When you are curious about a particular industry, job, or person, an informational interview can be a valuable tool for gaining insights that cannot be found in everyday research. Put simply, it is a conversation that can help inspire and make informed decisions about your career.
If you are seeking knowledge before jumping into applying for a job, university, program, or even starting a business, then you can get a head start by talking to someone who has that specific experience. It’s not a job interview, but an opportunity to build relationships.
This article takes you through the process, with tips on how to make the most of an informational interview.
Informational interviews can be a gateway to opportunities that you would not usually have access to. These days, the internet is a boon for finding and connecting with individuals who either have jobs or are completing programs that you might have an interest in.
Perhaps you have heard of UX design but are unsure of what it takes to become a UX designer. Find someone with relevant experience on LinkedIn, and reach out for an informational interview. People are usually willing to respond to such requests when they are asked in a professional manner.
Here are the benefits of informational interviews:
Learn “insider” information: You can gain valuable insights by speaking with an industry expert, student, or working professional in a field or organization you are interested in. You might walk away inspired or learn that a job does not align with your personality and goals after all.
Build relationships: Networking in an informal setting such as an informational interview—which can be a coffee date or a Zoom call—can be a great way to get to know someone you wouldn’t normally meet.
Practice interviewing skills: Interviewing can be intimidating when you are expected to perform your best on a job interview. Informational interviews allow you to practice expressing yourself and asking questions in a low-stakes situation.
Unforeseen opportunities: From these relationships, opportunities can develop. You might be top of mind for a future job opening at this company. You might meet with someone who ends up as your first connection in developing a community in a new city or company.
Whether you are just starting out or seeking a transition, you can conduct an informational interview at any point in your career. But remember to request them out of genuine curiosity and desire to learn. You never know where these connections can lead, be it collaborations, job opportunities, or mentorship.
When beginning the process for an informational interview, remember that you are requesting a person’s time and should be respectful of that. Informational interviews can be a fun and even mutually beneficial experience for you and your interviewee.
First, think about what you are looking for. Do you want insight into what a job is really like? Or how an industry works? Or what it takes to start a successful business? Or how to get into a prestigious master’s program?
You might have specific questions about how an individual transitioned from an English teacher to a product manager at Google, for example. In that case, it would be wise to search on LinkedIn for product managers at Google who may have an English teaching background. If you aspire to become a freelance journalist, sliding into an established journalist’s DMs on Twitter might be your best bet for attaining an informational interview.
Whatever you’re looking for, it may be helpful to jot down people in your current network, from close friends and family to acquaintances in your cultural or religious communities. Chances are, you already know someone who can point you toward the right person to chat with.
Once you have decided who you want to get to know better, reach out and ask them for 15 to 30 minutes of their time. If this person comes recommended, it is best to have your mutual friend connect the two of you by email or other form of communication. Otherwise, finding and connecting with someone on social media is becoming increasingly common.
LinkedIn is by far the most popular for many professional industries. For creative jobs, you may be able to connect with writers or academics on Twitter, or designers and illustrators on Instagram. If they have a portfolio with their email address listed, then it is best to use that to formally send a request.
Here is a sample note:
Dear [insert name here],
I hope you’re doing well. I am writing because I recently graduated with a marketing major and I am interested in pursuing a career in sustainability. Given that you are a marketing manager at Sierra Club, I hope to ask you some questions about your background and experience. Would you happen to have time in the next week for a coffee? I am also based in Oakland, so we can meet anywhere that is convenient for you. Alternatively, we can have a 30-minute Zoom call if you prefer. Either way, I am eager to get to know more about you and how you got to where you are. Thank you in advance for your time!
This sample can be tailored to your needs. Note that your communication should reflect a polite and cheerful attitude. To further establish trust with your interviewee, you might want to be upfront about the fact that you are only seeking advice, not distributing or sharing information publicly. If your interviewee does not respond, feel free to follow up in a week or two. Emails and other messages can unintentionally get ignored when life gets busy—it’s usually nothing personal.
Once you have secured a meeting with your interviewee, it’s time to prepare. Prepare a list of questions to have on hand, whether you are meeting in person or over Zoom. Remember to conduct as much background research as possible to make the most of this person’s time and expertise. Choose questions that they are in a unique position to answer.
Here are some questions to get you started. Adjust your questions as needed, as these are only meant as a guide. Your conversation can and should flow easily to answer most of these questions.
1. Can you tell me about your career journey? What inspired you to pursue this field?
2. What are your main responsibilities? What does a typical day look like for you?
3. What do you enjoy most about your work? What parts do you dislike?
4. How do most people get into this field? What steps would you recommend for someone preparing to enter this field? What kind of education or training is required? What skills, talents, and personalities are necessary to succeed?
5. What kind of lifestyle does your work allow? What is the company culture like?
6. What are the current trends and issues I should be aware of? What do you envision for the future of this field?
7. What advice would you give to someone interested in working in your field? Can you recommend any journals, magazines, or organizations that would help my professional development?
Now it’s time to meet with your interviewee. Be proactive: suggest an exact time and place to meet or be the one to send the Zoom invite. Express your enthusiasm and gratitude before, during, and after the interview.
The interview itself should be enjoyable. It may be helpful to think like a journalist: Practice active listening, take notes, and engage in the conversation. Let it flow. Ask about the person, their job, and the sector, in a manner that is both polite and positive. Be sure you don’t take up more than the allotted time.
Sometimes, interviews may fall flat because it turns out that they are not your ideal resource. In that case, they might be able to give you recommendations and connect you with the right person. Sometimes, these conversations are instant connections, and you find yourself speaking with a new confidante who is equally passionate about similar topics.
After the meeting, be sure to send a thank-you note as soon as possible. This can be done through email or on the platform where you initially reached out. Write a thoughtful note with a couple of sentences specific to your conversation, while expressing your gratitude for taking the time to meet with you.
Given that it was a positive interaction, this step is essential to continuing a bond with your interviewee. If they tell you to keep them updated on your future plans, then do so. By keeping in touch, you’re more likely to stay top of mind for potential jobs, conferences, and ideas that might be helpful. Actively engaging with and building a network based on intentionality and like-minded individuals can be an empowering experience.
An informational interview is just one way to explore new career opportunities. Alternatively, see for yourself whether a high-demand career in data analysis, UX design, project management, IT support, or cybersecurity is a good fit with a Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn job-ready skills from industry leaders at your own pace from anywhere with an internet connection.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.