Informational interviewing is an efficient way to practice interviewing (in a pressure-less setting), establish industry contacts, and gain insight into a particular company. Unlike formal job interviews, an informational interview allows you to assume the role of interviewer, and ask thoughtful and well-prepared questions. Conducting an informational interview also gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your motivation, skills, and personality – which may inadvertently place you at the forefront for consideration of a future position with the individual’s company, or earn you a recommendation for other potential employers.
Although it’s self-explanatory that an informational interview is not a job interview, it’s important to not expect any employment offers or opportunities. The purpose of an informational interview is to learn and expand your professional network.
How to find an individual to interview
There are two ways to find an informational interviewee: 1) an introduction from someone in your current network, or 2) through self-initiated contact. Regarding the first option, consider contacting people you know – family, friends, current and former co-workers, current and former supervisors, former professors, your school’s alumni office, etc., to ask for any recommended contacts in your desired field. Also, be sure to use LinkedIn’s “Get Introduced” feature to find individuals you would like to meet. For the second option, start by listing companies of interest and do a Google search for contact information. Also, browse trade journals, professional organization rosters or directories, and various databases.
How to set up the interview and prepare
Once you’ve selected the individual(s) you would like to meet, send an error-free email (and attached current resume) with the following information:
- Brief self-introduction;
- Short statement of your experience or interest in the individual’s industry;
- Desire to conduct an informational interview; and
- How and when you will contact them to schedule the interview at their earliest convenience. However, be sure to give yourself enough time to do sufficient research.
If you receive a positive response, ask the person whether they prefer a phone or in-person interview and their preferred duration for the meeting.
Once you’ve scheduled the interview, prepare by thoroughly researching the individual, the company they work for, and industry news via Google, LinkedIn, etc.
Email the individual the day before to confirm the meeting.
Use your research to modify the following sample questions. Proofread and edit your final set of questions. List your questions in descending order of importance (just in case you run low on time) and bring the typed list with you to your interview.
- What does the typical day involve? Specifically, what are the duties/responsibilities of your job?
- What percentage of your time is spent doing each?
- What are the challenges and satisfactions of your job?
- What skills are essential to being successful at your current position?
- Are there busy/slow periods, or is your workload relatively consistent?
- How did you decide that [insert specific field] was the industry for you?
- Why did you decide to work for this specific company?
- Could you describe the company culture?
- What does this company do for its employees’ professional development?
- What challenges do you see the industry facing in the next 5-10 years, and how are you preparing to meet them?
- Do you have any advice for me, given my current position?
- Is there anyone you recommend I speak with for more information?
If you’re conducting a phone interview, have your questions and resume ready, and be enthusiastic and polite. If you’re conducting an in-person interview, consider the following:
- Dress appropriately. Unless the person you’re meeting specifies a certain dress code (i.e. business casual), dress how you would for a formal job interview.
- Before entering the building, double-check your appearance.
- Arrive 10-15 minutes before the interview.
- If you suffer from sweaty palms, bring a handkerchief in your purse or pocket and use it before offering a firm but not crushing handshake.
- Bring your list of questions, a small notebook and pen, a business card, and resume.
- Listen carefully and respond directly any responses or questions the individual may ask.
- Sit up straight and be engaged.
- Allow for personal anecdotes and informal conversation (when appropriate), but stick to your questions.
- If you’re meeting the person for coffee or lunch, always offer to pay the bill.
- End the meeting at the agreed time, unless the person clearly indicates that they want to continue the conversation.
Immediately after the interview, reflect on your impressions of the experience – both negative and positive, and review your notes. Next, follow up with a thank you letter, preferably hand-written, and send within 24 hours after the meeting. Be sure to reference any highlights of the interview. Also, if you promised to do something, i.e. forward an interesting article or contact a specific individual, make sure you do it ASAP. Furthermore, if you established rapport with the individual, follow up with periodic emails or meetings – just to check in or send interesting news bits or updates on your career trajectory.