August 22nd, 2017

Benefits of the informational interview

With the right preparation, an informational interview can be a great opportunity to introduce yourself to industry leaders, determine the right career path and gain a better understanding of how to advance your chosen career.

Why should you consider informational interviewing?

  • Get firsthand, relevant information about working within a particular field, industry or position.
  • Find out about career paths you didn’t know existed.
  • Get tips about how to prepare for and enter a given career.
  • Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
  • Gain insider knowledge that can help you write your resume and interview well.
  • Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific field.

An important first step is to research the industry and companies that interest you, and identify the right person to interview. Email the person explaining who you are and why you’d like to meet.

How to prepare for an informational interview

  1. Research the company. Visit their website and LinkedIn page to learn about the company. This will show that you’re prepared and respectful of the interviewee’s time.
  2. Learn about the person you’re meeting. You want to gain a better understanding of the interviewee, and you may find that you know some of the same people (a good discussion starter!). LinkedIn is a great place to find the info you need.
  3. Arrive with plenty of good questions. This is your one shot to gain from this person’s experience and knowledge, so ask probing questions on a wide range of topics about the industry, company and roles that interest you.
  4. Bring a notepad. Show the interviewee that you’re serious about learning from their insights. You can benefit from this information later on and they will appreciate your attentiveness.
  5. Wear proper attire. Even though this is not a job interview per se, it’s still a professional meeting and you want to make a good impression. As a general rule, dress for the role you want. If in doubt, it’s better to err on the side of being too formal than not formal enough.
  6. Arrive a few minutes early! Punctuality is a sign of professionalism. So, it’s always better to ensure you’re not tripped up by traffic, a difficult-to-find office or a slow elevator.

Tips for your discussion

Start by thanking the interviewee for taking the time to speak with you. During your informational interview, ask the questions you’ve prepared but be ready to pivot to topics that the interviewee may feel are relevant. Be sure to allow the person to speak openly, but feel free to direct the conversation back to areas you want to cover.

Avoid “selling” yourself and your work history. You are there for information, not to land a job. The interviewee expects this to be a high-level conversation about careers at their company or industry. Keep the conversation at that level or you risk losing their trust.

When finished, thank them again and ask if it’s okay to send follow-up questions if you have any. Also email a short thank-you message to show your appreciation.

Done correctly, the informational interview will help you with career decisions while giving you valuable industry contacts who may, one day, help open the door to the role you want.

You can also read about some of IFSE’s students and how they used what they learned to help with their careers.