August 15, 2021 5 min read

An informational interview switches the roles around: instead of being interview for a role, you’re doing the interviewing for a change and getting the answers you need. Consider it a routine practice both prior to graduating and throughout your career. Actively engaging in them indicates you’re open to the many career possibilities that are out there and have a curious nature to match. There’s no such thing as too much information. That’s what this type of interview was designed to solve! They act as this wonderful in-between of networking and interviewing. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind to truly benefit from informational interviews.

Getting Your Informational Interview Request Right

Like any research project you’ve ever worked on, you need to know what you’re asking (What does a human resource associate do?) and where to look for the answer (Corporate vs nonprofit?). Casting too broad of a net will leave you overwhelmed with the work ahead and unfocused. Nip that in the bud and narrow your search.

Young female student holding notebook and phone in hand with headphones.

Everyone loves a list, and they work for a reason: list out your top job titles, industries, and organizations. See if there’s any crossover or blind spots. With that done, you can now explore your network to find viable contacts. From your post-secondary experiences to that volunteer stint you did a few summers ago, leave no stone unturned. Once you know who you’d like to reach out to, it’s time for the ask.

Requesting time from someone for an informational interview can feel tremendously nerve-wracking. You want to come across as polished without seeming too pushy or too reserved. Finding that perfect blend will take time as it needs to sound like you but here are a few key ingredients:

  • Establish your connection. How do you know them? Did you go to the same school? Are they a family friend? Or are they a complete stranger? Thanks to LinkedIn, making connections is easier than ever so see if you have a second or third connection. If not, honesty is the best policy. Let them know how you learnt about them.
  • Express why you’re contacting them. Ok, what is it you want to know? Be clear and succinct. If it’s taking longer than a few sentences, you’re rambling. If they say yes, then you can go into more detail.
  • Close with next steps and thanks. Outline some options on taking this offline to in-person. Remember, just because you might be comfortable having a coffee chat, it doesn’t mean that everyone is. Show your preference but give them a say too with a heartfelt thanks for their time.

    Now you wait! Brace yourself for some “No’s” and don’t take it to heart. There could be a plethora of reasons why someone doesn’t take you up on your request and it’s most likely nothing to do with you.

    Your Informational Interview Prep

    When you do get that amazing “Yes, let’s chat more!” it’s game time. Coming ready with some questions will maximize the conversation and time. It also showcases how prepared you are which is a quality any new connection will appreciate and remember.

    Best Informational Interview Questions

    Need some ideas of the kind of questions you can ask? There are a few angles you can take depending on the connection and what you want to know. Here’s a few we’ve put together if we were speaking to someone in our dream role:

    Table holding two cups of coffee with open notebook being written in.

    1)  “What has your career path been like so far?”

    Hopefully they start from the beginning but if not, gently nudge them with a follow-up question like “How did you start and work your way up to this role?”

    2) “How did you apply non-traditional experience to your current role?”

    This will allow them to provide any insight on how they were able to communicate their transferable skills.

    3) “What are your main responsibilities and what do you like/dislike the most?”

    Now you’re getting into the nitty gritty details of the role and hearing it firsthand from someone who lives and breathes it. Plus, you get to assess your interest based on their answers.

    4) “What’s been your greatest success so far? What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?”

    Beyond giving them a chance to brag or pass on much-needed wisdom, this will also provide you with the opportunity to hear how someone communicates their highs/lows. Take a page from their book if the answer really speaks to you!

    5) “What advice would you give to someone like me who is considering a career in this field?”

    This brings the conversation back nicely to you and is a direct way of getting some actionable next steps. Make sure you’re listening closely here and don’t be shy to ask a few follow-up questions based on their answer.

    Having these questions lined up will help you ease into the conversation and break awkward pauses. A note of caution: you don’t have to ask them all especially if the conversation takes a natural course and these questions are indirectly being addressed. Be considerate and mindful of the time!

    It’s All About the Thank You

    We’re not talking about the obvious thank you at the end of your conversation. We’re talking about the post interview thank you. This is the one you send after the chat. It can be an email, a LinkedIn message or whichever method you used to initiate the discussion.

    Open laptop with a smart device being held next to the screen.

    Why is this so important? It sets the tone that you’re a professional. It’s also a great moment to speak to what you learnt — demonstrating your listening skills and comprehension. Not to mention it expresses the impression your contact had on you. They’ll feel appreciated and you’ll have a new connection to nurture for the future. We did mention informational interviews are part of networking so be prepared to use all your networking habits.

    Make It an Ongoing Habit

    Getting the right information in today’s world is as easy as a click of a button. Yet when it comes to career paths, it can be frustrating to sift through the basic know-how and find that golden truth. That’s the reason why informational interviews are a sure way to go; directly to the source cuts through the noise and prepares you for the next steps. Throughout your career, you’re going to make moves, big or small, and learning all you can outside the general scope of what you presently do, will keep you in tune with the future.

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