Why Informational Interviews Are Way More Important Than You Realize

A career coach explains what to say to get your foot in the door.

Job searching can be a long and complicated process, especially if you’re not sure exactly what you want to do or how to begin. Scouring job sites and reading about different positions online can be a good place to start, but sometimes it takes talking to a real person to figure out what career is best for you. That’s exactly the point of an informational interview.

Informational interviews are meetings with someone in a particular role, company, or industry that you’re interested in learning more about. Whether you’re looking to pivot careers or you’re just starting out your post-grad job search, these interviews can be a great way to get more direction about where you want to go—without all the pressure and nerves that come with a typical job interview. Because the goal is simply to gain more insight and not to obtain a specific role, AmyJo Mattheis, career expert and founder of Pavo Navigation, says “informational interviews should be easy, fun, and low stress.” So, to figure out how to set up informational interviews and make the most of them during your job search, keep reading for more expert advice.

How to prepare for an informational interview:

Before you request an informational interview, it’s important to have clarity on your personal goals. These interviews are intended to help you with your job search or career change, so knowing exactly what you hope to get out of them is the best way to make them as productive as possible. “Before you reach out, do the pre-work and ensure that you’re clear on what your questions are, what your values are, and what you’re looking for,” career coach and founder of Somewhere In Between Coaching Neha O’Rourke says. Once you know this, search on LinkedIn or talk with people you know to help identify a specific company or role that fits some of these goals, and from there, find a good way to connect for your interview.

While it’s important to do your research and prep work beforehand, you’re not supposed to head into an informational interview with all the answers. “I see a lot of people put pressure on themselves to know whether it’s the job for them or the place for them,” O’Rourke says. Instead, she adds, “Relinquish some of that pressure, and allow [the informational interview] to be a moment of curiosity versus a more tactical or actionable step.”

what is an informational interview

How to ask for an informational interview:

Feeling anxious about reaching out and asking someone for their time? Mattheis says you shouldn’t worry. In her career coaching experience, her clients have had consistent success with people agreeing to informational interviews, mostly because “people love to talk about their jobs.” O’Rourke agreed, adding that, “more often than not, you’ll find that people are really willing to help others in their career journey.”

So, while you shouldn’t be nervous about reaching out to someone to request a meeting, it’s still important to be thoughtful in how you go about it.

Here’s O’Rourke’s advice for what that initial email request or LinkedIn message should look like: “Share how you found them, what you’re looking to learn, why that’s important for you, what you admire about them, and be incredibly mindful of their time and ask if you can have 15 to 20 minutes, max, of their time to learn from their experience.” With coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions in mind, you can suggest a video call or a socially distanced and masked-up meeting in a park, weather permitting.

What to ask in an informational interview:

Because informational interviews are brief, you don’t need to prepare a laundry list of questions. Instead, Mattheis recommends focusing on just three. First, ask the person you’re meeting with about their current role. “Tell me about the role that you’re in. What do you love about it? What do you enjoy about it, and what is challenging?” Mattheis suggests. Then, ask about the specific skills, education, or accomplishments required for their role or career—something like, “What is needed to fill a role like this or to move into this industry?” The last question you should ask, Mattheis says, is: “Do you have anybody in your company who you think I should talk to or anybody in your network that would help me?” This can give you the opportunity to be connected with someone else for an informational interview and help you progress with your job search.

If you have specific values that you’d like to address, you can also ask questions about how the company or industry adheres to them. For example, if you’d like to learn more about how a company prioritizes equality, O’Rourke recommends asking experience-based questions—something like, “So I see the company really values equality. Can you share how that’s been demonstrated in your experience with the company?” This will give you a better understanding of not only what the company values but how they follow through—and offer insight beyond what you could find from a simple Google search.

How to follow up after an informational interview:

It’s best practice to send a thank-you email after an informational interview, just as you would after a typical job interview. In the email, “thank the person for their time and advice,” O’Rourke says; “then, share a couple of nuggets of things you heard based on their personal experience, including things that they value and things that they care about.”

To make your email as thoughtful and professional as possible, O’Rourke says, start making some notes right after your meeting so you can incorporate specific details into your follow-up email. Try to add “anything that makes [the note] feel more personal and shows that you were actively listening and really hearing what the person was saying,” she says.

Then, O’Rourke suggests keeping in touch with this person later on in your career journey and letting them know what job you eventually landed. “You never know where that person could play an integral role in your career moving forward,” she says. “So keep nurturing that relationship moving forward and keep them abreast of what you end up doing.”

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