Regardless of where you are in your career, informational interviews are arguably the most important thing you can do to boost career success.
They can help you:
It all comes down to the power of networking—when you connect with other people, endless (and often unpredictable) possibilities arise.
According to a recent article published in Business Insider, anywhere from 70-85% of jobs are found through networking—and informational interviews are a great way to network, especially if you’re an introvert (like me!).
But let’s be honest—reaching out to someone you don’t know to set up a meeting can be intimidating.
That’s why I’m sharing all the steps to follow to successfully and professionally conduct informational interviews, so you can feel confident as you embark on this oh-so-important endeavour.
(Psssst… you can read about my recent personal experience with informational interviews in part 2 of the “My Career Change” series.)
In this article, you’ll learn:
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a meeting in which a job seeker, career changer, or happily employed individual sits down with someone they look up to in their industry (or desired industry) for the purpose of getting advice, clarity, industry knowledge, and/or building a mutually beneficial connection.
An informational interview should be about building a two-way, authentic relationship. Offer as much value as you can, wherever you see opportunity. Be genuine, curious, helpful, and avoid icky-feeling schmoozing for feel-good success!
Who should I ask for an informational interview?
To answer this, it’s helpful to first determine the purpose of your interview: Is it to get clarity on what you want to do? To find a job? Or simply to make a new connection and see where it leads?
Who you contact will depend on your purpose:
Where do I find the right people for an informational interview?
Now that you have an idea of what kind of person you want to have a meeting with, it’s time to make a list of specific people to reach out to.
I recommend creating a spreadsheet that includes the following:
Once you’ve done that, here are some ways to find people (ideally in this order):
1. Start with people you know. You’re more likely to get a “yes” to an informational interview invite from someone you know.
Brainstorm a list of people you already know who meet your criteria for an informational interview. Also, remember that following up with someone you’ve met an event or conference for an informational interview is a great way to stay in touch.
2. Think of people you know who could introduce you to someone. Again, this increases your chances of a “yes” if you use an existing connection to introduce yourself.
Reach out to any contacts you have who might know someone in your field-of-interest, or post on social media that you’re looking to connect with people in “X” industry. Facebook or LinkedIn groups are also a great place to connect with potential interviewees, or people who could introduce you to a potential interviewee.
3. Research people on LinkedIn. Research the position, industry, or company you are interested in connecting with, using the “People” tab on LinkedIn’s search tool. Get more specific results by using the “Filter” options on the right-hand sidebar.
Someone who is a 2nd connection means you have at least one mutual connection—view your mutual connections on their profile and ask that connection to introduce you if it feels appropriate.
If you don’t have any mutual connections with someone you want to reach out to, don’t worry! Cold emails/messages have a surprisingly high success rate when phrased the right way (and I’ve shared a link to some great templates to follow in the next section). Personally, I’ve had an 80% success rate in asking people who I don’t know at all for interviews! If I have any kind of connection at all, that success rate is 100%.
How do I request one from someone I have no connection to?
Things to keep in mind any time you are requesting an informational interview (whether you have a pre-existing connection to them or not):
If you’re requesting an informational interview from someone you have no connection to:
BONUS NOTE: Before reaching out to someone for an informational interview, make sure you’re happy with how your online presence looks—chances are they’ll give you a solid “creep” before they respond.
Once the meeting is secured, how do I prepare?
The questions you ask will vary depending on whether you are primarily looking for clarity (i.e., is this a field you want to pursue?), or to make a connection (i.e., Would your ideal outcome would be a referral for a job, or a new business opportunity?).
Below are some generic sample informational interview questions. However, I highly recommended that you come up with questions of your own, to figure out what it is that YOU need to know.
Come up with your top 3 questions that you absolutely must ask. Have another 5 questions prepared in case you have time.
Worried the interview might be awkward? Depending on your connection with the person, sometimes that’s just part of the process. However, preparing your questions, as well as making sure you’ve done your research on them ahead of time, will help to ensure a less awkward meeting.
Once the meeting is over, how do I keep the connection alive?
It’s important to maintain connections following an informational interview, to see where there might be opportunities to support each other moving forward. Kristin Vandegriend, from My Career Story, believes that having a strategy for follow-up is the most important piece of the informational interviewing process.
Stephanie Brown, author of "Fired: Why losing your job is the best thing that can happen to you", recommends sending a follow-up thank you email immediately after an interview, thanking the interviewee for their time. She then recommends keeping the connection alive by sending another follow-up email 2 weeks later.
Brown also suggests writing down at least one of the “3 i’s” immediately after your interview, so you can refer to it in the 2-week follow-up email.
When following up with one of the 3 i’s, it’s also a great opportunity to ask how they’ve been doing, let them know you enjoyed your previous meeting, and see if they’d like to meet up again!
How can I use informational interviewing to land a job?
Informational interviews can be a great way to land a job--especially a job that is unlikely to ever be posted (i.e., most jobs!).
However, landing a job using informational interviewing is a long game—it’s not something that’s likely to happen overnight, or even in a few weeks. This is a strategy that typically takes anywhere from 3 months to 1 year.
Because informational interviews are about building genuine, authentic, two-way relationships—and building these kinds of relationships takes time!
This is one of the reasons it’s beneficial to regularly conduct informational interviews, even if you’re happily employed. As I’ve written about before, job security is on its way out, so pre-emptively building relationships and networking through one-on-one meetings is smart; we never know what might happen in the future.
Here are some steps to follow if you want to land a job using informational interviews:
1. Set up at least 20-25 different interviews with people at each of your dream companies. (Avoid setting up interviews at companies that are hiring for the type of work you offer—employers are wary of people trying to skip the queue!)
2. Don’t tell the interviewee you’re looking for a job (just like you wouldn’t tell someone on a first date you’re looking to get married)—instead, let them know you’re seeking their advice on your next career move.
3. Karen Begemann, from Work Matters Consulting, recommends allowing informational interviews to unfold in 3 layers:
Layer 1: Get curious about the interviewee. Ask about how long they’ve been at the company, their role, and their work history.
Layer 2: Ask about the future of their company, and where they see it heading.
Layer 3: Ask what challenges the company faces, or the interviewee faces with their team.
At every layer, listen for the challenges/problems that are mentioned, and where you might be able to help.
4. Once the relationship is well established, and you have a good sense of the challenges the interviewee or the company faces, let them know if you think you can help. Ask if you can pass on some suggestions, and be helpful where you can.
Begemann emphasizes the importance of not sounding like you’re asking for work at any stage during the informational interview process—employers don’t want to feel like they’ve been manipulated.
Again, just build a relationship like you would naturally! People can smell desperation or if you have an ulterior motive. If your hope for a meeting is to eventually get a job, make sure you also want to genuinely connect with the person you’re interviewing, and that you are truly seeking their counsel.
So that’s it!
Remember: things in the real world don’t always happen in the way I’ve outlined in this article, so tune into your gut and your intuition throughout the process about what feels appropriate.
You got this!
I can’t help but mention the old dating metaphor, because informational interviewing and dating really do have a lot in common: You’re probably not going to find someone to marry if you ask everyone to marry you on the first date. So take it slow.
On that note... how many married people have you heard say they wish they’d just relaxed and enjoyed being single more? So don’t forget to relax, have fun, and enjoy the process 😉
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