Informational interviews aren’t essential to the job-seeking process. But as research and possibly even a networking tool, they can be very helpful. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these are not job interviews and are not a means of searching out job openings.
Instead, informational interviews are effectively educational. Job seekers who want to know more about a specific industry, professional, or company culture can request a short interview of about 20 minutes with someone who works in that industry, job sector, or specific business.
It’s essential to prepare in advance of these interviews. So job candidates who make informational interview requests should only do so after already completing some initial research. That is, you’ll want to go to the interview prepared to discuss why the particular company, the field of work, or industry is of interest to you.
How to prepare for an informational interview
So perhaps you’re a front desk associate considering a career path in revenue management. Asking a hotel revenue director for an informational interview can give you more insight into the type of professional experience that you might need to one day achieve a similar position, how important software systems are to the revenue management process, and how the revenue director works with other hotel departments and why.
In other words, you’ll also need to have your interview questions ready before the call or meeting. When prepping your questions, also keep in mind that you’ll need to respect the agreed-upon time frame. For 20-minute interviews, it’s a good idea to have five questions ready to ask. But prioritize them so if time doesn’t allow for the last question or two, you still covered the topics that were most important to you.
What questions to ask or avoid
There are also some topics that you’ll want to tread lightly around. For example, you should not ask the other person how much money they make. If you’d like to learn more about salary, look up salary ranges for that type of role before the call and then ask the person to confirm if those salary ranges are accurate.
Additionally, asking about corporate culture can also be a delicate topic. You won’t want to ask a series of questions designed to elicit a negative response as that will make the interview an unpleasant experience for the other person. No one will want to spend 20 minutes speaking poorly about his or her employer.
Instead, try asking a comparative question: how does this company compare to your past employers? What do you enjoy most and least about working for this company? Another option is to simply ask if there is anything he or she would change about how the company does business and why.
Another way in which to learn how progressive a company is and how willing it is to invest in its own future is to ask about the technologies used. Try mentioning that you work off a Mac Book and then casually ask if the person has access to a company laptop and cell phone? Also, if software platforms are customarily used in the role that you’re researching, find out which are considered the leading platforms and technologies and then ask if he or she uses those at work or if they’re familiar with them and what they think about them.
If the organization is using outdated technology, it may be because they’re planning an investment in the near future. It could also be an indicator of corporate culture that isn’t willing to invest in its own brand, nor to keep up with changing times.
Who should you contact for an informational interview?
First and foremost though, there is the question of who to ask and how to ask for an informational interview. Initially, you’ll want to consider your own network of contacts. Perhaps you already know someone who works at a company or holds a position that you’re interested in.
Alternatively, you may have a contact who knows someone who already works at a business or in a role that you’d like to learn more about. Ask that contact to introduce you. You also shouldn’t hesitate to cold contact people you don’t know, but who may be willing to take the time to help you.
LinkedIn is an excellent tool for this. If you find someone who fits the criteria of a professional with whom you’d like to speak, but with whom you aren’t directly connected, look to see if you have shared contacts. Then ask one of those mutual contacts to introduce you.
If you don’t have shared contacts, you can still reach out to the other person and briefly introduce yourself, explain what you’d like to know more about and what about that person’s specific professional background has caused you to request a short, 20-minute informational interview with them. Stay on message in your email. You don’t need to chronicle your work experience. If your email is too long, you risk not receiving any response.
Informational interview etiquette
You may want to include your resume with this initial request or at the very least after the person agrees to do the interview. This way, if you want to ask if you’re professional experience meets the profile of most people hired for a certain type of role, the other person can reference your resume. If you want to know if your educational background is aligned with that of other professionals in similar roles, again, the interviewee will have a point of reference.
When the interview reaches the agreed-upon amount of time, be sure to conclude it and thank the person for his or her time and insights. You will also want to follow up with a thank-you email within 24 hours.
Be sure to again thank the person for so generously giving you’re their time and also to highlight some of their insights that were particularly helpful. You can additionally send a handwritten thank-you note if you like. Also, you can send the interviewee a request to connect on LinkedIn if you haven’t done so already.
Informational interviews can be especially beneficial when the person you interview becomes a contact in your network. It’s not unheard of for these types of interviews to result in referrals for additional industry contacts and even open positions down the road.