How to Conduct a Successful Informational Interview

By Mackenzie Pedersen, Staff Writer

Whether you are a college student, someone considering a career change, or looking to create a new role within your organization, informational interviews are a great place to start. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are working in your dream organization or dream role. Through the myriad of informational interviews that I have done, and will continue to do, I have found that people are more than willing to help. People want to do good and help when possible.

Luckily, with the advancement of technology, an informational interview can be conducted either by: a meeting over some delicious coffee, words exchanged through email, a conversation over the phone, or you can see each other’s faces through video-conferencing. An informational interview should normally last approximately 20-30 minutes. You want to make sure that the individual who you are interviewing knows that you value their time. Moreover, ensure that you have intentional questions.

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Prepping for the Informational Interview

To prepare, physically write down a list of questions. Ensure that this list targets what you hope to achieve and know from this person, such as: role specifics and responsibilities, skills used, and company culture.

Questions to consider asking:

  • Role Specifics and Responsibilities:

    • What does your normal day or week look like?
    • How much does this title require from you as far as hours and travel?
    • Do you oversee people, and if so, how many?
    • How do you communicate best with your team?
    • What does a perfect day in your role look like?
    • What is your favorite aspect of your role?
    • What do you dislike the most?
    • How long have you been in your role?
  • Skills Used:

    • Which skills do you use most often?
    • Which skills would you suggest are most useful in this role?
    • How did you get to where you are now?
    • What aspect of your role had the largest learning curve for you to overcome?
  • Company Culture:

    • What are the various departments available in your organization?
    • How is your occupation changing?
    • What kind of reward and consequence system does your organization have in place?
    • What is the typical entry-level job in this organization?
    • What kind of growth is available in your company?
  • Career Field Preparation:

    • How important is your GPA in obtaining a job in this field?
    • What classes did you take that proved to be most valuable to your career?
    • Does your work relate to any experiences or courses you took in college?
  • Additional Questions:

    • How did you get to where you are now?
    • What advice would you give to someone looking to go into the field?

Another thing to note is that you will not be able to ask your contact all of these questions within a short 30-minute time span. So be sure to pick approximately 5-10 key questions you want to ask. Next, guarantee that you spend some time looking at your contact’s LinkedIn and other social media profiles available. This provides you with some background on who they are, so you can decide which questions are most important to ask them. More than likely, they will have spent some time looking at your LinkedIn and social media pages as well.

The Day of the Interview

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Make sure that when you are preparing for your informational interview, you grab a notebook! You want to be able to make notes of important skills, names of people, other organizations, and so on. Additionally, this will show your interviewee that you’re taking their advice to heart.

The most important thing you do right before the interview is STASH AWAY YOUR PHONE! Unless you are actively using your phone to conduct the interview, keep it in your car, leave it at home, hide it under a rock, but whatever you do, DO NOT bring it to the interview with you if you’re going to look at it.

Now, the time has finally arrived. As a reminder, don’t be nervous. Relax. This is your chance to ask the questions. And in doing so, make sure you actively listen. Ultimately, this is their chance to talk, not yours. Also guarantee that you smile! Regardless if you’re meeting over a cup of coffee or you’re speaking on the phone.

End with:

  • Are there any questions you felt like I should have asked you, but didn’t?
  • Is there anyone else whom you suggest I reach out to?

And of course, make sure you thank them for their time.

The Follow-Up to the Informational Interview

Make sure that you reach back out to your contact and thank them for taking the time out of their busy schedule to talk to you. Further, make sure that you take time to reflect on what they have told you and what you gained from that conversation. Ask yourself: Did I get the answers I was looking for? Did I learn something new? Did this informational interview persuade me to go into that type of position or in that career field? Or, did this informational interview reveal to me that this isn’t the type of position or organization for me?

I hope that after you have completed several informational interviews, you will have learned more, not only about others and the various organizations available, but also more about yourself.

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