More well-known to students or career changers, an informational interview is a meeting conducted at the workplace of a professional to gain career knowledge and insight. There is no risk of losing out on a job opportunity; there is not a job on the table, only information.
Why would I bother if I won’t get a job?
A better question is why wouldn’t you bother? You will get out of the house and get energized by talking to new people. You may gain some much-needed confidence about your career goals. The informational interview will also provide an inside look at a company or organization you may want to work for in the future. Additionally, you can polish your communication skills without the pressure of a job interview.
How do I conduct a successful informational interview?
A well-prepared interviewer does background research: review LinkedIn profiles and Google search results to learn about the person granting you precious time out of his or her day. This can help you find points in common to help carry the conversation. It’s a good strategy to compile a list of appropriate questions to bring with you. Hopefully the interview will evolve into a flowing conversation, rather than a rapid fire back and forth, and a list of questions can help create structure to the discussion. You’ll want to focus on the person’s professional life and steer clear of asking about his or her salary.
Appropriate questions to ask could include:
What kinds of tasks do you do on a typical day or in a typical week?
What types of tasks do you spend most of your time doing?
What do you like best about this job?
What are some of the more difficult or frustrating parts of this career?
What characteristics does a person in this job need to have to be successful?
How does your work fit into the mission of your company?
What types of advancement opportunities are available for someone new to the profession?
Is this career changing? How?
How did you get into this line of work?
What is different from what you expected?
What motivates you most about this job?
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
Do you have any advice for me?
Who has been most influential in your career?
What do I wear?
Although an informational interview is more casual than a job interview, you will want to dress as if there is a job on the line because it is possible that someday there could be. If an opportunity became available down the road, you could end up interviewing for a job at the same company you are visiting for the informational interview. They might remember you and impression you made – so make a good one!
How much time should it be?
Informational interviews typically run from 30-60 minutes. Be certain to agree and establish the time frame with the person you are interviewing beforehand. Wear a watch rather than the distraction of using your cell phone as a timekeeper. It’s okay to get off topic, but try to guide your host gently back to the questions. As the person conducting the interview, it is up to you to monitor the time and let your host know as the end point approaches. If they choose to spend more time talking with you, all the better!
Don’t leave without asking two important questions:
Can you suggest other people I could speak to?
May I mention your name?
After the interview, send a thank-you note expressing your appreciation – the sooner the better. Keep the thank-you note brief. It’s always nice to share something helpful you learned during the interview.