Informational Interview

An interview that is more casual and more discussion-based rather than question-and-answer focused.

You want to learn more about a company and the career of a professional you admire, but you are unsure where to start. This article will provide insights into every aspect of an informational interview, from asking to have a conversation to following up after the chat. 

Informational Interview Tips

An informational interview is an interview, but more casual and more discussion-based rather than question-and-answer focused. It is an excellent opportunity to learn about a company or an individual's path to success.

It is typically set up once you have met someone through networking, but it can also be set up through someone who knows the person you want to interview or over LinkedIn

These interviews can be purely informational or beneficial to gain the upper hand when looking to apply for a position. Knowing the industry and connections within the company, you plan on using is often advantageous. 

Keep in mind that the purpose of the interview is rarely to promote yourself for a job opening. While it may lead to a position in the company, the interview should be a discussion rather than selling yourself to the individual. 

This type of interview is an excellent opportunity to control the conversation in a less stressful environment than a traditional interview. These conversations can also boost your confidence in speaking professionally, which can help your interview skills.

You can often learn much more about a company and industry through an individual rather than on the Internet. An insider of a company can often speak more about the qualitative aspects like company culture and training details. 

Office room

It may feel awkward to reach out to strangers and ask for a conversation, but most people will be happy to discuss their professional life and provide advice.

There are no disadvantages to participating in an informational interview. At any stage of your career, talking to someone about a job you are interested in can be beneficial. Moreover, having an expansive professional network of contacts is also helpful. 

Some of the most common reasons for initiating an interview are:

  • Explore career options
  • Expand your professional network
  • Gain insight into a company
  • Evaluate your professional skills and weaknesses
  • Build confidence in conversations
  • Access relevant, updated information about a company or industry

Before the Informational Interview

It would help if you thought about potential companies and industries in which you would like to work. After you have a better idea of what you are looking for, numerous methods exist to look for someone. 

hand shake

Initiate Contact

Steps to initiate contacts are:

  1. Asking friends, family, and peers if they know anyone in your desired career is a great place to start. You'd be surprised by the connections some people have. 

  2. Exploring LinkedIn is another option but requires cold emailing through the messaging service. You can start by looking at your university's alum network, as alums are often more generous with their time for fellow graduates of their school.

  3. Attending networking events is an excellent opportunity to have those initial conversations that could lead to an interview.

  4. Having random conversations with strangers can often lead to interviews. You never know if the person sitting next to you on the plane is working in your desired industry. 

It is always important to be respectful of their time and give them options when contacting someone to set up an interview. 

If you don't know the individual, provide a brief introduction. Begin with your name and current occupation to give a little background. 

Next, mention how you came across their email or LinkedIn. If someone told you about this individual, make sure that you say your mutual connection. 

After this brief introduction, get straight to the point and ask if they would be free at some point to chat. Again, define a short time in your request (30 minutes or less) to ensure you do not take up too much of their busy schedule.

Clock

You may want to provide a few dates and times you are free or let them give a few times.

Finish the message with a warm closing such as "I look forward to speaking with you" or "I appreciate your time and thank you in advance."

Example Message

Below is an example of a LinkedIn message or email:

Subject: Jackson-Informational Interview Request

Dear Mr. Johnson,

My name is Jackson, and I am currently studying economics at UCLA. My colleague Tim suggested I reach out to you because you work in an industry I am exploring. I find your work incredibly interesting and would love to learn more about it.

I hope you might have 20 to 30 minutes to meet with me in the next couple of weeks to discuss your path to becoming a financial advisor and your experience. 

Please let me know what dates and times work best for you. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely, 

Jackson

Remember that this is just one example of a message you could send. Keep the news short and professional.

Hello

You may also want to include your phone number and email below your name at the end to make it easier for your potential interviewee to contact you later.

In addition, it can be helpful for the individual if you attach your LinkedIn or resume so that they can get a brief background on you.

Finally, always proofread your email because sending a typo is not the best first impression. 

Preparing for the Interview

Since you are the one who initiated contact, you should show up to the interview prepared and excited. This involved some preparation, including researching the individual and brainstorming some questions.

Laptop

To learn a little about the individual, you can visit their LinkedIn. Also, research the company they work for on the Internet. 

Prepare a brief introduction of yourself and what you hope to get out of the meeting. This is similar to your elevator pitch. Also, emphasize that you are excited about the discussion and ensure that you thank them for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you.

It can be frustrating for the person who agreed to meet with you if you consume 10 of the 20-minute interview talking about yourself. So, keep the introduction under a minute. 

Additionally, the person you're interviewing might ask other questions concerning your interests and past experiences. So, be prepared with some ideas of how to answer these types of questions.

