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Informational Interviews: What They Are And How They Work

Informational Interviews: What They Are And How They Work

Here’s how an informational interview works:

  • You find someone doing the job you’re interested in
  • Invite them out to coffee or ask them to chat over the phone
  • Ask key questions about the job and gather insider information
  • Then, use what you learned to make an informed decision about your career.

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The Unwritten Rules Of Informational Interviews

  • It’s not about a job. You’re not actively trying to land a new position with an informational interview.
  • You’re there to learn. The purpose of this type of interview is to learn about what the other person does, how they do it, and what they like or dislike about their job. 
  • You listen and they talk. The other person does the talking, but you steer the conversation with insightful questions that matter to both of you. 

Such interviews can most certainly lead to more job opportunities in the future, but only if you conduct them in the right way by asking the right questions to the right people. 

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How To Ask For An Informational Interview

One of the biggest hurdles to getting an informational interview is knowing how to ask for one and who to ask. An informational interview is only useful if you target someone whose role you could see yourself in, whose field you may be interested in, or whose team you may want to be hired onto in the future. 

Otherwise, it’s just going to end up being coffee and a Q&A with no real purpose. While that’s nice, it’s not exactly the goal of the exercise.

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Who To Interview

  • Know the right type of person to ask. This could be people who are already in your network of contacts in a particular field, company, or job that interests you.
  • Don’t have someone in mind? Look through your networking contacts on sites like LinkedIn or any other social media outlet. 
  • Can’t find the right person in your connections? Don’t let that stop you. A connection in a similar field may be able to help identify the right person to contact for a coffee chat email. It doesn’t hurt to reach out.
  • Or, just search and identify a few people you may want to ask for an exploratory interview. 

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How To Ask The Right Informational Interview Questions

  • Leave out any questions that you could learn the answers to by a quick Google search. The internet is a well of information on things like company benefits, salary information, career trajectories, and other hard and fast facts, so leave those out of the equation.
  • Ask the types of questions that require a personal answer. Inquire the person about the career path was that they took to get to their current position, or ask about what special certifications or education they pursued that may have set them apart.

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No Stalemates, No Waste of Time

  • Make sure your questions are open-ended. Try not to ask yes or no questions, even on follow-ups. Doing so will quickly put a damper on the conversation. 
  • Tailor your questions to focus on their experiences in the industry or role. The goal is to get them to tell you about themselves and their path to the role that you’re eying. 

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The Big Mistakes To Avoid During Informational Interviews

  • Arriving late — or way too early.
  • Asking for a job
  • Dominating the conversation
  • Asking for introductions
  • Skipping the thank you

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The Final Tip

While it’s important to have the right questions in mind and avoid the big mistakes when conducting an informational interview, you should also try not to overthink it. The goal of this process is for you to learn and grow while networking — not conduct every word, mannerism, and interaction by the book. That’s way too much pressure for one person to handle.

But if you relax, engage, and most importantly, listen, you’re much more likely to come out of the process with the information that you need and a new networking contact on your side. 

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