An informational interview can become a powerful tool in your career arsenal. It’s incredibly versatile. Whether you’re using it for inside information on a company, scoping out whether a certain role is right for you or to make valuable contacts in the right places, it delivers results.
You will only get so far researching online and making connections on LinkedIn. There’s nothing that compares with a one-on-one meetup with someone to help you in your career journey.
In our last article, we looked at why you should be doing informational interviews, so here we’re going to concentrate on how to arrange them and how to go about them.
How Do You Find The Right People To Talk To?
This is where LinkedIn does come in very useful. It all comes down to what outcome you want from the informational interview.
Do you want to find out more about a company or a specific role in the company? Look up the company page on LinkedIn and find the senior employees that are relevant to what you want to find out about.
Are you looking to make connections with senior people in the area you are looking for work? Search on LinkedIn for the job title of the person you want to talk to and pick out the ones that are working at interesting companies.
Informational interviews are a big part of finding work through the hidden job market and we go into a lot of detail about how to find the right companies, roles and contacts in our article on unlocking the hidden job market.
As you do these searches, check whether you already have a 2nd-degree connection with any of them and if so, ask your connection to introduce you on LinkedIn. This will massively increase your chances of starting a conversation.
When you find people that would be great to talk to, send out a connection request with a message along the lines of:
Hello [Their first name], It’s great to connect with you. I am very impressed with what I’ve seen of your work and I would love to find out more about [industry, role, company]. Could I have 15 minutes of your time to ask a few questions, either over a call or over coffee? Kind regards, [You]
How Do You Prepare For An Informational Interview?
Keep in mind that this is more of a conversation than an interview, so it’s important not to be stiff and overly business-like. That being said, let’s try and keep a little bit of professionalism!
There is some preparation that is similar to interviews:
- Find out as much as you can about the company, role or industry that you’re likely to talk about.
- Prepare a few ‘burning questions’ that you must ask during the interview, these are the key things you want to find out and should be open-ended. These should be things you can’t find out online. For example (depending on what you want to get out of the conversation):
- What is a typical day like for you?
- What kinds of people do well in this industry?
- What steps would you recommend I take to prepare to enter this industry?
- Your company is fascinating, how would one get into a company like this?
- Prepare one or two ‘insightful questions’ that will demonstrate your understanding of a subject and show your contact that you’re really interested in it. For example:
- How has your company managed the effects of [recent topical event, eg. COVID pandemic]?
The most important thing you can do in advance of the informational interview is to find out about the person you’re going to talk to. This conversation is largely about building some rapport with your contact so that they see you as someone they’d happily talk to again, as well as recommend for a role in their company or team.
A great way to build rapport and put someone at ease is to genuinely compliment them on something they have done. If it is to do with the subject you’re there to talk about, even better.
If you can find some common ground between you, whether to do with work or personal life, then that will be a great asset for your conversation. Make sure to bring it up in some way early on to help break the ice.
Once you have found a convenient time for the conversation, confirm where, when and how you’ll be doing it, whether you’re meeting in person somewhere or talking over a video call. An in-person meeting will give you a greater chance of making a long-lasting connection, but consider the amount of time you would have to put into that versus a phone call or video call.
Also be clear about why you want to talk to them, it’ll put them at ease if they know you’re not going to try and pitch to them for a job. You’ll find they’re so much more open and helpful once you’ve done this.
Have your ‘elevator pitch‘ ready in case they want to know more about you.
If conversations like these are difficult for you, do some practice beforehand. Ask a friend or family member to act as your contact and do a few rehearsals, you’ll be surprised at how much this helps. Make sure they give you feedback.
How To Conduct An Informational Interview
Remember, you’re looking to be professional, but friendly. Dress smartly, but no need for a suit and tie.
Arrive in good time. As the host, it’s always good to be there for when they arrive so that they’re not waiting, whether it’s in person or over video.
To begin with, thank them for talking to you and reassure them that you don’t want to take up too much of their time. Ask if they have any time restraints on your conversation. Near the end, you can remind them that you don’t want to keep them from any commitments, but that you’d love to talk more if they’re happy to (and if the conversation is going well).
Talk a little about them, why you wanted to talk to them specifically, how you were connected if it was through a mutual contact and anything relevant or interesting that you found out about them. This is a good time to bring up any common interests, but try not to let the conversation run away on a subject that is off-topic.
Give a little of your background and then steer the conversation towards your burning and insightful questions.
Your role is to be a less-experienced, ambitious professional that is seeking the best way to advance in their career. Allow your contact to feel like they are guiding you and they will be happy to play their part.
At the end, if they haven’t offered up this advice already, ask them if there is anyone else they recommend you talk to. They will likely have a better idea of who these people are. Being introduced to a new contact through one of your informational interviewees is a fantastic way to build an incredibly strong network in all the right areas.
After the interview, sit down to make a note of all the information you gathered, even the personal anecdotes or things you found out you had in common. You want to remember everything from the conversation and locking it in immediately afterwards is the best way.
How To Follow Up After An Informational Interview
You’ve done a great job with your informational interview, you’ve got some wonderful insight and made a solid connection. Now what?
Follow up with a message saying how grateful you are for their time and how much you enjoyed the conversation. A great way to stand out is to mention something unique you discovered during the conversation that bonded the two of you.
If you found out a particular interest of theirs, do some research and make a recommendation. For example, if you both have young children, tell them about a great local family day out. If they are interested in a particular aspect of their work, recommend a conference you know of and even suggest to go with them if you got on well. This is where your post-conversation recap helps. Show them you were listening!
Did they recommend further people to talk to? Remind them politely and ask if they could introduce you to them.
But don’t ask them for anything else straight away. Prove them right in thinking you’re a genuine person and not just after a job.
If you’re too needy, it’ll be less likely that they’ll keep you in mind for future opportunities. You’re in this for the long-term benefits. The opportunities will come if you put yourself in the right places and make the right impressions.
If you had a great connection with them, learned a lot and think you could learn more, think about whether they might be a good mentor. This is a whole other subject that we will talk about in another article, but do get in touch if you want to know more about mentors.
Informational interviews are something you’ll want to get good at and use regularly. They are invaluable when you are looking for work, but are also incredibly useful for general industry insights and planning ahead in your career.
If you regularly conduct informational interviews you will find you get pretty good at them and your network will grow into something that will propel your career to another level.
If you want to be a great informational interviewer, be:
In amongst all that, be direct with what you want to get from the conversation and you will find the information flowing readily.
If you have any great stories about your own informational interviews, or any questions on the subject, please do add a comment below.
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