Informational interviews are a particularly important aspect of job search networking you may have overlooked.
They are informal conversations with people working at the companies and in the fields in which you want to work, or people who are within a few degrees of separation from them.
This is not a job interview and these people do not hold the reins on any particular jobs.
Your mission is to gather information for your due diligence and to determine whether that company, the role(s) and you will be a mutual good fit.
Actually asking for a job is never part of the conversation.
What’s so great about these conversations?
UC Berkeley Career Center describes the benefits of informational interviews:
- Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular position, field, or industry.
- Find out about career paths you didn’t know existed.
- Get insider tips about how to prepare for and land the job.
- Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
- Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts; meet people who may share job leads with you in the future.
5 Steps of Informational Interviews
Assuming you already know what kinds of jobs at which companies you’re targeting in your job search, here are the necessary steps.
Whether you’re meeting in person, via phone or video call, the tips below will apply. You’ll see some special advice for video calls below.
1. Identify people you want to interview
Start with people you already know (friends, family, colleagues, etc.). They can lead you to the inner circle of people actually in the jobs at the companies you’re targeting.
Check professional associations/organizations for members who have earned certifications/credentials you have, or ones that you want to pursue.
Use LinkedIn. Search the LinkedIn (Company) Pages of each company you’re targeting and look for employees. Start with the people you already know at these companies, and then move on to employees at similar professional levels as you.
Put together a list or spreadsheet including:
- Name of interviewee
- Company name
- Email address
- Phone number, if applicable
- How you know them
- What you know about them
- Space for notes once you contact them
2. Prepare for informational interviews
Along with helping you conduct better interviews, being prepared for your interviews is a courtesy to your interviewees. You want to make the experience for them as pleasant as possible. If you’re fumbling with what to ask, they may have a negative experience with you.
Find out as much as you can about your interviewees, and their companies, fields and industries. They’ll be very impressed that you took the time to learn about them.
Have an introduction of yourself and your pitch at-the-ready
Although your informational interviews are not about asking for a job, you should be prepared to talk about your career background and goals. And prepare and rehearse your elevator pitch, so it flows naturally.
Prepare questions to ask
These are the kinds of questions you should be prepared to ask, based on an extensive list compiled by job search expert Hannah Morgan:
- Did anything surprise you about working in your role or in this industry?
- What does a normal day look like for you?
- What types of decisions are most important for someone in your role?
- What made you want to work in this industry?
- Have you found it difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance in this industry?
- Are you involved with any notable projects you can tell me about?
- What part of your work is the most rewarding?
- What do you like least about your job?
- What is the most challenging thing about your job?
- Do you have any unconventional skills or experiences that help you today?
- What is the company culture like?
- How do you stay current with what’s happening in your industry?
- Is there anyone else in this field that you think I should speak to?
- Do you mind if we stay in touch?
If it’s going to be a virtual interview via video call, follow the guidelines for preparation in my post, Nail Your Virtual Interviews – Things You Need To Know, Do and Master.
3. Send emails or LinkedIn InMails to your interviewees
Now it’s time to put your prep work into action.
Begin your ask with a brief introduction about yourself. If you were referred to this person, mention how you got their name.
According to LiveCareer, write a clear message about why you’re contacting them, have an easy-to-understand request, and include these elements:
Ask for help. Phrases like “I’d love your help with” or “I hope you’ll be able to help me out with…“
Be clear and concise. Be specific and make it easy for them to say yes. “I’d love to hear more about how you got your start” is alright, but this approach is better:
“I’d love to take you out to coffee to learn about how you got your start in marketing and what it’s like to work at [your company]; I’m actually going to be in your area next week and would be happy to meet whenever is most convenient for you.”
Provide a hook. Demonstrate why you really want to meet with this person. Maybe you admire their career path or see some similarities between their education and yours. Perhaps you have a shared connection. Whatever it is, be sure to state it in the email.
Be extremely considerate. Remember, this person is putting their job on hold for you, so acknowledge how busy they must be and say that even 15-20 minutes would be appreciated.
Don’t make it seem like you’re looking for a job. Make it clear you just want to talk to them about their perspective on their job and experience in the industry.
Indeed.com offers a sample email requesting an informational interview. Adjust this for your specific situation:
Subject: Grace Jacobs—informational interview request
Dear Mrs. Fergilli,
My name is Grace Jacobs, and for the last five years, I’ve worked as a consultant with our mutual friend, Henry Smith, and he recommended I listen to your podcast on the issues that women in management roles experience. I really appreciate the insights you shared.
I hope you might meet for coffee or lunch to discuss this further. I have some questions I would love to ask you on that subject, especially the best way to approach pursuing promotions. Of course, if it’s more convenient to talk on the phone for 15 to 20 minutes, that also works for me. I have some free time next Wednesday, Thursday and any time the following week if any of those options are convenient for you.
Thank you again for sharing your experiences, and I look forward to speaking with you.
4. Conduct the informational interview
In the same article as above, UC Berkeley Career Center suggests the following:
- Dress neatly and appropriately for the work setting you are exploring.
- If meeting in person, arrive on time or a few minutes early.
- Bring your list of questions and take notes if you like.
- Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not ask for a job.
- Give a brief overview of yourself and your education and/or work background.
- Be prepared to direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally, and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
- Respect the person’s time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe.
- Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
- Ask for names of other people to contact in order to gather different perspectives.
Immediately after each informational interview, make notes about your conversation to add to your spreadsheet, and to use when you write them a thank you note (see below).
5. Follow up after the interview
Informational interviews require follow-up thank you notes, just like any job interviews you’ve had. Emailed thank you’s are okay, but if you can send a hand-written thank you note, that’s even better because so few people take the time to send them.
For emailed thank you’s, The Muse suggests:
“For extra points, go the extra mile and find an article related to a topic you discussed, and include a link with your thank-you, noting how your conversation with her inspired you to read the article. Expressing your gratitude will not only make your interviewee feel good knowing she had a tangible impact on you, but will keep the door open to developing your relationship with her in the future.”
And to wrap things up neatly, once you land a job, get back in touch with the people who helped you with that particular opportunity, to let them know of your success.