How to conduct an informational interview

October 27, 2018

Informational interviews are one of the most effective ways to build a network, get career advice, and get contacts to land your dream job. Follow the steps below and you’ll conquer any and all informational interviews.

Set up a meeting with the right person

Identify the types of people you’d like to speak with given your professional interests and situation. People are more likely to speak with you if they know you or have some kind of connection with you, so leverage your network. You likely have family, friends, professors, or fellow alums that would be helpful to speak with or who can refer you to people that are a better fit.

Also, don’t be afraid to cold-reach-out to people on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised by how many people are willing to help a total stranger.

Once you find someone you’d like to speak with, reach out to set up a meeting. Mention how you got in contact with them, be clear about what you are asking for and why, and ask to schedule a brief meeting at their convenience. This should ideally be face-to-face but phone is also completely fine.

Here’s an example of what an email could look like:

Hi Susie,

My name is John Doe and I received your contact information from Jane Doe. I’m currently working as a financial analyst at XYZ Company but am looking to switch into real estate. Jane mentioned that you made a similar switch and I’d love to pick your brain about how you made the change and your experience in real estate. Would you be willing to chat on the phone for 30 minutes sometime this week or next? I’m free Mondays-Thursdays from 2pm-4:30pm.

John Doe

Prepare for the interview

Even though this isn’t a job interview, you still need to do a lot of preparation BEFORE the interview so you get the most out of it and make a good impression. Here are some ways to prepare:

  • Identify what you hope to get out of this interview and why you want to speak to this particular person.
  • Reflect on your career path, interests and goals so that you can give a succinct introduction of yourself and answer any questions the interviewee may have. Be prepared to answer the “So, tell me about yourself” question.
  • Research the role, industry, organization, and interviewee (in a non-creepy way) before the interview. This will enhance your discussion and show your interest and initiative.
  • Write down the questions you want to ask this specific person so that you use the time effectively. If they work at a company you are interested in, you may want to ask about the culture, the hiring process, and what it takes to succeed there. If they are in a role you are considering, ask about what a typical day is like and what they enjoy most / least about the job. Perhaps that person has an interesting career path you want to learn more about or is an expert in an industry you have questions about.

Conduct the interview

Make sure you show up on-time and appropriately dressed. There is no need to show up in a suit and tie. Business casual is more than appropriate. If the person works for a company with casual dress (like a startup), you can either wear business casual or wear nice casual attire (i.e. jeans and a blouse/button up shirt).

You requested this meeting, so you need to direct it. Briefly introduce yourself and reiterate what you hope to learn from this conversation. Keep this short so the majority of the time can be spent learning from your contact’s experiences. Be conversational and natural instead of robotically moving through your questions like a phone survey.

It’s important to make a good impression. The person you are speaking with is doing you a favor and may be able to help your career in other ways in the future.

Make sure you’re respectful of the person’s time, so keep it to 30-minutes max.

The last part of the interview is the most important. Before you leave, be sure to thank them for their time and ask them if you can keep in contact should you have any additional follow-up questions. If you feel it’s appropriate, you should also ask if they know anyone else you should speak with. It’s almost guaranteed they’ll say, “Yes, you should talk with my buddy Bob at ABC Company.”

Follow up

Promptly send a thank you email after the interview. Continue to develop the professional relationship by keeping in contact (such as by letting them know once you have followed up on their suggestions). If you receive any additional contacts from the interview, reach out to them as well.

Keep a record of your all of your interviews, what you discussed, and what you learned. This information may come in handy if you want to reach out to them again or can’t remember a piece of advice someone shared.

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