An informational interview is a 15-20 minute one-to-one meeting with someone who can give you information about an industry, a job, an organisation or a career you are interested in. They’ll help you gain valuable insight and information that can help you plot out a career path that’s suitable for your skills, experience and interests.
As you are there to learn, you may decide that your chosen industry isn’t for you, but that’s ok. It’s better than getting into the industry and then realising you don’t like it!
Benefits to an Informational Interview
- As it’s not a job interview you can more relaxed and ask things about a company, industry or job role you really are interested in.
- It’s a great way to hone the way you present yourself before you go to interviews.
- It shows that you are in control of your career.
- If you make a good impression you may find more doors open - its a great way to gain exposure to what’s known as the ‘hidden job market’, that is jobs that aren't advertised online.
- It's a good way to start to build your network of people - and they might know other people who could help you.
If you don’t know anyone in your immediate group, think about people in your wider circle for example your friends’ parents, your parents’ friends or university alumni groups (i.e. on LinkedIn). Failing that you can research online the industries you want to work in, career roles you might be interested in and even companies you like the idea of.
Informational Interview Email Request
Once you have names and contact details of people you want to reach out to you can send them an email asking for an informational interview. You’ll need a clear message about why you’re reaching out and an easy-to-understand request. Here are a few things to remember:
- Ask for help, for example by saying “I hope you’ll be able to help me out with…”.
- Provide an angle or story of why you'd like to meet. You may have found them on LinkedIn and think they are in the position you'd like in five years' time. Perhaps you have the same degree or went to the same university. Perhaps you have a friend in common.
- Be extremely considerate. Acknowledge how busy your contact must be and say that even 15-20 minutes would be appreciated.
- Emphasise that you are interested in their perspective on their job and experience in the industry, and not looking for a job.
A few days later, follow your email up with a call. If you’ve emailed lots of people, keep a log of them so you know when to follow up the email. You’ll probably find that lots of people will be too busy to contact you, but don't be too disheartened. A few will be very happy to help in aiding your career.
Before the Interview
Prepare a list of informed questions ahead of time with a clear understanding of what you would like to take away from the interview. They could revolve around:
- Whether you would enjoy the job and industry - what’s good and what’s not so good about working in the industry and job role, and what does a typical working day involve.
- Whether you would be qualified to work in the job, industry and specific company - how did he/she get into the industry, what are backgrounds of people who work there, what employers are looking for, are there any specific qualifications that are often needed and what makes people successful working there.
- What future does the industry have - what’s changing in the sector and what are the challenges that the industry faces.
You can also prepare how you might talk about yourself if asked. This could include what you are currently doing and your 3-5 year career goals. As you are just starting out you can be truthful and say that you are not yet sure what you want to do but there are a number of options you are interested in exploring.
It’s also a good idea to state at the outset that you’re interested in talking to 10 or 15 industry experts during your information-gathering phase as they'll process this and might be able to give you another contact.
While you are there
- Be on time
- Be smart
- Don’t waste more than the time allocated
- Introduce yourself
- Thank them in advance for their time
- Show them you are listening by taking notes if necessary
You can start by breaking the ice with one of your questions, and hopefully the conversation will flow from there! Perhaps let them know what you want from the industry, for example "I'm currently at university and will graduate next year. I am thinking about entering into a career in marketing and I’m interested in the different ways that people get into their career, how best to position myself at interviews, what companies I might like to work for and whether the industry is really for me."
At the end of the meeting ask for recommendations for two or three more people who would be good to talk to as you continue your informational interviewing journey.
The Next Day
Send them a thank-you note - preferably hand written - to thank them for their time and expertise. Be specific, for example mentioning what you learnt from the interaction or what concrete actions you are going to take based on their advice.
Keep a record of who you met, what you learnt from them, what more you'd like to know, and what your next steps should be.
Follow up with an update on the meetings you’ve had with the people she/he recommended and the results of your interviewing. If you’ve taken specific advice, let them know that you’ve followed up on this and what the outcomes have been.
Remember that these informational interviews can help you build future working relationships and they aren’t just useful for their one-time advice—they can become a long-term part of your network. Every few months write round to everyone you have met and let them know how you are getting on. When you make a key decision, for example gain employment, let them know and thank them for their time in helping you get there.