What is an informational interview: the A – Z.
Is there such a thing as good interviews? You bet.
So, let’s make today different by talking about the good kind of interviews – informational interviews.
All our lives, we’ve believed interviews to be interrogations where the interviewer rains down questions after questions. And, we’re expected to give brilliant answers that impress the questioner down to the bones. Easier said than done.
But I’m happy to be the bearer of good news.
Buckle down as we dig into what is an informational interview, how you can get one, and how you can prepare for it. We'll also look at questions to ask in an informational interview.
Informational interviews are interviews like their name suggests. But here’s the interesting bit – you’re the one who interviews and asks questions you’ve about a company or field.
It’s a brain picking session that satisfies the curious cat inside us.
The beauty of informational conversations is that you don’t need to be higher up in the work tier to be able to conduct them. You could be switching careers or looking to secure your dream job. Or you could be in the phase you’re still figuring out what you’re good at.
Let’s get to it: informational interview definition
An informational interview is a chat with someone who can give you the inside scoop about a job or industry. The interview offers networking perks and a way to gather first-hand occupational information.
Some ground rules:
- Never ask for a favor at the end of a chat unless it crops up itself, in which case consider yourself very lucky.
- Strike a memorable impression. Crack a good joke. Do your research before the interview.
- Just as reading one opinion piece in The New Yorker is never enough to shape your POV, talking to one person isn’t enough. Talk to several people before you can see the complete picture of benefits.
And in case you’re wondering, why would people talk to you, get this: people love talking about themselves.
So, what is the purpose of an informational interview?
The main idea is to learn about a company's culture, the role you're gunning for, and even the salary.
But that's not all. Deep down, the purpose of an informational interview is to build relationships. And, grow your network – not by numbers alone, but by valuable connections.
Let’s suppose you’re planning to get your business going. Who do you think can tell you how to take your business off the ground?
The internet? Nope.
An entrepreneur who’s been there? Yep, you got that right.
You can ask interviewees about their motivation and how they chose between entrepreneurship and startup life. You can also question their idea of hustling to grow a successful business. Whatever it is.
What are the benefits of an informational interview?
You grow your network and you learn insider info. What more?
Here’s a rundown of the benefits of an informational interview:
Clarity about the company or industry you’re targeting
Sure you can Google the company. But Google can never tell what an insider can. Particularly, if you ask your interviewee questions that are unanswered on the internet.
Jess Smith, a career coach who has experienced the benefits of informational interviews first-hand shares that these give us, “a glimpse into a particular career before actually taking the leap into a position.”
An informational interview, however, can be just the eye-opener needed. Jess is a prime example herself. Informational interviewing saved her from choosing a career in Talent Development, something that she realized later on wasn’t her cup of tea later on.
Opportunity to land the job in the long run
You read that right. Here’s proof:
- Networking fills 85% of all the jobs
- 80% (!) of all the job openings are never advertised
- Employee referrals make up 40% of all the new hires
No wonder having connections within a company opens doors for unadvertised positions.
Makes networking easy for you
Networking is hard work. Particularly for the introverts out there. Heck, most of us even think networking is dirty work.
But considering the merits it brings to the table, you can’t quit it. Even if you want to.
Good news is informational conversations can cushion the networking blow. Moreover, you meet people one at a time instead of meeting and greeting a roomful of suited-booted professionals. That calms some of the anxiety, doesn’t it?
So you know what benefits you can drive from an informational conversation. Question now is – how do you request for an informational interview?
How to ask for an informational interview
Not to be Debbie Downer, but getting an interviewee to say yes can be a little tough. Not as hard as getting your better half to say yes to your proposal, but still it takes work. Especially with people not having the time to chat.
So, expect some rejections to come your way. But don’t let those get to you. And follow the steps below to set up a successful informational interview:
1. Kick things by identifying who you want to interview.
Common sense tells us people very high up in the chain might not have the time to chat. And, those on the opposite end, may not have much say in the hiring process or know of any job openings.
So your best bet is the middle tier – someone in an aspirational role. You can better tell who you should talk to once your goal is clear.
- If you want to get some clarity about what you’d like to do next in your career, talk to someone who’s doing the job you want to do
- If you’re aiming to land a job, connect with someone who’s higher than your desired position
- If you’re planning a career switch, speak with someone in that industry, who inspires you or an influencer
2. Next, add all the information in a sheet.
Either set up an Excel sheet of all the people you wish to talk to or make notes in a dairy.
The idea is to keep information handy. Add each person’s name, note their company, the major reason you wish to speak with them, and their email address.
Use email finders like Hunter.io or Respona. Or find their emails from LinkedIn contact information. Don’t forget to identify any mutual connections that you may have – these people can help set you up for a chat.
A proper intro gives you a good start at building strong connections with the person you’re meeting.
Don’t have a mutual connection to introduce you? Don’t sweat it. You can create a powerful network and a chain of introductions as you go. More on this in a bit.
3. Finally, reach out to the person.
You’ve two options moving forward:
A - Connect on social media first, then send an invite.
By doing so, your chances of getting a response from the interviewee go up. They’d be familiar with you before you invite them for a chat, which turns the tide in your favor.
B - Send an email invite.
Technically, this is called cold pitching. And these, in particular, are successful when you send them out in numbers.
Either way, your message to the person you’re meaning to chat with should be:
1 - Short and concise
Would you read a novel-length email that doesn’t say what the sender wants until the very end? No, right? So why put someone else through such agony.
Go ahead and talk about why you’re emailing in two lines. Then, go on to introduce yourself in a line or two.
