Informational interviews are critical to a successful job search. Many job seekers don’t do them at all which puts them at a significant disadvantage in the search and others do not do them well so they miss a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves. Informational interviewing is the goal of most networking connections.
Why do an informational interview?
- Learn about the company, the culture, current issues, career paths, specific roles, etc. from an insider, gain insights you may not be able to find online
- Build an advocate within the company for future support
What can you gain from an informational interview?
- Learn about the contact’s industry, company and/or work environment and culture
- Gain insight into specific jobs, roles, functions and departments
- Hear advice on how you can translate your skills and experience to new industry, company or role
- Obtain names of other recommended networking contacts
- Recommendations for professional associations you should join
- Gain insight into your career options
- An inside contact within the organization
What an informational interview is not
- It is not asking for a job or applying for a specific position, instead it is an information gathering adventure and hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial relationship
How to Prepare for an Informational Interview
- Be respectful of the contact’s time and position yourself positively and professionally by being very well prepared
- Research the company in advance – overview of products, services, target markets, competitors, financial performance, recent news, etc.
- Research the person you will be meeting with – google them, check Linked In, the company web site
- Think about what you can offer the contact – can you share networking contacts, professional association connections, information based on shared interests, etc.
- Define your goals for the meeting clearly
- Identify questions you plan to ask to support your goals
What to Ask in an informational interview
- Customize the questions to each specific situation and have a reasonable number of questions to respect the contact’s time
- What responsibilities do you have in this role?
- What is a typical day like?
- What do you enjoy most about this work and why?
- What do you find most challenging about this work and why?
- What are the obstacles for someone entering this field?
- What are the most critical skills, abilities and personal qualities for success in this field?
- What is a typical career path to arrive in this position? What was your path to this role?
- Companies/Organizations/Work Environment
- What you like and dislike about the company?
- Why did you decide to join this company?
- How are decisions made?
- How would you describe the corporate culture?
- How is the Marketing (or other) department structured?
- How much work is done in teams?
- What are the companies greatest challenges and how does your work address any of those challenges?
- How could someone with my background enter this field?
- What are the major current challenges in this industry?
- What is current demand for jobs in this field?
- What do you like most and least about working in this industry?
- What first attracted you to this industry?
- Would you be willing to review my target list of companies and share feedback?
- What other companies should I be considering given my background?
- What types of organizations hire people to perform similar functions?
- Do you know anyone I could speak to in this specific role that interests me?
- What professional journals and associations do you recommend?
- Given my experience and skills, what advice to you have to share about target industries, companies or role?
- If you were in my situation, what options would you prioritize?
- If you had it to do over again in your career, what changes would you make?
- What advice to you have for a student interested in entering this field?
- Giving Back
- Show your appreciation and offer to assist the person in any way you can
Should you bring a resume to a networking meeting?
- It would be better to bring a networking profile to share. It highlights and summarizes your past experience but also includes what you hope to do and your target companies. It makes it easier for a contact to identify opportunities to assist you.
- If you bring a resume, keep in your portfolio until asked for it.
- Never open the meeting with a resume. It could ensure a very short meeting.
How to have a successful information interview?
- Arrive a few minutes early. Be sure you know in advance how to get there and be prepared with a photo id in case it is needed at security.
- Dress as the successful business professional you aspire to be. Make a good first impression.
- Bring business cards and a note pad so you can take notes. This demonstrates that you are engaged and that you value the information and insights being shared.
- Establish rapport with the individual and thank them for meeting with you.
- Find common ground – the person who referred you, alumni connection, etc.
- Clarify the purpose of the meeting, this assures them you are not asking for a job. Instead focus on expanding your professional network, learning more about specific careers and companies.
- Ask questions and take notes.
- Answer their questions. Don’t ramble.
- Ask for advice and information.
- Request referrals – who do they know that might benefit you.
- Always thank them for their time and insights.
- Keep them posted down the road.
- Send a handwritten thank you note – it will help them remember you.
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm – remember to smile.
- Pay attention – you can pick up clues about the work environment and the culture.
- Remember, one person’s opinion may not be representative of the whole company. Talk to multiple people in the same organization if possible.
Do shy people really have to do this?
- Yes, it is a critical part of the process and significantly increases your chances of landing a job you want. People hire people so having connections in the company makes all the difference.
- Try to do more listening than talking. Ask open ended questions. Get the contact talking about himself and his career.
- It is about building mutually beneficial relationships – you are listening and asking questions, you are not selling yourself and asking for a job. Reframing your thinking can help.
- Be ready to give them a quick overview about you.
- Take a few deep breaths.
- Focus on it as a conversation with an interesting person. It is NOT an interview for a specific job.
- Start with connections – alumni, former colleagues, a friend’s parent or relative who works at the company. It can be easier and more comfortable starting with warm connections and a common bond.