Maybe you’re not sure what you want to do with your career, but you have some vague ideas. Maybe you are looking at taking the next step in your process and have a few jobs or companies in mind. Or maybe you are just looking to expand your network of people with relevant expertise to open options for your future career path. In all of these situations, one great option you can take is to set up an informational interview.
Unlike a “standard” interview, where you are trying to get a job or some other position, the goal is only to make a connection and gain some insight into a certain topic.
This is a professional conversation between you and someone else who is involved in a field of work which interests you; both of you benefit from making the connection, wherein you gain advice and perspective and they have an opportunity to find talent for their employer or own professional network.
This article will give you concrete steps to take in setting up, engaging in, and benefiting from an informational interview.
These can be conducted within or across all fields of work, but this article focuses on transitioning from one field to another. Specifically, this will be based on the hypothetical situation of a graduate student looking outside of Academia.
Setting up an Informational Interview
First, determine why you are looking to have an interview with someone (it may be helpful to write these answers out):
- Do they have the job you might want?
- Are they working for a company you are interested in?
- Are you hoping to build larger network connections across fields for future potential opportunities?
- What *specifically* are you hoping to get out of the experience?
Based on your answers, ask yourself:
- Is this the right person to talk with?
- How can I get this person to say yes to talking with me?
- How well am I connected with this person, if at all?
- Where and when should this interview take place?
Let’s assume you have an idea of what job or employer you might be interested in, but you don’t know who to talk to. Browsing Indeed [www.indeed.com] can help you figure out which jobs you are specifically interested in, based on the descriptions of the positions, and whether you are qualified for them. With this information, find someone with the same or similar job currently or in the recent past; this is where you can use your network!
Search for the specific job position or company using LinkedIn to find potential interviewees. Ideally, you will find someone with whom you share at least one connection (ie: you are secondary connections with the person of interest). In this case, reach out and ask your mutual connection for an introduction, making it clear that you are just looking for a conversation and insight. If you don’t have a connection: 1) consider growing your LinkedIn presence and network by connecting with the professional contacts you already have, 2) you can send a personalized message request. Clearly state who you are, why you want to talk about the topic, and why you are reaching out specifically to this person. “Hi, I’m interested in your job, can we talk?” will likely not get a response.
Work with the interviewee to figure out the best mode of communication. While in-person is usually preferable under normal circumstances, a Skype or phone call is also great! If in person, choose a comfortable but professional environment, or you can offer to meet them at their place of work. If you decide to speak remotely, make sure you have a stable internet or phone connection. Regardless of how you will be speaking, dress appropriately for the job you are interested in - even when speaking on the phone, you might have to switch to Skype at the last minute. Regardless of the communication route, show up early and prepared.
Prior to the interview, skim over the interviewee’s professional information. Write down specific questions for them in a notebook to keep with you and take notes - this isn’t considered weird, as gathering information is the entire goal of your conversation. Some generic but useful questions can also be found through searching the internet, but should not be solely relied upon. You may also want to bring along your resume, CV, and/or business cards, but these aren’t essential as you won’t be asking for a job. Being prepared shows that you value their time and are a good connection for them to keep as well.
Conducting the Informational Interview
Introduce yourself and thank them for their time. If not already clear, you can ask them if they have time restraints so you can be sure to respect their schedule. Restate what exactly you are looking for in this interview, and start asking your questions.
Make eye contact throughout, write down the responses, and ask follow-up questions. This is supposed to be a comfortable, low-stakes discussion so don’t just read through your prepared questions. Keep track of the time, and when you have 5-10 minutes left, wrap it up. Here are some useful questions to end your time together:
- What other questions should I be asking?
- Is there anyone else you think I should get in contact with?
- Is there any way I can help you in some way?
DO NOT ask for a job.
This will leave a very bad impression of you, as the interviewee may feel that they have been mislead in giving you their time. If you were connected through a mutual contact, this will also reflect poorly on them in the interviewees eyes. The earliest you can ask about a potential position is in your follow-up message (below), but this is still not advised. You are better off waiting a while to reconnect to make it clear that this informational interview was not actually a trap.
Within the next few days, send a thank-you note. While sometimes considered old-fashioned, a physical card can be a thoughtful way to show that you appreciate the effort your interviewee put into this interaction. If not possible, whether due to their location or lack of mailing address, you can send an email. Either way, your message should be structured as such.
Dear *their name*,
Thank you for meeting me on *day or date* to help me learn more about *topic you originally proposed and focused on*
I really enjoyed/appreciated talking about *one or two details discussed* (This is an appropriate spot to ask a short follow-up question or say that you have already followed or will follow some of their advice)
This meeting was very useful to me, and I hope we can keep in contact. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to be helpful to you, as well.
Sincerely, *your name, job position, contact information*
Ideally, this person will continue to be a source of information or advice as you go forward. They might directly or indirectly be able to help you in your career path, so staying in touch through email or professional platforms like LinkedIn is recommended.
Hopefully you will look back some day on this discussion as a pivotal moment in your own career!