Expand Your Network with an Informational Interview

What can paying for a cup of coffee get you? A heck of a lot if you pair it with a chat with an industry professional. There are few better ways to get to know an organization or position than conducting an informational interview. 

Informational interviews are informal conversations between a relative newcomer and a more experienced worker and could be a great way for you to gain more insight into a field or area you’re looking to break into. Essentially, they’re a chance for industry rookies to turn the tables and start asking the questions. But before you sit down with a big wig, it’s best to make sure you get the most out of your chat.

The benefits of informational interviews:

Informational interviews can

  • let you in on the everyday tasks of your dream job
  • better acquaint you with a job you’re interested in
  • help you evaluate whether your skills and aptitudes are best matched for a particular position
  • give you insight into industry trends
  • expand your network
  • help improve your interview skills

The key to a successful informational interview is to know the reason you’re both there. Know what you want out of the interview, ask appropriate questions, and be genuinely interested. You may be wondering what’s in it for the interviewee? Why would someone take time out of their busy day to talk to me? The simple answer is mentorship. People often reach a stage in their careers when they wonder how they can help new entrants into the field. It’s an effective way to share knowledge, and gain leadership skills that will likely end up helping them in their careers as well. 

Making contact

You can make contact with your interview subject anyway that works for you; it can be by referral, through alumni networks, by email, through LinkedIn, or cold-call. No method of contact is off limits. The more personal a connection you have with your desired mentor the better chance you stand of a positive response. 

When asking for an interview, cover the specifics. Explain why you’re interested their career path or industry, your goals for the interview, what types of questions you’ll be asking, and set a time limit. You also might want to mention that you’re not looking for work, in case would-be interviewees get the impression that you’re trying to creatively pitch yourself to them.

Though informational interviews are much less daunting than job interviews, you should still dress appropriately, be prompt, and conduct yourself professionally. Make sure you have your questions outlined ahead of time, remember your interviewees’ name, and don’t go over the time length originally stated.

Asking the right questions

The types of questions to ask are entirely up to you. Remember that you’ll be guiding the meeting, so put some thought into the specific insight you want to gain. You may be interested in the company, or the position, or something else entirely. Some examples might be:

  • Is this field growing? Is now a good time to enter?
  • How do you like your job? What are your favourite/least favourite aspects?
  • What new developments to you anticipate affecting your sector?
  • What hard skills should a new entrant be well-versed in?
  • Are their opportunities for freelance or self-employment work in the field? Where?
  • What type of growth opportunities exist in this line of work?
  • What types of industry magazines or journals should I be aware about?
  • Can you give me any tips for being hired in this line of work?

Remember, you’re not there to be hired. At an informational interview it’s inappropriate to ask for a job, but you can ask about the hiring practices of the company more generally. Make sure to research and ask a few questions about the interviewer’s career and compliment them on any work they’ve done that you’ve admired. Showing an interest in their career specifically will make them feel important and show them you’re interested in them, not only their field.

Following up

Always make sure to follow up with a thank you email or note. Consider that person as part of your network, and add them to LinkedIn.  Check in with them periodically if you have any more questions or want advice about applying to a company they used to work for, but don’t overwhelm them.

Being genuinely interested in the interview and interviewee can’t be underestimated. People want to help those who are keen, alert, and authentic. So ensure you are choosing people whose positions you truly admire.


Photo by Christine Zenino: Flickr




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