Not totally sure what purpose an informational interview serves? You’re not alone. While these types of interviews can feel a little more nebulous than traditional interviews — i.e. the ones where a prospective job is actually on the table — informational interviews can still be incredibly helpful in job searches and beyond.
An informational interview is when you speak with a potential peer or hiring manager to discuss their current role or industry. These conversations are less formal than a traditional interview in which an open position is being discussed, but they can still feel a little more structured than your average networking exchange.
As a career coach, I cannot emphasize enough the value of informational interviews. They are a structured way to build and maintain relationships that can benefit your career in countless ways.
If you are the party who has requested this interview, chances are you’re hoping to learn from the other person’s experience and apply those findings in a way that will benefit your own career path. And a huge part of that is asking the right questions. For example, if you’re making a career change from Human Resources to UX Design, it would be beneficial to speak with people who are in UX Design to learn about their day-to-day responsibilities and what credentials might be necessary to make the switch. You could also seek informational interviews with people who are current or former employees of your target companies to establish yourself as a great candidate for potential future openings, as well as learn the ins and outs of the company.
If you’re asking someone you don’t already know for an informational interview via a cold email, there are a few elements you’ll want to include so that your message positively stands out. A clear message that contains the “why” of your outreach, an easy-to-follow request, and the specific way you’re hoping the other party can help are crucial. Below is an example of an email you could send:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m (short description of self) and I’m reaching out because I would appreciate your help.
I’m currently planning to make a switch into your industry and would so appreciate being able to pick your brain for insight on matters (X, Y, Z — make them specific!). I’ll be in your area next week; any chance you would be free for me to buy you a coffee on this date? I can only imagine how busy you are, so just 20-30 minutes of your time would be wonderful, if you can spare it!
Thanks so much, and I look forward to hopefully connecting soon!
You want to make it clear that you respect the other party’s time. If you devote precious minutes to asking the other party questions you could’ve easily found online without a meeting being necessary, you may give off the opposite impression! Take the time to learn as much as you can about this individual prior to meeting them.
It’s crucial to have a clear sense of your end goal for this meeting. Are you trying to forge a personal connection? Get specific insight about a potential company or industry? These are questions you should not only be able to answer for yourself, but ideally will have communicated with the other party in advance of meeting, as well. This gives them a chance to think over ahead of time how best they can help meet your needs and is a more efficient use of everyone’s time.
As stated earlier, informational interviews are technically less formal than traditional interviews, but this doesn’t mean all of your interview etiquette should go out the window for them. An informational interview is an opportunity to show up as the smart, curious and pleasant professional that you are. See this as an opportunity to raise your profile and elevate your brand with someone who could be a useful connection for you down the road. And part of this brand elevation, without a doubt, has to do with showing up early, appropriately dressed, and with pre-prepared questions (more on those later) and other helpful materials in hand.
Your experience will be on full display as you ask questions of the other party. If you’re an industry veteran, you can share your own personal stories and insights, as well. Rise to the occasion by preparing thoughtful questions about your industry or the one you’d like to enter. Learn as much as possible about your interviewee’s company and industry, and the morning of your interview, do a quick search online to see if there are any relevant stories in the news. Positioning yourself as a colleague and peer can lead to a thought provoking conversation beyond the questions you’ve prepared.
If you’re in a job you like and not looking to make a change, informational interviews are a tremendous opportunity to scope out the competition and learn about industry trends. Talk with the other party about how her company is tackling industry changes or hiring the best candidates. Have you just implemented a new system? Share how the experience was and lessons you’ve learned. When you lean on peers in your industry, neither of you has to reinvent the wheel when challenges arise.
While some of us think of job referrals as the main reasons for an informational interview, there are countless other referrals you could receive or give. Perhaps you are looking into new products or systems for your company. The other party may be looking to fill a role outside of your area of expertise, but perfect for someone you know. There are an endless number of resources that you can exchange.
No matter how much research you do, sometimes you just need information from someone who is already on the ground to get a true picture of life in a new field or role. At one point in my career, I had considered a role in admissions for a college. I loved the idea of helping students decide which school would be right for them. It was an informational interview with someone in that role which helped me realize there was a large sales component to this job and that a role in student advisement would suit me better. While the role I thought I wanted wasn’t a perfect fit, I was able to pivot to something in the same realm. Knowing what you don’t want can be just as important as knowing what you do want.
Informational interviews may lead to long-lasting relationships. I’ve personally met friends, colleagues, clients, mentors and employers though the informational interview process. The interview is just the first chapter of a story. There will be some people with whom you meet, send a thank you note, and never engage with again and that’s okay, too. The key to building those lasting relationships with people you want to continue to keep in touch with is follow up. If someone makes an introduction for you after your interview, follow up to share how it went. Keep them up to date with your job search and make it easy for them to respond.
Coming into the interview with thoughtful, pre-prepared questions is crucial, whether your meeting is taking place in person or over the phone. Below are a few examples of questions you can ask that are sure to impress the other party:
Alyson Garrido is passionate about helping women advance their careers and find jobs they will enjoy. As a career coach, she partners with her clients to identify their strengths and create a path toward a more fulfilling career. Alyson provides support around preparing for interviews, performance reviews and salary negotiations, ensuring that you present yourself in the best possible light for job search and career advancement. Learn more or book a session with Alyson by visiting www.alysongarrido.com.