How to Rock the Informational Interview

Sunday, October 28, 2012

An informational interview is helpful in your job search because you gain firsthand knowledge about a career, build your network and rapport, and show that you are proactive and ambitious. And the cherry on top? They're the ones drawing these conclusions on their own, you never have to self-promote. If your interview goes well, this contact will be more likely to help you on your career path later on.

What exactly is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a meeting where a job seeker asks for advice and insight into a career or industry, not for employment. It's semi-informal; you guide where you want the conversation to go, but you should still maintain professionalism and treat it as such.

How do I schedule one?

You ask.

Often times you'll want to propose an interview after you meet an employee at a career fair or networking event. But not always. With informational interviews, you don't need an "in" or middle man. Cold contacting is definitely appropriate! If you're a little shy and have a smaller network, you can just hop onto LinkedIn and check out your connections. See if any of the people you'd like to contact have a "mutual connection," with you; if so, ask that person to make an introduction!

Once you find an employee or recruiter's contact, introduce yourself via phone or email. Below is a sample of something along the lines of what I would say. Feel free to use it as a guide and alter it to your specific circumstance:

Hello (name)! My name is Jennifer Kim; we met last week at (place) and I really enjoyed learning about (company). I thought of a few questions I wanted to ask and am emailing (or calling) to continue our conversation. Could I possibly borrow 10-15 minutes of your time and ask you some questions? I'd love to take you out for coffee (OR chat with you on the phone) and hear your insights on both the company and your own personal experience.

* Note if you are calling this person, be prepared to have a message to say in either case that you reach the person or their voicemail.

What about the actual conversation?

You got the person to say "yes" and arranged a mutually convenient time, good job! Here are some quick tips to make the most out of your interview.

Be respectful. First thing you need to keep in mind throughout is that this person is doing you a favor; they're taking time out of their busy day to talk to a stranger. So be courteous and respectful. Show up on time. Prepare an outline of how you anticipate the conversation to go. Don't overstay your welcome; if you asked for an allotted "10-15 minutes," stick to it. Say "thank you," both in person and in a letter after the conversation.

Questions to Ask:

Since a bulk of the meeting includes questions, I thought I'd share some of my favorite questions to gear you in the right direction:

Professional Questions

  • What do you like most about your job?

  • I know each day at work looks different; but what does today look like? What does tomorrow look like?

  • How do you see it changing in the future?

  • What advice do you have for students seeking jobs in this field?

  • If you were looking for someone to replace you, what skills would you look for?

  • What activities in college helped you prepare you the most for your career?

  • What books or articles do you read to keep up with developments in your field?

  • Do you recommend any other people I should contact to learn more? Or books to read?

Company Specific Questions

  • Which do you value more upon hiring someone; a filled resume or a high GPA?

  • What kind of personality would you describe your company to have?

  • What skills have you seen entry-level employees possess that make them stand out?

  • What's unique about your company?

  • Does your company participate in any philanthropy or pro-bono?

  • How important is cultivating relationships in your company?

  • What do relationships look like between employees and their supervisors? Is there mentorship? Feedback?

  • What are your company's benefits?

For more questions, click here or here.

Keep the conversation going.

Even post-meeting, don't lose touch (unless you sensed a lack of chemistry, then be discerning if you want to invest. Whatever you do, do not build bridges and still say, "thank you.") Send them a relevant article to read. Connect them with LinkedIn if you weren't already. And regularly, like once a month, maintain a conversation with them.

Good luck, all you go-getters! XO.


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