Guide to the Informational Interview

By Ryan Bates, iHire, LLC
           
Guide to the Informational Interview

What is an Informational Interview? I’ve often been asked this question by job seekers who are trying to get their foot in the door with a company. An informational interview is a meeting between a job seeker and employer in which the job seeker requests the meeting and conducts an interview with the employer, asking for career advice rather than employment. There are several advantages to holding an informational interview. It is a great way to network with someone at a company you want to work for or within your target industry and it enables you to learn more about a specific career path or position. The interview may also provide insight into employment trends and opportunities in your field. We’ll cover several areas in this article about informational interviewing: requesting an informational interview, preparing for an informational interview, conducting an informational interview, and what to do afterwards.

Many job seekers don’t know how to ask for an informational interview. I recommend starting with identifying who you want to set up an informational interview with. Think about family and friends, business contacts, professional associations, alumni groups, department websites, and contacts within social networking sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook. Social networking sites are a great resource for finding the right person because background information is readily available.

Now that you have your target’s contact information, how do you request an informational interview? If you plan to contact them by phone or email, there are several things you should do. State the purpose of the call or email by introducing yourself as an individual who is investigating career fields in this person’s area. Mention how you got the person’s name and contact info and indicate how long you expect the interview to last. Be sure to confirm the agreed upon date and place of your meeting or time of phone call prior to ending the conversation. Keep in mind that not everyone is going to accept your request. For those who are receptive to the idea, schedule an informational interview at their earliest convenience. If someone is not interested, move on to the next person. Remember: the purpose of an informational interview is to learn something, not to get a job.

Preparing for an informational interview can be very difficult if you don’t know where to start. Be sure to determine ahead of time what kind of information you wish to know from the person you will be interviewing. Make sure you research the career field, company, and individual’s background information. As the one requesting and conducting the interview, you must prepare an agenda and list of specific questions to ask. Some topics to consider are general questions about your career field, the interviewee’s position and career path, the company’s needs, and/or opportunities for advancement within the company or field. You should also be ready to talk about yourself if the opportunity arises. Prepare an elevator pitch to describe what you do and sell your skills and qualifications.

When conducting an informational interview, ask open-ended questions that allow the person you are meeting with to answer in more than one-word responses. Dress formally as if you were going to an interview for a potential job. Your attire should communicate that you are competent, professional, and trustworthy. During the interview, don’t feel as though you need to stick strictly to your prepared agenda and feel free to go outside of your original questions if you need to dig deeper. However, always make sure that the questions aren’t too personal. Towards the end of the interview, ask for networking referrals from the interviewee. For example, there might be someone else in the company or your target industry that would be beneficial to meet with next.

After the informational interview, follow up with the interviewee to thank them. Within your thank you letter, mention that you appreciate his or her time, compliment their knowledge on the subject(s) you discussed, explain how you are going to use the information you received, and express an interest in keeping in touch with them on the progress of your job search.

           

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