No matter what stage you’re at in your career, an informational interview could bring you one step further—if you go in properly prepared.
What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is an informal conversation job seekers have with a professional working in a particular industry or career that they want to learn more about. It’s not a job interview, although you should handle the meeting as if there’s a position on the line because you never know when there could be.
After all, asking industry experts to meet for an informational interview shows you’re proactive; that you take initiative in seeking out new information and are serious about advancing your career. Those are traits employers look for in a new hire.
Before scheduling the meeting, just be clear about your objectives. What are you trying to learn? Do you want to better understand the realities of working in a specific role, or is your goal to break into a new industry? By clearly defining your motivations, you can more easily determine who to actually ask for an informational interview.
A good place to start is by jotting down a list of companies you would want to work for or roles you envision yourself in. Use LinkedIn to help identify the best points of contact within your network—and be realistic. It’s likely the chief executive officer of a large corporation won’t have time to sit down for an informal chat. If you’re interested in launching your own business, however, consider contacting the CEO of a smaller startup instead.
You’re bound to benefit from the conversation. Informational interviews are all about expanding your network, connecting with professionals whose careers you aspire to, and learning more about a particular position before making a full-time commitment.
How to Reach Out for an Informational Interview
LinkedIn is useful in identifying contacts, but it’s encouraged to reach out via email. The request will seem more personal and, given workers spend an average four hours per day checking email, you’ll increase your odds of the message being seen. Just keep your request concise. You’re already asking for someone’s time; save them from spending additional time reading a lengthy email.
The ask should be simple and specific. State what you’re looking to learn from the person, and why you specifically choose him or her to speak with. An example includes:
I am interested in learning more about how you broke into business and see the industry evolving. I’ve always admired your career path—particularly how you expanded your brand from one market to three in just five years. I’d love to buy you coffee and chat for 30 minutes whenever it’s convenient for you.
Through your LinkedIn research, you might also uncover additional similarities; perhaps you share an alma mater or have a colleague in common. Note that, as it will help you form a more personal connection with the employer and prove that you did your research.
At this stage, don’t send your resumé unless asked, and once you’ve solidified a time and day to meet, keep your commitment. Continuously rescheduling will make you look unprofessional.
Questions to Ask During an Informational Interview
The added benefit of a more informal interview is that you’re in a safe environment to ask questions. If the employer is aware of your motivations for reaching out, he or she won’t expect you to be an expert on his or her industry. Similar to a job interview, however, you want to come prepared with informed questions. Avoid asking anything you could Google or find the answers to on his or her LinkedIn profile.
Start the conversation by putting the focus on the employer—the person you came to hear talk and learn from. Examples of questions to ask include:
- What does a typical day for you look like?
- How did you break into the industry? What steps would you take if you were to make the transition all over again?
- How do you see the industry evolving?
- What skills do you wish you had? Is there anything I should be learning before starting my job hunt?
- Is there anyone else you think I should connect with? Any professional or trade associations I should join?
Prepare an Elevator Pitch
It’s likely you won’t be the only one asking questions. It’s inevitable the employer will ask what your career goals are, so prepare an elevator pitch—a 30-second summary that highlights who you are, what you do, and where you’re looking to take your career. It could be as simple as:
I’ve been working in marketing for over a decade, primarily at small or mid-sized B2B businesses. I’m now looking to branch out and start my own consulting firm based on the experience I’ve gained, in hopes I can help others improve their storytelling and build stronger brands.
After the Informational Interview
Within 24 hours of meeting, send a “thank you” email expressing gratitude for the employer’s time and advice. Remember, now is not the time to start asking for jobs. Your goal is to continue fostering the relationship so that, one day, when there is a job on the line, you’re the first person who comes to mind.
As the weeks, months, and years go by, work on maintaining that connection by finding ways to regularly check in. Congratulate your new contact when he or she posts good news, such as a career change or promotion, or send articles and relevant networking events you think he or she might be interested in. By providing value to the relationship, it will only grow stronger and, in turn, become more valuable to your career. And it all starts with one informational interview.
Are you interested in hearing more from the employer perspective? Read on for “8 Tips to Help You Prepare for Your Next Job Interview” or gain insight on “How to Properly Follow Up After an Interview.”