In tandem with upskilling and networking (even virtually, from the comfort of your home), informational interviews prove to be incredibly beneficial for job seekers. Informational interviews are often an underutilized tool that your former college advisor or career counselor likely discussed. These informal conversations are a time to meet with industry experts one-on-one and pick their brains about everything under the professional sun, and gain intel so you can make informed decisions about your career path. In reality, informational interviews are like dipping your toes in the water before diving into a career or industry. We’ve put together our ultimate guide for informational interviews – all you need to know and more!
What connections can you utilize for an informational interview?
Over time, you build your personal and professional web of connections. There are several different networks you can tap into when looking to schedule an informational interview. Here are our top 3 recommendations:
- Alumni connections are a great go-to as you share a common thread, your alma mater. This common thread can be a natural tie-in for your initial contact.
- Family members are another reliable resource for connections. You already have existing bonds with them, and they may be able to introduce you to a colleague or contact in your industry of interest.
- Sending a cold outreach email to your LinkedIn connections is less common but can be successful if done correctly.
How do you ask your network for help?
Asking professionals in your network for help can seem nerve-racking at first. Remember that people generally enjoy helping others, especially when it comes to sharing professional experiences. The key is to be clear and thoughtful about why you are reaching out and provide an easy to understand request in your email or phone call. Consider the following when crafting your outreach message:
Be clear and straight to the point. Conciseness is vital when asking for help. Consider phrases such as “I’d love to pick your brain over coffee [in-person, through video, or over the phone] to discuss your career at [their company]” or “Could I please take 10 minutes of your time over the phone to discuss your career experience at [their company].” We recommend using the later message for a connection you might not know well.
Tell them why you chose them. Consider what drew you to pick this person and what value they can add to your career path. You might use phrases such as “I admire the work you did on [a particular project] and would like to learn more about your process” or “I’m interested in pursuing a career in [their industry]. I would like to learn more about your experience as a [their title].” Mentioning why you chose them demonstrates your admiration towards them, which may help prompt a response.
Be considerate of their time. While an informational interview is informal, you must consider the other person’s time as they’re likely putting their job on hold to speak with you. You can state phrases such as “I understand that you’re incredibly busy, but I would greatly appreciate 10 – 15 minutes of your time” or “I want to schedule a quick call to accommodate your busy schedule” Phrases like these show mindfulness of their schedules and that you won’t take up too much of their time.
What are the best practices for an informational interview?
Now that you have the interview scheduled, it’s time to research and prepare. The interview is your time to shine; ask pointed questions and learn all you can about the person and their career path. Consider the following when preparing for and during your informational interview:
Organize and develop your questions. During an informational interview, it’s your job to lead the conversation. Ask questions about their industry, company culture, work/life balance, and most significant accomplishments, and organize them by category. Organizing your notes and questions in advance will make for a smooth conversation.
Gather all the career advice. People enjoy talking about themselves. Following your introductions, start by asking questions about their personal experiences in their industry. A few questions include:
- How did you get your start in [their industry]?
- What experiences best prepared you for your job?
- What’s it like working at your company?
- Can you describe the work/life balance of your role?
- What’s the most challenging part of your job?
As you get further along in the interview, you might begin diving deeper into questions about preparation for a career path. A few questions include:
- What experiences and skills do you look for in a new hire?
- What job search advice would you give to someone in my situation [briefly describe your current situation, i.e., a new career or changing industries]?
- What kind of work samples should my portfolio include?
- What else should I know to make an informed decision about choosing a career in this ﬁeld?
- Is there anything you wished you knew before entering this industry?
Extend your network. As you begin to wrap up your conversation, ask if they have any recommendations for other people you should speak with to learn more. The likelihood of someone agreeing to chat automatically increases when you share a mutual connection. If they can recommend a contact or two and possibly connect you, it’s to your benefit to build those new relationships and further grow your web of connections.
Professionals in the same industry may have completely different ideas and experiences to share. The more contacts you can chat with, the more insight you’ll have to move forward in your professional career.
What is best practice following an informational interview?
Now that the interview is complete say thank you (manners always matter). We recommend a hand-written thank you note or a thank you email to thank the person for their time and insights. Consider including something memorable from your conversation. When done correctly, a thoughtful thank you note can provide a path to help move the relationship forward.
When you’re looking for a job or exploring a new career path, informational interviews are an enlightening tool. The key is to utilize your connections, make sure you’re prepared, and make the best impression possible. The paths following these interviews can lead to endless opportunities!
Follow along for our next blog in this series, where we’ll take a deep dive into how to optimize your LinkedIn profile best!