Informational Interviews: What to Do?

What is an informational interview?

It’s simple, really: an informational interview is a meeting with someone at a particular company or within an industry that you are interested in learning more about.

Why should you conduct one?

Informational interviews are a fantastic way to find out how individuals in have been successful in career paths that you are interested in embarking on. Even if you are not hoping to pursue the same role as the person you are interviewing, it is incredibly valuable to hear the stories of those that have gone before you and navigated the industry in their own ways. Informational interviews are especially helpful if you are attempting to get a full-time job. Talking with one or a few people at a company you want to work with is a great way to get your foot in the door, especially considering the importance of personal connections in today’s job market. On the other hand, you could realize that the company might not be a good fit for you, and you would not have to go through the formal interview process to figure that out. The benefits of informational interviews extend far beyond these - so if in doubt, definitely set one up!

How do you set one up?

This depends on your situation - do you already work at the same company as the person you want to conduct an informational interview with? If so, you probably have the best idea of what method of communication would be appropriate in your work environment. If not, it may be less clear how to contact your target interviewee. Regardless, there are options:

  1. LinkedIn - LinkedIn is arguably the easiest way to get connected with prospective employers. When you connect with them, send a message expressing your interest in conducting an informational interview with them. Ideally, they will respond positively and tell you to go ahead and schedule something. If they have an assistant that does their scheduling, they will hopefully give you their contact information. Otherwise, they might just tell you what days work for them and you can choose the specific time and location.

  2. Email - You can obtain your target interviewee’s email from the company website, LinkedIn, or a mutual connection. Be sure to introduce yourself appropriately and keep the emailprofessional, since this is essentially your first impression.

  3. Phone call - Probably the least common out of the three methods of communication, and if you ask me, for good reason. In my own personal experiences, it seems like people are not comfortable talking on the phone. It’s not surprising - there’s not a need for phone calls today like there was in the past. While it is not a bad idea to call your prospective interviewee, it might make for an awkward first impression. You could be interrupting them, there’s a chance you got their mobile phone number instead of their work number, and if you get nervous talking on the phone, this could be a recipe for disaster!

 

If your interviewee does not suggest a location or invite you to come to their office, you might have to be the one to decide on a place to meet! If this is the case, be mindful about the place you choose. In my opinion, coffee shops can be the perfect spot - they are casual without being informal and there are usually plenty within a stone’s throw from your interviewee’s office. And just like that, you are all set up for the informational interview!

What do you talk about at the interview?

Prepare a list of questions for the interview, but do not read them like a script. Let the conversation be organic and genuine - do not Google “questions to ask at an informational interview,” copy them down, and waste the whole interview asking your interviewee the most cliche questions. If you start the interview off with a question you have written down and the conversation flows from there without one more question from your lineup being asked, that is okay!

How do you follow up?

Ask the person you interviewed for a business card and if they would allow you to keep in touch with them as you go forward in your career. Always send them a thank you note within a couple days of the interview. If you really want to go the extra mile, make sure it’s a handwritten thank you note. At the very least, a thank you email will suffice. In the more distant future, if they have responded positively to your request to keep in touch, email them to let them know where you end up for a full-time position and be sure to express how much you appreciated their advice.

 

Disclaimer: All of the content in this piece comes from my own personal thoughts and experiences. While I sure hope this information is helpful, I cannot guarantee any results. That being said, good luck!