Everything You Need to Know About the Informational Interview

Everything You Need to Know About the Informational Interview

We all know the classic interview process that is inescapable for everyone. This is the type of interview you’ve been preparing for your whole life, because it’s the only one anyone has ever told you about. But you’ve probably stumbled across the term informational interview at some point and started to panic. “I have to prepare for another kind of interview and I’m not even sure what it is?” Fear not, my friends—we’ve got you covered. We’ve laid out everything you need to know about the informational interview: what it actually is, how to make it happen, and how to use it as a valuable tool during your internship and job search.

What is an Informational Interview?

According to The Muse, informational interviews are a “hybrid of an amazing networking opportunity, an info-session, and a job interview” where you are the one asking people questions. Informational interviews are a really great way for you to ask someone in a position, company, or industry you’re interested in what it’s like to work there and how to reach that goal. LiveCareer also notes that informational interviews are not based on a specific job opening, but rather is a chance for a student to learn about the industry and the culture around a company. They can be held at mutual, more casual settings like a coffee shop, or it could be you dropping into someone’s office during the workday.

Why Is an Informational Interview Important?

An informational interview is your opportunity to get real insight into what it’s like to work in a position or industry you’re interested in. According to Monster, it’s a “great source of power you can use to your advantage.” The people you are interviewing are great resources and will be able to give you in-depth information about steps you should take to accomplish your career goals because they’ve been in your shoes. Also, the attention is just between the two of you, so you don’t have to fight your way through career fair crowds to try and talk to a recruiter who will only give you the basic spiel. An informational interview can also lead to you getting referrals from other people within the industry you can talk to and get help from. So, it’s a great way to network and discover new opportunities.

Who Should You Ask?

Who you ask all depends on what kind of position you’re interested in. The Muse recommends making a list of companies you want to work for and job titles or positions you’re interested in. “While people who fit on either list are good, someone who works for your dream company and has your dream role is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.” This means you can talk to professors, faculty, mentors, family, and friends to learn more about opportunities. North Carolina State University’s Career Development Center recommends using LinkedIn as a tool to find people within your circle who are connected to jobs or companies you are interested in. Even if you feel awkward reaching out to someone you haven’t met, just remember it never hurts to ask. And if you end up applying with a company later and they recognize your name, they’ll know you’re truly interested.

How Should You Ask?

After you found the right person, it’s all about how you format what you say to make sure you land an interview. First, ask for help. “It’s a proven fact that people love to feel like they are helping others,” The Muse states. So don’t underestimate the power of being humble. You also want to make sure what you’re asking for is clear. If you send something vague, someone won’t know exactly what you’re looking for or how much time you expect to take talking to them. Include a suggestion on when and where you could meet them, and say exactly what you’re hoping to learn from them, like what their job responsibilities are and what it’s like working at their company.

The Muse also suggests having a “hook,” or something that will show why you really want to meet with this person. Do you admire their work? Is their career path similar to what you want? Being more personal can increase your chances of an interview and will show them why you are specifically reaching out to them. And of course, don’t forget to be considerate and accommodating in the way you ask. They are doing you a favor, so work around their busy schedule. If they can only give you 15 minutes or a quick phone call, take it and come prepared with your questions.

What Should You Do During the Interview?

While you aren’t the one answering most of the questions, informational interviews are still a professional meeting and should be treated as such. Dress to impress and do your research. Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, told Forbes that you should treat an informational interview just like a traditional one and do your research on the company and the person you are meeting. Forbes recommends having at least five questions ready that are valuable and relevant, and to bring your résumé just in case they have time to look over it. The Muse explains you should also avoid looking like you’re just trying to find any job. You’re asking for advice, not a position. And even if that’s the case, if you mention that to them, they may just redirect you to HR and you’re back at square one.

Teach also mentioned to Forbes that you should try and impress your interviewer. “Be enthusiastic and impress them by being articulate about what your background is and why you would be an ideal candidate for any type of job you’re looking for.” No one will recommend you if you come off as unprepared and unengaged. But Teach also says not to put too much pressure on yourself. Since it’s not a job interview, you can relax a little more.

How Do You Follow Up After an Informational Interview?

Hopefully, by the end of the interview, they’ll give you some referrals on who you can contact to get more help from and advice. When you reach out to those people, remember your interviewer’s reputation is on the line as well as yours. If they haven’t given you referrals, Forbes suggests asking at the end of the interview if they can recommend what your next steps should be. And, as always, follow up with a thank you note or email. Teach told Forbes that an email or thank you note should be sent within two days of the interview, and make sure you express how much you appreciated them talking to you.

Been on an informational interview before? What tips do you have about your experience? Let me know in the comments below!

Featured photo by @lizbreuer