Artwork by: Pablo Cammello
Wondering how an informational interview could shape your career path? Follow our step-by-step guide to acing an informational interview and ensure you are on track for a long, happy, and successful career!
Information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you are for any eventuality. As a job seeker, it makes sense to find out as much as you can about a job and industry to ensure it’s the right one for you.
The informational interview is one way you can shape your career path. Finding out what a specific job involves, whether a company is one to work for, and how to succeed in an industry from someone who has walked this path before you is priceless.
Additionally, many work opportunities are not advertised, so a casual conversation can lead to learning about a new job opening. This approach also gives you the opportunity to learn more about the company as well as be ahead of the game in terms of interview preparation.
So what exactly is an informational interview? How can you manage this to your best advantage? How do you prepare for an informational interview? In this article we explore:
What is an informational interview?
How to secure an informational interview
Create an informational interview email request
Prepare informational interview questions
Follow up with a thank-you note
An informational interview is a form of networking where typically the conversation is focused on your career development versus a specific job opportunity. However, there may be a new job opening not yet advertised or a staffing requirement for the future that you uncover during this casual conversation.
Informational interviews usually occur between the employees of a company and individuals or job seekers who are interested in joining that company. This networking opportunity provides the chance to gain vital information about a career or industry you are interested in to see if it's the right fit for you.
Securing company-specific information is also really valuable when deciding whether to submit an application or preparing for an interview. You may hear about the amazing company culture, professional development opportunities, and future expansion plans. These would all be great indicators of an employer of choice.
The first step to arranging an informational interview is to reach out to someone to request a meeting either virtually or in-person. The best approach is to take some time in this part of the process to create targeted requests rather than firing off numerous generic emails or messages which may not hit the target.
Reaching out to someone you know to set up a meeting is the easiest option due to the fact that both parties are familiar with each other. This could be tapping a connection on LinkedIn, contacting someone you met at an industry event, or reaching out to a former colleague, for example.
If you don’t know the person or have any immediate connections, you can still try to arrange an informational interview via an outreach email, but it’s a good idea to do some groundwork first. Research the contact’s background and experience, check out their LinkedIn profile, and identify what they can specifically offer you so you can make your request more personalized.
Don’t forget to tap into your network by asking your contact to recommend other people who may be open to an informational interview. Just ensure you clearly convey your objectives for the conversation so this doesn’t waste anybody’s time.
Successful informational interview email requests have three key components: a personalized message, clear explanation of why you want an informational interview, and a request that is polite, respectful, and professional. Follow these steps to creating your informational interview email request.
Conduct research on the company via their website and check out any news articles. This will help you personalize the message and will also provide useful information for the next stage: preparing informational interview questions.
Avoid landing in the email trash or spam folder by creating a compelling subject line. This is the first thing an email recipient sees, so it makes sense to have a clear, concise and relevant subject line that will help you get attention. You could include your name and the purpose of the email, for example: “Jane Smith – Informational Interview Request.”
Explain why you are requesting to meet, for example, “I’d love to learn more about how you got your start in PR and what it’s like to work at ABC Agency.”
Follow this up with a personalized reason for requesting this meeting. Maybe someone in your network recommended you contact them, perhaps they have an impressive career that inspires you, or you have similar backgrounds in terms of studies and experience.
Make it easy for your contact to say yes. Suggesting options of where to meet and being flexible in terms of meeting dates and times is the best approach. For example, “I’m in the area next week so it would be great to meet and grab a coffee whenever it’s most convenient for you.”
Most people are busy! Remember to mention that you really value their time and state that even if they can spare 15 or 20 minutes this would be greatly appreciated.
If your contact thinks you want to talk to them about a job opening they are likely to turn you down if nothing is available at that time. Make it clear that you only want to talk to them about their perspective on their job, company, and/or industry for the purpose of your future career development.
Send a follow-up email after an informational interview that thanks your contact for their time. Recall specific parts of the conversation that you valued. If there are any job openings you think may be suitable, express your interest.
Don’t forget to take some notes during the informational interview that you can refer to at a later time. This will help you reflect back on the interview and also shows how much you value the conversation.
Remember that you are guiding the conversation so it’s vital to have your informational interview questions prepared in advance. It’s a good idea to have a structure to your questions rather than a long list of questions that jump from topic to topic. Here is a suggested format.
Start the interview with some ice breaker questions to help build rapport and make both parties feel comfortable. These questions could relate to the interviewee’s job at the company or recent developments in the industry. For example:
How did you get started in this industry?
What recent projects have you been working on?
What’s your opinion on…..? (Include some details on a recent development in the industry.)
Prepare and practice a short pitch (30 seconds or so) to tell the interviewee about you and your long-term career goals. The instructional interview is focused on learning about the other person’s position and company, but they still need to know something about you too.
This is a critical part of the informational interview where you can get insider information and work out whether this role, company, and/or industry is the right one for you. Here are some potential questions to ask.
What made you choose this company over others in the same industry?
What are the biggest challenges in this industry? The biggest rewards?
Do you think my studies and experience will make me suitable for a role in this industry?
Do you have any key pieces of advice for someone like me who is looking to build a career in this field?
Close the meeting by thanking the interviewee for their time and showing your appreciation for the insightful information they have given you. At this point you can also ask if they know any other people you could speak to about your specific desired career path.
Remember to send a thank-you note or email to the person who spoke with you, just as you would with any other type of interview. This is especially important because the person willingly took time from their busy schedule to meet with you when they didn’t have to.
Along with building goodwill, showing your appreciation may help your career if the person you interviewed alerts you about an open position at their company or at another company in the industry.
Informational interviews are a form of networking where you get an opportunity to interview a professional in order to learn more about your desired career field or a specific job in that field.
Always research and prepare questions prior to the informational interview. Have a practice run-through with a family member or friend.
Be sure to target your informational interview requests rather than sending out generic requests that may not get you results.
In the informational interview, keep the questions focused on the interviewee’s experience and advice for someone looking to work in their type of job or industry. Never ask for a job outright.
Remember to send a thank-you note soon after the interview.
Successful informational interviews can lead to job referrals. Even if this is not the case, these interviews still provide great career development learning opportunities.
Helen is an experienced freelance writer with a strong background in job search and career advice, in particular resume best practices, interviewing, and personal and professional development. Before Career.io, Helen worked for high-profile recruitment firms and in the field of HR management, so she has a strong sense of what recruiters are looking for in a potential employee as well as experience in supporting career growth and development.