleuthing – depending on where you live, revealing anything you find out about someone online might totally freak them out. A few years ago (this is in the South, so YMMV in more progressive places) had looked up a hiring manager for a nonprofit position on LinkedIn and saw that she used to work in radio, which is a small world and one I happen to know a lot of people in. I mentioned something about it in the interview and she seemed horribly uncomfortable, like I had cyberstalked her!

    1. Greg*

      True, although that’s becoming less common now that LinkedIn is more widely accepted. But in general, I agree that it’s a good idea to let people volunteer information rather than bringing it up yourself. You can even steer the conversation in that direction to get to the same place without creeping them out (“Where were you before this? Oh, you worked in radio? I know a bunch of people in that industry.”)

  9. AnonLawyer*

    LW, I’ve interviewed for in-house legal positions as well and strongly agree with Allison’s advice. Depending on the size of the company, the process is frequently that the first round interviewers are other members of the law department, and the second round are the in-house clients with whom you are most likely to be working. I really only wanted to know if the interviewers were lawyers or non-lawyers, as they care about very different things in the interview process. HR can hopefully tell you names and positions, and you should be able to take it from there. Good luck!

  10. Elizabeth West*

    I interviewed with my boss first, via phone, and then in person with the colleagues I would be working with. The phone interview went so well that my boss actually told me what to wear. I guess she really wanted them to like me so she could hire me! I’m glad she did; I would have dressed way more conservatively than they did and it would have been uncomfortable.

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