A Guide to Informational Interviews: Grow Your Career

Informational Interview Guide

Informational interviews are great ways to create professional connections and work toward the next step in your career. Whether you want to move up in your industry or change fields altogether, gathering information from people you respect can help you get closer to achieving your goals.

With more people working from home these days due to the COVID pandemic, now’s an opportunity to reach out for video calls with people you want to learn from. Here’s why you should consider informational interviews and how to have successful ones.

Reasons to Set Up Informational Interviews

What is an informational interview, exactly? It’s an informal conversation where you can learn more about the professional life of the person you’re talking to.

Informational interviews give you a way to connect with someone who has the job title you’re interested in yourself. They can also help you learn more about a new industry you’re considering, so you can figure out if it’s actually something you want to pursue.

Informational interviews provide the following benefits.

  1. They’re networking opportunities. Showing interest in someone you admire can help you form a valuable relationship. An informational interview could lead to a job referral down the line. Or you might gain a new friend you can glean professional insights from in the future.
  2. They help you learn more about diverse career paths. How you envision a certain position or field may be totally different than reality. Informational interviews can help you hone in on the career journey you want to take. They can help you save time from applying for jobs you actually wouldn’t be interested in or are a fit for. They can clue you in to the steps to take to land your dream career.
  3. They provide interview practice. Informational interviews provide conversation practice, which is a helpful skill to have if you find yourself interviewing for a job in the future. They give you an opportunity to practice asking someone else questions, another helpful skill in actual job interviews. They also provide insights that might be beneficial to know for next time you’re in an interview.

You can do informational interviews with higher-ups at your current company. These can provide opportunities to develop a mentor/mentee relationship, if you’re looking for someone to guide you in your current career path.

You can also approach someone using LinkedIn or via a connection through your network. You can comb through your current contacts to identify people who are in positions that interest you. Or, reach out to your personal contacts to see if they know someone who might be willing to talk with you about the industry you’re interested in.

How to Set Up an Informational Interview

Once you’ve identified the person you want to interview, contact them to ask them if they’d be willing to meet with you. Explain:

  1. Why you’re approaching them: Tell them why you are interested in talking with them and offer gratitude for their consideration.
  2. What they can expect from the meeting: Set up expectations for how long the interview will be and give the person you’re approaching an idea of the types of questions you’ll ask or the information you’ll be seeking.

Provide flexibility to make the interview convenient to the person you’re approaching. Offer to make the interview work for whatever time or day is best for them. Let them choose the format – in-person, where you’ll meet them, or online in a video conference.

Tips for a Successful Informational Interview

After the meeting is set, make sure you’re prepared for the informational interview so you maximize its effectiveness and appear professional to the person you’re interviewing. Use these tips.

1. Research the person you’re interviewing.

You can do this by connecting on LinkedIn and looking at their career history. Maybe the person you’re interviewing has a website or has been featured in the news recently.

Go into the interview with some background on the person you’re talking with, so you have talking points that move the conversation forward.

2. Write out a list of questions.

Writing out questions beforehand will prepare you to keep the conversation going. Prepare with a top 10 list of questions you’d love answered. These can be questions like:

  • How has your career path taken you to where you are today?
  • What do you think is essential preparation for the role you’re in?
  • What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your job?
  • What advice do you have for someone who’d like to be where you are today?

Go into the interview with your questions, but allow for flexibility while you’re talking. You’ll want to actively listen to the person you’re talking to and ask follow-up questions to their points where there’s value. Be willing to go off your script, because you might be inspired with new questions as they talk.

3. Take notes.

You may want to reference the interview later. Taking notes ensures you can go back and look at insights when you need to. It also shows the person you’re talking to that you’re paying attention and value what they have to say.

You might also consider bringing a tape recorder to an in-person interview, or asking permission to record the interview over video. Always ask permission before recording an interview.

4. Thank the interviewee and follow up.

At the end of the informational interview, thank the person who has talked with you for their time. Ask permission to send them follow-up questions if they have them.

If you genuinely enjoyed the conversation and want to maintain a relationship with the person you’ve interviewed, let them know. This can lead to a mentor relationship or a deeper networking connection.

If you’re still interested in the person’s industry or career path after the interview, sending a written note again thanking them for their time can help you stay at top of mind. If a position opens up in the future, or if you find yourself on the job hunt, this final step of gratitude can make a positive difference in establishing a relationship.

Get More Career Tips

Networking is an important part of career success. With informational interviews, you can build meaningful relationships while also learning valuable information that can help you in your career journey.

For guidance on how to prepare for interviews and other individual career services, contact HiConsulting for a free consultation.

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