by Paige Miller
Informational interviews are a great way to strengthen your professional network during a job hunt or to gain a new perspective if you are already well into your career.
Follow these tips to make your interview worthwhile for both you and your interviewee.
- Start with an open mind. Start by seeking out people who hold a position you might want to have now, in five years, or even in 20 years. But don’t stop there— you can move beyond that and seek out people who you admire and look up to, even if they are not working in your field of interest.
- Be thoughtful. Remember that asking people to take time out of their regular schedule is a substantial request, and many people do not have the time to have an interview with everyone who asks. For this reason, choose your interviewees carefully and with purpose.
- Be strategic. It is ideal to get introduced to potential interviewees at networking events or through a friend as opposed to cold calling them. If you want to meet someone with whom you have no connections, send a thoughtful email with a brief, specific description of why you are asking this person in particular for an interview. Research the individual’s company and professional background (LinkedIn is a great resource for this) to determine how his or her experience can help you the most.
- Be flexible. Ask for a brief interview on the phone or in person. Your interviewee will let you know how much time he or she can commit to the interview.
The interview itself
- Dress to impress. In most cases, dressing in business casual attire is fine for an informational interview.
- Come prepared with questions, but keep it casual. Do background research about your interviewee and his or her company. While it can be helpful to look at some general informational interview questions, use those as a place to start. From there, customize your questions given what you have learned about the person. Your interviewee will likely be impressed if your questions reflect that you have done some background research. As the interviewer, you will be the primary facilitator of the conversation. Aim to make the interview flow less like an interview and more like a conversation
- Bring something to the table. Never view an informational interview as “picking someone’s brain”; remember that you should bring value to the conversation as well. For example, if you both have a background in solar, share some of the struggles you have faced in the past and ask your interviewee if he or she has faced similar challenges.
- Don’t offer your resume. Informational interviews are not the same as job interviews—the point of an informational interview is for you to learn and expand your network. You should still bring your resume, but only offer it if your interviewee asks for it.
- Consider asking for a referral. Did your interviewee bring up an organization or individual who you would like to learn more from? Consider asking your interviewee if he or she can connect you with them.
- Pick up the tab. If an interview is over coffee or lunch, offer to pay to thank your interviewee for his or her time.
- Always send a thank you. You should absolutely send a thank you note via email or regular mail following informational interviews (this falls true for job interviews as well).
- Keep in touch. The easiest way to keep in touch is by connecting on LinkedIn. However, after conducting a handful of informational interviews, you may come across certain individuals with whom you would like to foster a relationship. Keep these individuals on your mental back burner to touch base with in the future. Consider sending a brief, informational email (about an upcoming conference or newly-released report, for example) every six months or so as a friendly way to check in.
- Celebrate! Finally, once you land a job, follow up with your interviewees to let them know the good news.