Brainstorm 10 to 15 questions to ask depending on how the conversation goes. You can have personal (related to their career path) and professional questions (related to their company or profession).

It isn't easy to anticipate what they will touch on in their discussion, so ensure you have many potential questions to keep the conversation flowing and productive. Some examples of questions are listed under "During the Informational Interview."

Finally, you should know how to pronounce the person's name correctly.

Question mark

During the Informational Interview

After thoroughly preparing for the interview, you will be a lot less stressed when the interview day comes around.

If the interview is over the phone, make sure you are in a quiet setting where there are no distractions. If it is in-person, you must show up at least 10 minutes early and dress appropriately. 

Plant

While business formal is likely unnecessary, you should consider dressing up in business casual and looking neat and presentable.

It is recommended to bring a pen and notebook to record some discussion topics and helpful advice that the person provides. For example, if they provide a website or organization you should look into, you can write it down for future reference.

You don't need to write down everything they say because you want to be engaged in the conversation, but jot down important information.

Similar to a traditional interview, maintain good eye contact and posture. Be positive and concise with your answers. 

When the conversation begins, it will likely start with them asking you about yourself and what you hope to get out of the conversation. However, if they do not ask a question, take the initiative and explain your hopes for the discussion along with a brief introduction.

It would help if you were prepared to direct the interview and let the conversation flow naturally. The goal is to learn from the person you're interviewing, so they should do most of the talking.

Examples of Questions

Statue

Below are examples of questions you can ask the professional:

  1. What does a typical day in your position look like?

  2. Were there any experiences in college/early on in your career that you would recommend I pursue?

  3. What were some keys to your career advancement?

  4. What are essential skills/strengths to be successful in your position/industry? 

  5. Why did you decide to work in this industry?

  6. What accomplishments do you believe set you apart in this industry?

  7. What new skills have you learned since working in this industry?

  8. What certifications or licenses are required or recommended for your position?

what is your story

9. What does training for your position look like? (Helpful for students seeking internships)

10. What is your favorite element of your job?

11. Is there anything you wish you knew before entering this field/getting this job?

12. Can you recommend any educational opportunities I should pursue?

13. Are there any individuals in the industry you can refer me to?

14. What is the career ladder for your position?

15. What are the future trends for this industry?

At the end of the discussion, whether it comes to a natural or abrupt conclusion, thank the individual for their time. Remember that to be respectful of their time; you may have to cut off the conversation when the predetermined time is reached.

For example, you may say, "I want to be mindful of your time as I know you have a busy schedule, so I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk with me."

You can also conclude by asking if you can contact them in the future with other questions or ask if they know anyone else you should talk to. 

Women

After the Informational Interview

You learned a lot and established a good connection with the interviewed individual. Now what?

Send a thank-you note within one or two days after your interview. Make sure to express appreciation for them taking the time out of their busy schedules to talk with you. You could deliver a handwritten note or an email if this interview were in person. 

It is a good idea to include specific details from your conversation in your thank-you note to show that you were paying attention and appreciate their comments. For example, maybe you can mention that you are pursuing an opportunity they said.

Sticky note

Keep in touch with the individual, especially if the conversation went well. You can message them on LinkedIn to connect. Make sure not to use the default invitation message, but mention that you look forward to staying in contact.

You should also review the interview while it is fresh in your mind and plan around the advice the person provided. Some questions you can ask yourself are:

  • What did I learn from this conversation?
  • Is there anything I can look into to better prepare myself for this industry?
  • What do I still want to know?
  • Does this position/industry align with my interests and strengths?

Example of a Thank-You Letter

Below is an example of a thank-you message:

Subject: Jackson-Thank you for meeting with me

Dear Mr. Johnson,

Thank you for meeting with me yesterday to talk about your career as a financial advisor and how you got to where you are today. I now have a much better understanding of the industry and the path to get there.

I am looking into the courses you recommended on Wall Street Oasis and have decided to continue looking into becoming a Certified Financial Planner.

I have also contacted your colleague, Anthony, to set up a meeting to speak with him.

I appreciate your meeting with me, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Sincerely,

Jackson  

Maintaining this connection is essential to expanding your professional network. Many job opportunities will arise from people you know.

Key Takeaways

  • You are not asking for a job, but are learning about the individual and career.
  • Be prepared for the interview with questions and research the individual and company.
  • You can arrange an interview by cold emailing, through an alumni network, via friends or peers, and at networking events.
  • Be an attentive listener and take notes of important information.
  • Always follow up within 2 days to thank them for their time.
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Researched and authored by Jackson Hartz | LinkedIn

Reviewed and Edited by Hongmo Liu | LinkedIn

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