5 Tips for a Successful Informational Interview
February 28, 2022
Are you thinking about entering a career, industry, or company, but you have questions that you wish you could ask someone?
If so, you are prime for doing an Informational Interview.
Informational Interviews are conversations with key people that help you gain information and advice about the companies you are targeting, industries you’re interested in getting into, and the career goals that you’re considering. As an added advantage, these interviews can help you develop your professional network and your relationship building skills.
It’s imperative that you keep this one thing in mind: Informational Interviews are NOT about asking for a job!
However, through these conversations, you can learn what employers are looking for in new hires, the trends in specific industries, plus which hard and soft skills you should focus on. You can also build a professional relationship that does, in the end, lead to an actual job, so don’t discount the benefits to your job hunt altogether.
So how can you get the most out of an informational interview? Here are 5 tips:
1. Be prepared before you set up your meeting
Prior to reaching out for to set up the interview, there are a few things you should get in place:
- A formatted resume – Though you are not using this conversation to ask for a job, your resume will help them understand who you are, what you’ve done, and where you’re hoping to go. This will help them get a sense of who you are prior to your interview.
- A completed LinkedIn profile – Make sure everything is up to date because it’s highly likely that they’ll check you out sometime before your meeting.
- A targeted list of 5-10 companies that you think might be a good fit for where you’d like to go next. Even if the list is just a guess at where you think you’d like to be, it serves as a starting point and can create context for your conversation as well as your job search.
2. Aim to make a great impression
Some of the things you need to do to make a great impression are obvious: Be early for your meeting and dress professionally (even if it’s a virtual meeting!). But there’s more that you can do to leave a great impression:
Be gracious by thanking them for meeting with you both at the beginning and at the end of the conversation. This step is crucial! They are taking time out of their day to help you, and so it’s important that they know that you are aware of this and that you aren’t taking it for granted.
Since YOU asked for the meeting, it’s your job to run it. After your initial greeting and saying thank you, get to your questions. Your being prepared will show them that you respect their time and it could increase your chances of being introduced to new contacts.
When you put in the time and effort to make a great impression – through your graciousness, preparation, and professionalism – you deepen your professional relationship with the person you are meeting with. The chances of them thinking of you if an opportunity comes up increases dramatically!
3. Do your research
Do some initial research so it’s clear you already know a bit about the topic you’ll be asking about.
Now to be clear – the Informational Interview is a form of research! What I’m saying here is… don’t go in with a blank slate. There are things you can learn online so start there. Then use the Informational Interview to deepen your understanding.
This means that instead of asking, “What does a person in this role do?”, you can say: “I understand that this role involves doing x, y, and z. Can you tell me a little bit more about what a person in this role does beyond that?”
When it’s clear that you already know a bit about what you’re discussing, it can raise your conversation to a new level. They aren’t talking to someone who has no clue… they’re talking to an informed and interested party who is trying to make a decision. This will shift their approach and increase the quality of the information they share.
4. Ask them these two final questions:
Use these two final questions to bring a close to your conversation:
- Is there anyone else that you think I should talk to about this? If they do suggest someone, either ask them to introduce you or ask if you can mention the referral.
- Is there anything I can do for you? Don’t discount this question! You never know how you might be of service in return! At the very least, just you asking this question will tell them something more about your character and it will help you to leave a great impression.
5. Follow Up
The follow up is where most people go wrong, and yet it’s the most powerful work that you can do. Do not drop this ball!
When you follow-up, you are creating an ongoing connection with the person you spoke with, and you are deepening a professional relationship that can serve you (and them!) for many years to come.
Here’s your quick follow-up to-do list:
- Send a thank you card through the mail or, if you don’t have their address, an email will do
- Send a personalized LinkedIn Connection request mentioning you look forward to staying in touch.
- Mark your calendar to reach out in a couple of months. Let them know how meeting with them helped you further your search, update them on where you are in that search, and ask if there’s anything that you can do to help them.
Throughout this entire informational interview process, your focus is on building the relationship with the person you are meeting.
Throughout the process, I invite you to keep Dale Carnegie’s words in mind:
“You can develop more relationships in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can getting people interested in you.”
If you’re looking for a more in-depth conversation about this topic, I talked about it recently in one of my LinkedIn videos. You can check it out below:
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