The must-do's of an informational interview

Informational Interview must-do's

An inside look at the must-do's before, during and after an informational interview to leave a great impression.

We recently got you up to speed on informational interviews: What they are, why they're done and how they're done (and why they're pretty much the opposite of any exchange involving Taylor Swift).

We talked about how an informational interview's primary goal is not to get a job offer, but to explore potential career paths or industries, expand your network or find out what it's really like to be Taylor Swift's backup singer be in a particular role or at a particular company. It's essentially face-to-face information-gathering, and it can be a very valuable tool in your job search.

So now, let's delve into the before, during and after must-do's of an informational interview.

Before

  • First, identify potential contacts – people who have jobs you find intriguing and inspiring. Be resourceful. Scour the Internet, filter through your social networks, and check out trade or business publications and newsletters. Look up leaders of local industry or business associations that you admire. Tell your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, former teachers and classmates about your informational interview and ask them for suggestions of people you should reach out to. More often than not, people are willing to help if you simply ask!
  • Reach out appropriately. As you develop your list of potential contacts, reach out to each person through a brief introductory letter, email or phone call explaining your background, career goals, interests and what you hope to gain from the meeting.
  • Define your expectations and goals for the meeting. Because you are the one responsible for setting the meeting agenda, it's important to determine what you wish to get out of it and craft relevant questions beforehand. This preparation will help you elicit the best information to help inform your career direction and job search.
  • Prepare for your interview. How much you take away from an informational interview depends largely on how thoroughly you prepare for the meeting. Make sure you have researched your interviewee and are familiar with his or her background and major accomplishments. Next, explore the company's website. Pay particular attention to the "About" section, staff biographies and the company's latest press releases to prepare relevant questions. Reviewing company literature such as brochures and annual reports will also provide a treasure trove of helpful data. Finally, set up Google news alerts for both your industry and target companies to ensure you don't miss big developments.

During

  • Dress professionally and arrive early.
  • Show an interest in what the person you're interviewing has to say. If someone realizes you are invested in the conversation, they are likely to offer more in-depth advice (and, you know, it's just good manners).
  • Make eye contact and remember to smile.
  • Consider documenting your conversation. Taking notes helps to demonstrate your interest and refresh your memory of the conversation later. (Pro tip: Ask your interviewee first if he or she minds you taking notes or voice recording the conversation.)
  • Be prepared to go "off script." While being mindful of your interviewee's time, if he or she begins to follow an interesting tangent, go with the flow. What they say may end up being more valuable than the answers to your prepared questions.
  • Speak about your qualifications and interest in the position, company or industry if an interviewee asks you more formal job questions.
  • Ask your interviewee for suggestions of other professionals who would be beneficial to interview before ending the conversation,.
  • Never overstay your welcome. Whether it's lingering too long in person or on the phone or engaging in too much follow-up, it's important to read signals and respond accordingly.
  • Verbally thank the person who just carved out time in their busy day to speak with you, and shake their hand before parting. (And if you've met at a public place like a coffee shop, be sure to pick up the tab.)

The big don't? Don't ask for a job. While your ultimate objective may be to find a new job, you should never ask for one at an informational interview. The goal of the meeting is to build your knowledge about a particular position, company or industry. The person will feel deceived if you don't follow through with the original intent of the discussion. A job offer may come naturally at some point, but at this point, you shouldn't be the one to initiate that discussion.

After

Immediately after the informational interview, send an email thanking the person for his or her time. Always follow up within 24 hours. If you said you'd send an article, contact someone or take another action, follow through right away.

  • Next, follow up with a handwritten note that goes into greater detail about the information or advice you gained from the meeting, and express your appreciation.
  • As time goes on, continue to strengthen the relationship by keeping your interviewee apprised of developments in your career. You never know how and when he or she may be able to help you again (e.g., alert you of — or recommend you for — future job openings.
  • Always think of how to give back to those who give you time. Though you may not be able to return the favor immediately, keep track of those who help you and remember them when you're in a position to help them later on.
  • Ask how the person would prefer to stay in touch, assuming you make a connection and would like to continue building the relationship, If there was no chemistry, move on.
  • Know the professional boundaries. Sending a professional email request is fine —but never casually instant message or text someone you don't know well.

Missed our first post about the what, why and how of informational interviews? Catch up here. And keep an eye out for our third post on informational interviews, where we'll take a deep dive into the types of questions to ask to get the most out of your experience.