What Is an Informational Interview and Why Should I Be Asking for One?
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- Informational interviews are a powerful professional tool for networking and career research.
- Keep requests concise and specific.
- Come prepared with thoughtful questions.
Hey, career-switchers and job-seekers: If you're serious about building connections in a new industry, it's time to start requesting informational interviews.
What's an informational interview, you ask?
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What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is a brief, informal conversation that you arrange with a relevant professional. There are two primary objectives:
- 1. Exploratory research
- 2. Networking
An informational interview is great for learning about a role you're working towards, a company you're curious about, or an opportunity you're interested in pursuing. It is the perfect time to make new connections and seek career advice.
What is an informational interview NOT good for? Asking for a job.
Why Should I Ask For Informational Interviews?
Think about it: You want to make a big change, but the only vision you have of your dream career is one you've made up in your head.
Wouldn't it be great to get a dose of reality from a veteran in the field –– someone who may even be able to help connect you to opportunities down the road?
Informational interviews can benefit job-seekers in a number of ways, especially by:
- Providing an honest account of the day-to-day in a specific role or career
- Introducing you to career paths or job opportunities you may not know about
- Connecting you with people who may be able to refer you for positions in the future
- Helping you identify potential mentors in your new industry
And sure, it can feel a little awkward to ask a perfect stranger to meet with you. But generally speaking, people are happy to talk about their experiences and the lessons they've gleaned along the way. It feels good to give advice, and that's all you're asking for.
"Provided that the person asking is polite and prepared, I am always happy to make time for an information interview," says HR professional and etiquette consultant Jodi Smith.
"Informational interviews are an essential professional tool. They hone your industry knowledge and interview skills and allow you to receive feedback about your background in a low-stress environment. You can even conduct them by phone or video conference. It's the perfect way to network."
How Do I Ask For Informational Interviews?
Once you've identified someone who would be helpful to interview, send that person an email or Linkedin message to ask for the interview.
Quick tips: Finding people to interview
Reach out to people you already know in the field.
Search mutual connections on LinkedIn and ask for introductions to relevant people.
Follow LinkedIn pages for companies you'd like to work for; use the "people" tab to identify folks in roles you're interested in.
Join industry-specific LinkedIn groups and Facebook groups; reach out to the most active members.
If you went to college, check your school's alumni list for professionals who would be happy to help out a fellow graduate.
"The message should be short, sweet, and specific," advised Smith. "Only ask for a short block of time: successful people are busy and may not have an hour to devote to you."
Example: Informational Interview Request
Dear Ms. Jones,
Good morning! Our mutual connection, Shannon McLain, suggested I reach out to you. (We worked together before I went back to school for my MBA.)
I'm so curious to learn more about your day-to-day life as a job training specialist. I think that's the right career path for me, but I have a few questions about how best to position myself as a new graduate. Would you be willing to speak with me for 15 minutes this week?
How Do I Prepare For Informational Interviews?
- Know who you're talking to: Research their LinkedIn profile. Look into their professional projects. Be able to articulate why you find their help valuable.
- Take responsibility for leading the conversation: Draft 5-7 strong questions in advance. Make sure they can't be answered by a simple Google search. Frontload the most important questions in case you run out of time.
If you're not used to interviewing people, it's okay to practice ahead of time!
Write a short script to help you segue from introductory small-talk into your first question. That could look something like this:
"I'm so thrilled you could make some time for me today! As you know, I'm switching careers from finance into software engineering. I wanted to hear about your experiences, since you also came to software engineering as a second career. Can you tell me what surprised you the most about your own career transition?"
- Be mindful of their time: Make sure you've shared any pertinent information about yourself before the interview. That way, you don't have to waste precious data-gathering minutes explaining yourself. Listen, learn, and wrap the interview up when you said you would.
- Take notes: You don't want to miss anything important. This will also be a helpful reference later when you follow up with a personalized thank-you, either via email or a handwritten note.
- Don't leave empty-handed: Be sure to end with one final question: Can you think of someone else I should talk to?
This is how you start building a strong network of interconnected people within an industry. And when you reach out to your new contact to request an informational interview, you'll be able to say, "your colleague sent me!"