How to Conduct a Successful Informational Interview

You’ve heard of the informational interview, but have you done one recently? These are a great way to accelerate your job search so I’m going to walk you through how to conduct a successful informational interview from start to finish. Check out our infographic for a visual on informational interviewing.

3 Goals to keep in mind when doing an informational interview:

  1. Learn about your interviewer’s job, company and industry.
    This information will help you target your job search and perform better in interviews.
  2. Enlist your interviewer as an advocate.
    When you show up for the interview looking sharp, meticulously prepared and wanting to share information, your interviewer is going to want to mention your name in their next conversation with their HR resource or colleagues who have job openings.
  3. Offer knowledge and contacts that will benefit your interviewer.
    Informational interviewing isn’t all about learning – if done correctly it’s also about teaching. You want to have some knowledge that you can offer to your interviewer that will benefit them. It’s a two-way street.

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My formula for a winning informational interview

Step 1: Do your research

You must be knowledgeable about the industry and role you are going to talk to people about. Although you’re there to gather information, researching in advance will give you context for what you’re going to learn and enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation. Good sources for research: Local business news (News & Observer, Triangle Business Journal) to learn who’s hiring and who’s laying off locally, online job postings from Indeed or Glassdoor to learn about the skills required in the industry.

Step 2: Pick your target

I recommend starting with an easy target to get warmed up – ask your neighbor, a friend or a friend’s spouse if they’d meet you for coffee. Keep your ask simple and casual – it’s fine to do it via email. Here’s an example:

Hi Karen,

I know you’ve been at Lenovo for a few years and had a lot of success there. I’m interested in returning to tech product marketing. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. Would you have time to meet next week? Do any of these days/times work for you?

Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm

Thanks for considering my request.

Once you have a few of these meetings under your belt, you will have the confidence and contacts to move on to hiring managers and recruiters – actual decision-makers in the hiring process. Here’s what an ask can sound like as you approach these higher-value targets:

Hi Jim,

Karen Smith suggested I contact you to talk about your role at Cisco. I’m a former marketing manager with 5 years of experience in the tech industry and I’m currently looking for a new opportunity. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. I’ve done quite a bit of research on cloud computing and would love to get your perspective on where the industry is headed. Would you have time to meet next week? If a phone call is more convenient, I’d really appreciate your time and be happy to work around your schedule. Do any of these days/times work for you? 

Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm

Thanks for considering my request.

Step 3: Plan an agenda for your informational interview

An agenda will help keep your interview moving along and productive. You requested the meeting, so you should drive it. Respect your interviewer’s calendar and stick to the agreed-upon time limit. You may want to position yourself where you can see a clock without being distracted or place your phone (on silent) on the table so you can glance at it occasionally to keep on track.

Download a sample agenda for a 30-minute meeting here.

Step 4: Execute the Plan: Learn, Share and Get Referrals

Buy the coffee and start the conversation off on a friendly note by thanking them for their time.  Then give your elevator pitch, learn about their industry and job and share with them what you know from your research.  Ask to be referred to others who are open to a conversation and might have wisdom to share  about your intended field.

Step 5: Follow up

After they depart, take a few minutes and jot down everything they told you that might be useful. Compose a thank you email – keep it brief and mention any next steps either of you agreed to take (“I look forward to having you introduce me via email to your friend Bob”). Then look up your interview partner on LinkedIn and send them a personalized invitation to connect if you haven’t already done so.

After you connect with Bob and have a conversation, the most savvy networkers will email back to the person who connected you to say “Thanks for this introduction. I spoke with Bob this morning and he was extremely helpful, just as you said he’d be. I really appreciate your efforts.” Everyone likes to think of themselves as a connector of people and you just confirmed with someone that they are exactly that.

Boom. Done. Network grown. Industry knowledge gained. Advocate secured. Pat yourself on the back and then find three more people to engage in informational interviews this week. You didn’t think I was going to let you off that easy, did you?