If you want to know more about a career, consider asking someone with first-hand experience for an informational interview. This brief meeting is an effective way to learn more and gain advice from someone with experience in a job, career path or industry that interests you. The interview provides insight into the realities of working in a certain position or field, whether the role is a good fit for you and if you should pursue it. In this article, we discuss what an informational interview offers, how to prepare for one and what do after it’s over.
The Dos and Don’ts of Informational Interviews
How can I get the most from an informational interview?
Follow these steps to plan and conduct an effective informational interview:
Use the opportunity to network
You can expect the person you are talking with to know others who may be willing to share information with you. Use the final minutes of your informational interview to ask them to recommend two or three people who can help you increase your knowledge even more.
The key is to be as specific as possible. Based on answers during the conversation, you can determine what areas you want to know more about. Also, asking for specific contacts will increase the odds of your interviewee thinking of someone who can help you.
Research the industry and the organization
Informational interviews are a great way to acquire insider information but to do that properly, you should first thoroughly research the industry and the company that interest you. This will increase your credibility as you ask questions that don’t have easily accessible answers.
Search out information and resources to learn as much as you can about industry terminology, latest industry trends, important figures in the market and the company’s reputation. Seek out details about the company’s culture, history and future plans. Doing your research will help you determine what first-hand information to ask about during your informational interview.
Be courteous and appreciative
Remember the interviewee is not meeting with you as a professional duty but as a favor to you. In both the introductory email or phone call and the conversation itself, let them know you consider them a respected name in their field and that you are grateful for the opportunity they’ve given you. You should also mention your objective is to gain valuable advice and not a particular job.
Case Study #2: Be respectful and don’t let negative feedback discourage you A few months ago, Susan Peppercorn, a career coach and founder of Boston-based Positive Workplace Partners, decided she wanted to write a book about work satisfaction. Trouble was, she had no experience in the publishing industry beyond blogging. To educate herself, she has been doing a lot of informational interviews.
When you’re looking for a job or exploring a new career path, it’s smart to go out on informational interviews. But what should you say when you’re actually in one? Which questions will help you gain the most information? Are there any topics you should avoid? And how should you ask for more help if you need it?
Set the tone “You want to leave people with a positive impression and enough information to recommend you to others,” says Lees. At the beginning of the interview, establish your relationship by revisiting how you were connected in the first place. “Ideally, this person has been warmly introduced to you” — perhaps you have a friend or colleague in common or you share an alma mater — so remind them, he says. It’s also a good idea to state at the outset that “you’re interested in talking to 10 or 15 industry experts” during your information-gathering phase. “That way, the person will start to process the fact that you are looking for additional sources early on. If you wait until the end to ask for other referrals, she might be caught off guard.” Ask about time constraints up front too, says Clark. “If, at the end of the time allotted, you’re having a good conversation, say, ‘I want to respect your time. I would love to keep talking, but if you need to go, I understand.’ Prove you’re a person of your word.”
To get ready, he reads people’s LinkedIn profiles, does a Google search on their careers, and checks out their company’s website. He tends to ask the same questions, usually in the realm of how the person got started and how they ended up in their current role. “But I also make notes about particular questions I want to ask so that I have something to reference if the conversation stalls,” he says.
Matt eventually had an informational interview with a marketing head of a quick-service restaurant group that yielded results. “After our meeting, the person called me and said her company was hiring for a role she thought I’d be perfect for,” he says. “She’d given my name to the HR department, and they were planning on calling me within the next 30 minutes to do a phone interview. That phone interview led to in-person interviews and eventually a job offer at that company.”
Another way to set up an informational interview is to track down fellow alumni from your alma mater. You can find alumni by either doing a search on LinkedIn or by going through the alumni association of your college or college career center, Teach says. “If you call someone out of the blue and the first thing you mention is that you graduated from the same college as they did, you immediately have something in common with the person you wish to meet with and that alone could be enough for them to grant you an informational interview.”
Sutton Fell agrees. She says informational interviews keep job seekers “fresh,” as they get them in front of people who can offer them advice and help guide them in a particular career field or industry. “It can lead to more information and contacts that may lead to a job,” she says. “It’s also great practice for job interviewing, helping to make you more comfortable and confident in situations with industry professionals. For people who arent currently seeking a job, they help to expand your professional network, keep you fresh in your current industry, or give you a chance to learn about new industries in case youre thinking of a career change.”
If they say “no” or you cant reach them, try someone else in that department or company, Teach suggests. “I can tell you from personal experience that Ive received those phone calls and have granted informational interviews. Not everyone will have the time or desire to speak with you so be prepared for some rejection. Its a numbers game so the more people you call, the better chance you have of setting up an informational interview.”
Sutton Fell concurs. She says you should never ask outright if they have any job leads for you. “This puts people on the spot and can hurt your chances for future assistance. Instead, ask them about what the company looks for in candidates, what the growing departments of the company are, and what tips they have for breaking into the career or company in general. But dont ask outright for a job.”
Have a game plan. Be certain to have a game plan when you arrive, Parnell says. “Regardless of your hopes or intentions, this isn’t a regular interview, and the interviewer isn’t going to take charge.
Make contact. Either call or e-mail to make contact. The introduction could be: “Mrs. Smith, Brad Johnson suggested I speak with you. My name is Steven Olson and I am interested in the ________ field. I could use advice from someone who is in this field. Do you have time in the next two weeks to meet for about 20 minutes? I would really like to learn more about your company and the ________ field from someone like you.”
What are 5 tips for conducting an informational interview?
- Research the industry and the organization. …
- Prepare a list of questions. …
- Be professional. …
- Be courteous and appreciative. …
- Keep the introductory phase short. …
- Find out what you want to know. …
- Don’t ask for a job. …
- Use the opportunity to network.
What is the main purpose of an informational interview?