Informational interviews are an often overlooked way to gain valuable insights into a new field, institution or company and build your network. They are a useful tool for anyone considering switching jobs, including recent graduates wanting to explore potential career paths or Master’s students considering further graduate work.
What an Informational Interview Is
Informational interviews are short, informal conversations. They are another way to research and build contacts in a new field, institution, or company you are interested in.
What an informational Interview Is Not
An informational interview is not a job interview or an opportunity to ask for a job. This bears repeating because a misunderstanding in this respect will frustrate both you and your interview subject. An informational interview can be a way to show your interest and talk about your career goals with people who may make hiring decisions, but your objective in talking to them should not be to find a job opening.
Where To Start
You might feel awkward asking to talk to people you don’t know, but remember that most people like to talk about their career paths and offer advice. In any case, it’s easiest to start by figuring out who among your current contacts works in or has connections to your field/institution/company of interest. Ask if they can make a digital introduction.
These sorts of cold emails become easier if you develop a form email that can be adapted to each person you contact. Start out by introducing yourself and who suggested you contact them. Next, explain what about them interests you and what you would like to learn more about. Finally, suggest you schedule a 20-minute meeting or a phone call and suggest some times that work for you. That’s it.
Before the Meeting
Once you’ve scheduled your meeting, it’s time to do a bit of prep work. This person is doing you a favour by meeting with you, so you don’t want to waste their time on questions you could have answered with a quick glance at their LinkedIn profile. Do some research on them and their background to develop a set of intelligent questions for them. These could include what initially drew them to the field, how they see the future of their industry, or what sort of training they needed. Consider what information you’d like to get out of the interview and come up some with appropriate questions. Once you break the ice, you can let the conversation flow naturally. But it doesn’t hurt to have some prepared questions to start the conversation off and keep it going if there’s a lull.
During the Meeting
Arrive on time or slightly early for your meeting. Although this is not a job interview, you want to be wearing something nicer than jeans and a t-shirt. Remember your interview etiquette and start with a handshake and thanking them for taking the time to meet with you. To get the conversation going, briefly introduce yourself, talk about your background, and remind them why you wanted to speak with them. From there you can ask one of your questions and let the conversation flow. Let them do most of the talking. You’re here to learn from them not pitch yourself. Feel free to consult your notes or jot down any salient advice. Be respectful of their time and stick to your allotted window.
Before you wrap up, ask who they suggest you contact next to learn more. This is the most important question of the entire interview. If you’re trying to break into a new field you need to gain a few different perspectives as well as build up some contacts. Getting the next contact will ensure the informational interviews don’t come to a dead end. Ask your interviewee to either to send you the person’s contact information or write an introductory email.
After the Meeting
When the meeting is over, make more in-depth notes about what they said and the most important takeaways. With this new information think about what sort of people do you want to talk to next and what new questions you have now. The following day, send them a thank-you email. If you had an especially strong connection you can even follow up in a few months to update them on your meetings with the people they recommended and any career changes you’ve made. After all, there’s no reason an informational interviewee should only be a one-time contact. If you cement the connection they can become an integral part of your network.