What is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is similar to a job interview in that you are meeting with someone regarding your career. You should dress professionally (if meeting in person or virtually), be respectful of their time, do your homework, come prepared, and always follow up with a thank you note (email or handwritten note is OK; no texts).
An informational interview is different than a job interview in one main respect: your goal is NOT TO ASK FOR A JOB.
This is important, so read it again: you are NOT asking for a job nor are you interviewing for a job in an informational interview.
Your goal with an informational interview is to gain information.
Who can benefit from an informational interview?
Individuals considering changing professions, or industries, college graduates discerning a career path, or those in career transition and seeking guidance and/or information.
During an informational interview, the goal is to inquire about entry requirements, receive candid comments about their profession/company/industry that you can turn into “hacks,” and hopefully to gain insights to help you affirm your consideration of this potential move.
How to find someone to conduct an informational interview
Ask around. Search LinkedIn. Start by looking at people who hold your targeted job title and have one other thing in common. It may be a person, a city or geographical area, or a college you both attended. Alumni are typically willing to help others from their alma mater.
Use the LinkedIn search bar to find these people. Send them an InMail or connect request introducing yourself and mention your common connection. Unless you have received a warm introduction from someone else, it may be best to wait until the second time you engage to ask for the informational interview to avoid the feeling of ambushing them.
Scheduling an informational interview with someone from a company you are targeting to work at can be a great way to learn more about the company and the job you want. LinkedIn is the best source for finding these people. Search for the company page on LinkedIn and on that page you will find a link to the people that work there that have LinkedIn profiles.
What type of questions should you ask in an informational interview?
Ask any questions that will help you gain information. Examples may include:
1. What made you choose this industry or profession?
2. What do you like best about this job?
3. What do you like least?
4. What is a skill or trait someone needs in order to be successful in your industry or profession?
5. What advice would you offer someone like me with regards to training, experience, education, or finding a job in your industry/profession?
6. Is there anyone else you suggest I should speak with, and would you be willing to make an introduction, if appropriate, or give me suggestions on how to contact this person?
7. How can I help you?
The last two questions are the MOST important part of an informational interview.
Question #7, “How can I help you?” demonstrates that you see your relationship as reciprocal and that you have value to offer to others. They are helping you by participating in the informational interview. You, in turn, are offering to help them.
Question #6, “Is there anyone else you suggest I speak with?” can help to put you into the direction of your next informational interview (or potential job interview).
Should you bring your resume to an informational interview?
Yes! Despite the intention of not asking for a job at this time, bringing your resume to an informational interview is appropriate or having it at the ready during a phone or virtual interview. Since you are talking careers and your work history, you should bring a resume with you in case the person asks for your resume. Don’t offer the resume in an informational interview unless asked. And don’t email your resume to someone it unless they request it.
What if you find out information that changes your mind about your targeted job?
In asking pointed questions about the position type you seek you may learn insights that change the course of your search.
Maybe you learn your dream job doesn’t sound so dreamy after all, and that’s OK. It’s better to learn this sooner rather than later. Sometimes we hold the vision of a career for reasons other than logical or intentional ones and speaking to others can provide the clarity that you need to make career decisions that are right for you.
If the person offers to meet with you in person, ask them if they have a preferred location and what dates/times work best. If they agree to the phone call or virtual screen meeting, give them some dates and times to choose from and offer to set up the arrangements and send to them.
What else to know about an informational interview
At the beginning of the interview (whether it’s by phone, virtually, or in person), thank them for their time and remind them that your goal is to ask questions about the work they do and/or their industry and mention that you are NOT asking for a job.
Confirm how long they have for the conversation and keep track of time. When you approach the time, mention it and see if they can keep going for a few more minutes or if they need to end the conversation. Be respectful of their time.
If they say they only have 15 minutes, but then they offer to extend it past that time, that means your informational interview is going well but don’t overstay your welcome.
Finally, be sure to check in with this person from time to time to keep them aware of your progress. Let them know how their advice helped you and offer to be a resource for them. And always be on the lookout to return the favor to them if and when you can.
The number of informational interviews to schedule
Build in plans to schedule 1-3 informational interviews per week. Build flexibility into your plan as well. For instance, briefer chats or exchange of information via email can serve your purpose.
Remember the thank you note! Expressing gratitude is key to developing professional relationships.
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