Whether you are a student considering the future or an experienced professional looking to advance your career, informational interviews are a valuable tool to help get your job search started. But what, exactly, is an informational interview and how can you ensure it’s a good use of everyone’s time?
In essence, an informational interview is an opportunity to learn more about someone else and what they do. It is NOT, NOT, NOT a job interview…nor is it a plea for a job…nor an opportunity to provide your resume. It is an investment of your time to learn about someone. That’s it.
So why would you ever do an informational interview? Because you think someone is interesting; or something they do is interesting; they might be a future member of your network; they might become a mentor; they might put you in touch with another person who sparks your future.
Let's assume you’re on board with the concept of an informational interview. “How do I do it?” Glad you asked. Here are my tips for conducting an informational interview.
- Know what you want to learn. You should identify the topics that you want to learn about. This will also help you determine the appropriate people to contact.
- Find the right people. If you know what you want to learn, ask your manager, mentor or someone else who they would recommend you talk to and why. This will give you the information you need to initiate contact.
- Schedule a conversation not to exceed 30 minutes. The person you’re talking with is probably busy, so let them know that you will limit your conversation to 30 minutes. If your interviewees want to spend more time with you, they will.
- Have a great starting question. Your first question will get the entire conversation underway. You may want to start with something like “What was your career path that brought you to your current position?” or “What kind of knowledge does someone in your position need?” Have 3-5 good questions ready, but know that might only need your first great question.
- Listen. This is kind of a “duh,” but to actively listen takes a lot of work. You need to concentrate, respond appropriately and build upon the conversation – this is called active listening.
- Don’t take notes. This might seem counter-intuitive, but taking notes means that you are concentrating on writing something down rather than concentrating on the person talking. Definitely jot down a question that comes up or any major ideas that you want to remember or follow up on. Just remember that your primary purpose is to focus on the person in front of you.
- Use the ultimate final question. At the end of every interview, ask “Who else would you recommend that I talk to about <insert your topic>?” This opens up additional opportunities for you to talk to others as you can start with “X said that I should contact you to talk about <insert your topic>.” Not only is it an easy way to initiate contact, but you’ll learn even more about others in your company.
- Send a thank-you note or email. This is super important. Someone just gave you 30 minutes out of their very busy schedule - the least you can do is say thanks. Additionally, make sure you send the thank-you no later than 48 hours after the interview.
So that’s it – eight easy steps to an informational interview. Once back at your desk, feel free to write down notes about your interview. As you reflect on your notes and your experiences from the interviews, you’ll realize that every interview is a development opportunity – it gives you the chance to make yourself known, to develop your knowledge of the company, to expand your network, and to increase your knowledge in a topic. Informational interviews are a great tool for your professional development, but it’s up to you to use them.