Informational Interviewing

An informational interview allows a job seeker to learn more about a particular field of work or career path.

If you are considering a new profession, setting up an informational interview can offer you greater insights into the day-to-day aspects of that particular job. Additionally, you can expand your professional network to include the person you interview, who has inside knowledge and connections within the field you are interested in entering. That kind of networking can prove to be incredibly beneficial if and when you actually apply for jobs. Knowing someone who performs the same role you want or who works in the industry you want to enter might help connect you to an open position elsewhere.

An informational interview is an opportunity for you to learn, to ask questions and to gain additional insights into a potential career. You can set up this type of interview with someone who is already in your network or by reaching out to a professional and asking for that person’s expertise. Find out how to arrange an informational interview, how to prepare for it and how to gain the most from it below.

What is an Informational Interview?

An informational interview grants you the opportunity to expand your professional network while gaining insights into a potential professional opportunity. The purpose of an informational interview is to ask relevant questions of a professional within that field of work so you can explore more about the specific company you want to work for, the role you seek or perhaps a wider angle of the industry at large.

Making a professional contact within a particular field of work can help you if and when you seek a job. This contact might remember you when a position of interest opens up or you could continue your contact with this particular professional in an effort to further expand your network. All of this networking can help you to meet the right people and to ensure you are absorbing as much about this career path as possible.

During an informational interview, you will play the role of the interviewer, so you should come prepared with questions and with your own details to share with this professional. This is not your opportunity to ask for a job or to push for more connections. Rather, the informational interview is for you to gather information. That information can prove to be valuable as you consider a particular company, job or industry so that you make the right choice for you.

Benefits of Informational Interviews

An informational interview can leave you with incredible insider knowledge that would otherwise be very difficult to obtain. Being able to ask questions of someone within that company, role or industry where you want to work will help you to better understand expectations, daily tasks, growth opportunities and more. You can ask questions related to experience and education requirements so you know whether or not you require additional training prior to jumping into that field or that specific role. Asking these questions of a professional who is in that field of work is more valuable than asking a general career counselor or advisor in the daily life and insider perceptions this professional can share.

When you walk away from an informational interview, you should feel like you gained insights that can help you to further your career potential within this field of work. Alternatively, perhaps you might feel like what you learned has turned you away from that particular field. Getting insight on a potential career path can help you make sure it is right for you before you invest too much time or money on continuing in that direction.

When you walk away from the interview, you should also feel like you have gained a valuable professional contact who you can reach out to again in the future. Whether or not that person can offer any valid job leads is not the most important aspect of an informational interview. This professional contact should now be someone you feel you can continue to communicate and network with in the future. Your goal is to make a good impression so this person feels like you will be an asset to the industry. Be professional and you just might find that this meeting for information turns into a job lead down the line.

How to Arrange an Informational Interview

Arranging an informational interview requires you to network and to identify the right people who can help you the most. Target the company you want to work for and identify someone who has a role you are interested in having in the future. Talking to and learning from the person who does your dream job at your dream company would be ideal, but you could also talk to people in similar roles at other companies.

Using a site like LinkedIn can help you to see if you have any connections in common with an interview target. Determining that mutual connection can help you to make the initial contact. You can also reach out to your alumni organization from your high school or college, since most have a list of alumni willing to speak to fellow graduates.

When you reach out to a potential interviewee, send a concise email or make a phone call explaining exactly why you want to meet and identifying any connection you might have with the person. Ask for a brief meeting, no more than thirty minutes, at the person’s convenience. Be sure to pointedly ask for help and to explain what you hope to get out of this meeting, which could include learning how this person got started in the industry, asking what it is like to work at that company or gaining advice for landing a job in a similar role.

Above all, be courteous and professional when you reach out to potential new contacts. Respect their time and understand that you are asking them to take time to meet with you. Most professionals are more than happy to help you, but you do not want to assume anything and make a bad first impression.

Prepare for an Informational Interview

Never forget to be professional. You should show up to the informational interview dressed for the role you want with questions prepared to efficiently gain those invaluable insights. However, try not to bombard this person with question after question. The informational interview is as much about relationship-building and networking as it is about you gaining insights. Allow the conversation to flow and be cognizant of the person’s time so you do not push the meeting too long.

Bring questions with you and have personal information ready to share about your background, education, training, experience and what you hope to do in the future with your career. Being concise here can benefit you greatly, so try to practice how you talk about yourself professionally ahead of time.

Throughout the interview itself, take notes. It is important to have a conversation and to connect with this person, but you also want to take notes so you remember all the information you receive. A good way to take thorough notes without interrupting the flow of the conversation is to jot down a few words or lines during the meeting and then to stay where you are once the meeting ends and your interviewee leaves so you can write down more in-depth notes on the conversation at your leisure while it is still fresh in your mind.

Follow Up

Always remember that this informational interview was a donation of time, expertise and energy on behalf of your interviewee, so following up with a thank you note should be your first thought once the interview is finished. Sending a sincere thank you will continue your efforts at making a good impression and will hopefully keep your name in mind whenever a job opens up within his or her network. If the person connected you with anyone else, also send a thank you after meeting with those new contacts so you can maintain this connection and show your sincere interest and gratitude for that extra effort in helping you.

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