I wouldn’t blame you if you have no idea what an informational interview is, because up until this summer I did not know either. But I really wish I had known sooner, because I would have been doing stacks on stacks on stacks of them during college.
Back then, the only interviews I had ever participated in were job interviews. And so I have plenty of experience with those. As of right now I’ve only been on two informational interviews. And they were some of the most beneficial experiences I’ve had on my career journey so far.
This is because an informational interview is intended to do just what it says, inform. No one is evaluating you. No one is going to say “yes” or “no” to whether they will hire you. No one is combing over your qualifications.
Because the person you conduct an informational interview with is actually being interviewed by you. That’s right, you are the interviewer here. And the interviewee is someone you have asked to chat with for a specific reason: they have the job you want. So you are chatting over a cup of coffee to learn as much as you can about them.
Now, they may be the person who holds your ultimate dream job, or are currently in an entry level position that is the first stepping stone on that path. But either way, they are where you want to be and you want to know how you can get there.
By doing an informational interview with you, they are giving you the chance to obtain information and advice that will assist you in your job search and overall career path. So you should not let an opportunity like this go to waste, by making sure to pick their brain about anything and everything you don’t know yet or would like to know more about.
How did they get their current job? What does their usual day look like? What skills do they have that were most important in obtaining their job? What advice do they have about job hunting in your industry? Do they know of any organizations you should join or networking events you should attend?
You might be thinking, “Ya, that all sounds great. But how do I find this font of knowledge?” Ya, that’s a tough one. Especially if you don’t currently work in your chosen industry or directly know anyone who does. But that doesn’t mean you don’t know someone who knows someone who does.
This is where networking comes in. Ask everyone in your immediate network if they know of anyone who would be helpful to speak to regarding your chosen career. I guarantee you someone will know someone, even if that person is only somewhat connected to your ideal field. And then that person could have a lead on more people. It might be hard to find that first one, but it will lead to more.
Once you do get a name, ask your contact to introduce the two of you, as it will be much more polite than cold e-mailing someone you don’t know and asking for a favor. Keep in mind that you are asking for a favor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it as politely as possible. Be extremely respectful of the person’s time. Offer to meet wherever and whenever is most convenient for them. Come prepared with your questions and a resume (to be pulled out only if the person would like to see it to better advise you). And follow-up within 24 hours with a thank you email.
I don’t like to think about how many informational interviews I missed out on in college or while I was still living in New York or D.C. because I didn’t know that you could do that. Just ask to talk to someone whose job you are interested in or who could advise you on the moves you could make toward your career.
But I’m doing them now and I hope I can make up for lost time.
I also like to think someday someone will want to do an informational interview with me. Because someday I hope to have a lot to say.