What’s an informational interview and how do I conduct one?

March 14, 2018

Last updated:

Informational interviews are one of the most effective ways to build a network, get career advice, learn about an industry/position/company, get prepared for an interview, and land your dream job. We cannot overstate how important this tool is to your job search.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is simply a 20-30 minute conversation with a professional. Typically, he or she should be in a position, organization, or industry that you want to learn more about. Notice how we said “conversation.” This is NOT a job interview. The interviewee is taking time to share their career advice and experience. Don’t ambush them by asking for a job.

What’s the purpose of an informational interview?

There are two purposes for an informational interview: 1) to learn more about an industry/position/company, and 2) to get career advice.

As an example, let’s say you’ve been at a company for a year and you want to learn more about different jobs within your field. You might reach out to three different people at different roles and “interview” them. You could ask questions on their role, what they like about it, how they got the role, and advice for how you can break in. By the end, you’ll have a new contact, know if the role is a good fit for you, and potentially have more contacts to speak to.

What are the benefits?

The benefits are endless. But we’ll list out a few:

  • Learn what it’s really like working in an industry, organization, or position from someone who has experienced it.
  • Get personalized answers to your specific questions. You can also request advice about your particular situation, ask follow-up questions, and get details you wouldn’t be able to find online.
  • Receive advice from people with different experiences and points of view.
  • Learn about possible career paths within an industry and tips on how to pursue them successfully.
  • Obtain insider information that can help you during a job application/interview.
  • Gain interview experience that will help you feel more comfortable in future interview or professional situations.
  • Expand your network and develop valuable professional relationships.
  • The people you speak with will likely recommend you when you apply for a position, send you job leads, connect you with helpful contacts, or provide you with additional advice when you need it.

How do I have an informational interview?

Set up a meeting with the right person

Identify the types of people you would 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 (ARTICLE: How to build your network). Reach out to family, friends, professors, or fellow alums that would be helpful to speak with. They can also 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 would like to speak to, reach out to set up a meeting. Mention how you got in contact with them and be clear about what you are asking for and why. Then 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.

Best,
John Doe
555-555-5555

Prepare for the interview

Even though this isn’t a job interview, you still need to do a lot of preparation. Prepare 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. (ARTICLE: 5 most common interview questions and how to answer them)
  • 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. Remember, the person you are speaking with is doing you a favor. He or she 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.

To finish up, make sure to keep a record of your all of your interviews. Keep track of 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 they shared. And there you have it, you are now set up to conduct a successful informational interview. Good luck!

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