We've all heard the expression, "It's not what you know, it's who you know." But it really is what you know and who you know. That's why an informational interview is crucial in landing that dream job. Informational interviews allow you to gain insight on your chosen career path while sharpening your ability to interview for future positions.
Through these interviews, you'll determine your career path, build a strong network, and hone the skills needed to land your first full-time position in the field.
The primary purpose of an informational interview is to allow you to ask questions about what entry-level jobs are like in a particular industry, company or job position. We'll show you how to land an informational interview, ace it, and then parlay it into a full-time position.
1. What is an informational interview?
An informational interview tends to be less formal than a traditional interview and often occurs before you've even applied for a position. It allows you to obtain valuable, firsthand knowledge about a specific career path, company or role. And unlike a formal job interview, you'll be the one steering the conversation and asking the bulk of the questions. What's great about the information interview is that it gives you all the experience of a traditional interview, without the stress.
2. How to start an informational interview
First, you need to determine what you'd like to learn from the interview. Here are a few career questions to ask yourself:
- What companies do I want to work for?
- What career path piques my interest?
- What specific job would I like to know more about?
Once you've narrowed down this list to one or two career paths or companies, you can begin to research suitable contacts. LinkedIn is a great place to start, and the ideal source for building your network. You may find you already have a few people in your network who would be excellent candidates for an informational interview.
Not sure who would be a useful resource? Consider requesting an informational interview with:
- Your college professors
- Former bosses or mentors
- Friends or classmates who have already joined the workforce
- Contacts you may know via online networking
You may also want to reach out to people who are already working at a company you're interested in working for. If you've already leveraged your personal connections, try to find people in an aspirational role that you'd see yourself in (but not too high up the hierarchy.) People lower on the totem pole may have more time and be more willing to do an informational interview – and may feel more comfortable discussing some of the pros and cons of the business. Reach out via LinkedIn or email, if you can track down their address. Be clear and concise in your request. Let them know that they're in a role you're interested in and you need their help.
Once you've chosen a potential interviewer, request an informational interview. If they're unable to meet in person, set something up over Skype or by phone. Let them know you plan to keep the meeting brief — 30 minutes tops — and that you appreciate their time. If the person declines, be sure to thank them and move on to the next candidate on your list. If you don't hear back, be polite but follow up once or twice, after you've given them a week or two between requests. Inboxes can get jammed and deadlines popup, so your request may not be seen on the first try.
3. How to prepare for an informational interview
Once you've scheduled the meeting, update your resume and be sure to research the company and the person you'll be meeting. You don't need to write out a formal cover letter. Simply jot down some of your qualifications for an entry-level position in this particular field. Let them know why you're interested in potentially pursuing this career. Unsure of how to go about updating your resume? Put one of our Resume Templates to use.
Since informational interviews typically last about 15-30 minutes, prepare a list of questions in advance to save valuable time. Here are some questions to ask during your informational interview to get you started:
- What's a typical day like for you?
- Are there any certifications you suggest I obtain?
- What trends do you see for this field?
- What is the corporate culture like here?
- What do you like most/least about your career?
4. What to do on interview day
Conduct yourself like you would in a traditional job interview. If meeting in person, be sure to arrive on time, dress professionally, make eye contact, and shake the hand of every new person you meet. These same rules apply if meeting online (other than the handshake). Have the following items on hand:
- Copies of your resume
- Your list of questions
- A notebook and a pen
During the interview, don't inquire about getting a job at the firm. Instead, focus on the information you're gathering. Remember, the purpose of an informational interview is to ask questions and gain valuable information you'll use later.
5. Taking the next steps
It’s important to send a thank you note after your informational interview. Then, follow up on advice you learned during the meeting, such as reaching out to another contact they may have suggested you speak to at the company. You may have also received information on job listings that were not publicly posted, or attained some valuable networking connections.
You'll want to take some time to reflect on your interview, as well as your education and interests. Consider reformatting your resume to emphasize your skills, based on what you learned in your interview. Reach out to your school's alumni association to learn about other jobs in the field. Line up an informational interview with someone in a different industry if you discovered the path you were considering might not be the best fit.
Get as many informational interviews as you can under your belt. This will give you a significant advantage over your peers…and a better chance of landing that dream job.