While informational interviews can feel a little more nebulous than traditional interviews — i.e. the ones where a prospective job is actually on the table—they 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, but they can still feel a little more structured than your average networking exchange.
If you requested this interview, you’re probably hoping to learn from the other person’s experience. 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 path, responsibilities and what credentials might be necessary to make the switch. You could also seek informational interviews with current or former employees of your target companies to become a potential candidate for future openings, as well as learn the ins and outs of the company.
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. Prepare thoughtful questions. Learn as much as possible about your interviewee’s company and industry, and before the interview, do a quick search online to see if there are any relevant stories in the news. Positioning yourself as a colleague 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 an opportunity to scope out the competition and learn about industry trends. Have you just implemented a new system? Share how the experience was and the lessons you’ve learned. When you lean on peers in your industry, neither of you has to reinvent the wheel when challenges arise.
You can also gain skills, such as communication and networking—both of which are crucial.
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 endless resources 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. At one point in my career, I'd considered a role in college admissions. 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.
Informational interviews may lead to long-lasting relationships. I’ve met friends, colleagues, clients, mentors and employers through the process. The key to building those lasting relationships is to follow up. If someone makes an introduction for you after your interview, 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. Below are a few examples of questions you can ask: