Informational interviews are my favorite method of networking. I’ve been both the interviewer and the interviewee, and from numerous experiences on both sides of the table, I’ve found that conducting informational interviews is one of the best ways to get specific information from people who are “on the ground” in the field.
An informational interview is a brief (20-30 minutes) preferably in-person meeting with someone who is working in a field or for a company of interest to you. The purpose of an informational interview is NOT to ask for a job. During an informational interview you can ask questions to evaluate whether or not a career field is a good fit for you. You can use information from an informational interview about company culture to strengthen your resume and cover letter and show that you are a good fit for an open position. You can expand your network by making new connections and asking for introductions.
There are two main reasons why people are hesitant to conduct informational interviews: it takes time and effort and it can be scary to reach out to people you don’t know well, or at all. The good news is that most people are happy to share their advice and expertise (at least in my experience), so while it may be a little intimidating to ask for some time from a friend of a friend of a friend, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll get mostly positive responses. As for informational interviews taking time and effort, they do, but there’s no better source of information – from company culture to salaries to actual hiring practices – than someone who is actually working in the field or an employee of the company.
First start out by identifying your goal. For example,
Next, determine what it is you need to know in order to meet that goal.
Identify people who can provide you with the information you need.
If you don’t know the contact personally, ask a mutual contact to make an introduction. Once you have the person’s contact information, reach out with a specific request. Propose a few times and dates for a 20-30 minute meeting and let the contact know exactly what you are interested in discussing. Offer to come to the contact’s place of work or take him/her out to lunch or coffee/hot chocolate. In-person meetings are best, but phone conversations and email exchanges can certainly be helpful if the contact is not able to meet in person.
If the contact doesn’t respond, politely follow up with a renewed request 1-2 weeks after the initial request was sent.
Do your research! Come up with a list of questions that will provide you with insight into the career field or company. Although the focus of the interview will be on the contact, you should also be able to speak articulately about yourself and your career/educational goals.
Some sample questions you may want to ask in an informational interview include:
Dress professionally, as you would for a job interview. As the meeting begins, take the initiative in leading the interview, but once the interview gets started remember that you are there primarily to listen and learn. Be respectful of the contact’s time. It is appropriate to bring your resume to an informational interview; however, you should only present the document to the contact if he or she requests it.
Send a thank you note – either email or hand-written – within 24 hours of the informational interview. Mention specifically what you learned or appreciated about the experience. You can maintain contact with your new connection by providing occasional updates or sharing relevant news or articles.
Have you had experience with informational interviews? How have they benefitted your career development? Have you been approached to be interviewed? If so, what tips would you give to those who may be unfamiliar or nervous about conducting informational interviews?