Here’s a script template you can use to ask for an informational interview:
Hi [target name]
Hope my message finds you in good health. I’m a fan of your work [go into the specifics here]. I was hoping you could give me 30 minutes from your busy schedule. I wanted to learn how you got into this role and get your advice on how to get into a similar role.
To introduce myself, I’m a [tell about yourself], also a book lover [share common interest] like you (historical fiction, forever).
Note what this informational interview email does:
- Tell them what you admire about them (shows your appreciation for them – good way to win hearts)
- Acknowledges they’re busy and your interview won’t take long (30 minutes)
- Tells exactly what you’re looking for (informational conversation)
Jess also recommends calling an informational interview a "coffee date," which sounds a lot more fun and casual.
2 - Convenient for the interviewee.
One more thing that your chat request needs to do – make it very easy for the prospect to say yes. So set the time and location according to their convenience. Or even have chat in their office.
Your informational interview email can continue on like this:
I’d be more than happy to visit your office or treat you to a coffee nearby. Would next week suit you?
Remember, aim for a face-to-face meeting. Virtual meetings are cool (and comfortable, I know). But, in-person chats bring physical proximity to the table – an essential for building new relationships.
How to prepare for an informational interview?
Unless you’re good at asking questions and making friends, you’ll need to prepare. Without it, you’re at risk of ending up with regrets of not having asked so and so questions. Not to forget, asking already asked questions reflects poor preparation.
Sum all this up and you’ve a disappointed interviewee instead of an impressed on. Your score? Zero.
So, let’s get to work:
1 - Put on your researcher’s hat.
Research the person you’ll be interviewing as well as the company they work with. You can gather information from:
- LinkedIn and other social channels
- Google. Hit the ‘news’ tab to learn the latest
- Company website. Visit the About page as well as the blog
Let’s say you’ve an informational interview with someone over at SproutSocial. Where do you start reading on them? Assuming you’ve already researched the team over at LinkedIn (when finding who to connect with), go on to their website.
You’ll note they’ve a Company section. It gives you a good opportunity to explore the company, their values, and even their employees. In their About Sprout section, you can also find info about their team.
Next, you should check out the company's social networks. You’ll learn what the team’s up to lately as well as get more information on teammates. For example, you can learn a lot on their YouTube channel:
This research work will help you understand questions to ask in an informational interview. You’ll also know what’s covered on the blog, so you wouldn’t be asking questions that you can get answers to online.
2 - Plan icebreaker questions.
Just as you need an appetizer (baked chicken wings, anyone?) to get a dinner party rolling, you need icebreaker questions to jumpstart a conversation.
Remember, you don’t want to bore people with small talk.
What you can do is put your research to work and kick start the chat with something you learned about the person from their LinkedIn profile. Better yet, start with a shared interest (if any). It’s a far more authentic and meaningful way of growing a relationship.
3 - Prepare your mindset.
Before you dive in, you need a thorough mind detox. Remind yourself you aren’t going in to get yourself a job. You can in the long haul, but that’s not your immediate goal. Your immediate goal is learning.
Go full in with a curious mind and a journalistic spirit that asks questions, talks less, and listens more. Like Jess puts it approach informational interviewing as a “fun way to make new friends, to connect with new people, to hear interesting stories”
So why take nervous jitters to the interview when you can take curiosity and enthusiasm?
Last on this list, prepare a list of informational interview questions to ask. But which ones?
Questions to ask in an informational interview.
Compiling a list of generic questions is a piece of cake. What’s tough is asking what you want to ask. The research you’ve been doing up until this point can help you draft interesting questions.
Here are some informational interview questions:
About the person you’re interviewing:
- How did you get into your field?
- What does your typical work day look like?
About the challenges their job brings to the table:
- What are some things you wish you knew before you joined this job?
- What are some of the challenges of your position?
About the job itself:
- What are some skills and experiences that suit this job/field?
- Who succeeds in this role/field?
You can also go on to share your background and ask how it fits into the picture. For instance, I could ask, “I have a background in content marketing, how do you think I can leverage my experience as a marketer in this field/job?”
Bonus: [Introvert special] How to keep the damn conversation going?
Many of us think questioning makes us sound dumb, even silly. We assume we may come across as incompetent. But that’s our mind playing games with us.
In reality, asking questions improves interpersonal bonding, learning, and even likability.
Ask follow-up questions – ones that ask for more details, prompting more information. By asking several follow-up questions, you make the other person feel heard. And as HBR notes, “They [follow-up questions] signal to your conversation partner that you are listening, care, and want to know more.”
Nearing the end? Lay out the ground for another informational interview
We’ve come a long way. Now let’s also make the end count.
Do these two things: One, ask the interviewee to recommend someone else you could speak with. Depending on how well the chat goes, you can even ask the person to introduce you to that person.
Two, ask for an action. Jess recommends, “ask the interviewee for an action step to learn more. Maybe it's a book to read, a video to watch or another person to talk to. Go do that action step and once complete, you can circle back with the interviewee to let them know how it went!”
So hosting an informational conversation isn’t hard, is it?
Post information interview tips – what to do when it’s all wrapped up?
Now that you’ve had the main course, treat your interviewee to dessert. Three things can help make your entire informational conversation productive:
- Send an email or a handwritten note to thank the person for their time
- Add them to your LinkedIn network to keep in touch
- Make notes – what were your 3 major takeaways from the chat? What’s the one thing you learned about the person you didn’t know?
You can also express your gratitude – a public, heartfelt display of gratitude is even better. Imagine how it would enhance your interviewees reputation in their office!
Tying it all together
Ready to set up an informational interview and grow? We’re hoping this post answered all your questions. Remember to be your positive self. Pessimism is a buzzkill and you don’t want to end the party before it even begins.
Looking to up-level your career or land your next dream job? Join F4S for free today.