In our last article, we explored how informational interviews can help you explore different careers and expand your professional network.
If you’re an introvert like me, you probably felt jolt of anxiety as you imagined yourself actually doing one of these interviews.
I have to cold email people I don’t know?
And then I have to meet with them in person and make a good impression?
Talk about a lot of pressure!
However, once you know what to expect from informational interviews, you’ll find that they’re really not as scary as they sound—I’ve successfully done quite a few, so I know. In fact, the more you do them, the more they become fun and interesting experiences.
In this article, I’ll answer some FAQs about the before, during, and after of informational interviews to help you prepare for yours.
Remind me again—what is an informational interview?
To review, informational interviews are meetings between you and someone in a career or company you are interested in. Your goal is to learn about what their job involves and how they got there so that you can make an informed decision about whether you’d like your own career to take a similar direction.
It’s expected that you’ll ask lots of questions about what they do, including:
- what the day-to-day of their job is like.
- what they both like and dislike about their job.
- Because you’re gathering information rather than interviewing for a job, it’s a great opportunity to get an honest answer about both the good and the less good.
- how much money they make (yep, it’s okay to ask about this in this setting!).
- what path they took to get their current position.
- what it’s like working at their specific company (especially if the company is what interests you to begin with).
- what advice they would give to you, someone interested in a similar career who is just starting out.
- Is there additional training, including internships or other experience, that they’d recommend you look into?
- What do they wish they’d known when they were in your shoes?
Should I ask for a job at an informational interview?
No. Though informational interviews can turn into employment opportunities in some cases, the purpose of the meeting is not to ask for a job. If the interviewee takes the conversation toward discussing employment opportunities for you, that’s okay (or even awesome!)—just make sure they’re the one taking the lead.
Who are good people to interview?
People who are working in fields, jobs, or even at specific companies you are interested in are great candidates.
If you don’t know anyone in this category personally, where do you find these people? Alumni from your school, especially those who graduated from your department, can be a great place to start, as you already have some common ground—plus, usually alumni are really excited to connect with others from their alma mater.
I’ve also used LinkedIn to find people in industries that interest me, starting with those who are also in my area so that I could potentially meet them in person. Since you’re learning, you don’t need any prior experience in a person’s career area to interview them. Just make sure you do a little research on the person and/or the company before you meet them.
This article gives some great additional advice about where to start as you’re thinking about whom to contact.
How do I request an informational interview?
This article gives a great overview of the whole process, from selecting which people to interview to a sample email you might send them.
Basically, introduce yourself and mention why you are contacting them. Are you interested in their field or their company? How did you find them—through a mutual friend, your alma mater, their website? Ask when they are available to meet or have a phone call with you over the next few weeks, and thank them for their time. Simple enough, right?
If they don’t have time or don’t want to meet up, they’ll likely either politely say so or not respond. In some cases, I’ve had people respond weeks later (turns out not everybody checks their LinkedIn InMail!)—so don’t give up hope if you don’t hear back right away. Sending cold messages to people you don’t know can feel scary, but the majority of the time, people are really happy to share their story and help someone in your position.
What should I expect at the interview?
At their core, an informational interview is a conversation between you and your person of interest. Although they’ll most likely ask about your background, you want to keep the focus on them for most of the time.
Here are some additional tips:
- Prepare questions: Bring a list questions with you. Ideally, the conversation will flow organically and take unplanned directions, but it’s helpful to have an outline of what you’re curious about. This can also help with calm your nerves so you know exactly what you’re going to start with and can help you move the conversation along.
- Take notes: Bring a pen and paper. It’s expected that you’ll hear some things you’d like to write down, so don’t be shy.
- Keep an eye on the clock: Be very mindful of their time and keep the interview short and sweet. Usually, a half hour interview is sufficient, but if you’ve agreed on another length of time beforehand, stick to it. Sometimes they’ll be happy to talk for longer, but just be sure to let them make that call—people are busy, after all.
After you talk to someone, don’t be afraid to follow up! They’re part of your professional network now, and keeping communication open is not only important, but expected. A message thanking them for their time leaves a positive impression.
Informational interviews are such valuable tools that are well worth pushing out of your comfort zone to try. You never know who may think of you for an opportunity weeks, months, or even years after your meeting. I hope this guide has helped you feel build some confidence to try them out!