Have you been curious about the day-to-day workings of a specific job function? Perhaps you’re considering a career change but aren’t entirely sure which role best matches your interests. Or, maybe you’re in the company research stage of your job search and want to learn more about the real-life working experience.
Whatever the motivation is, when you want to connect with someone who has firsthand knowledge about a role or company you’re interested in, what you’re looking for is called an informational interview.
What Is an Informational Interview?
The most obvious difference is that you, as the potential job seeker, are the one conducting the interview. The goal of an informational interview should be to gain information, rather than a job offer.
An informational interview is also different than basic networking or connecting with an executive at your dream company. Most busy leaders won’t have time for someone simply looking to “connect over coffee.” However, they might have time for someone who has a few questions about a specific topic.
How to Ask for an Informational Interview (Examples)
So, how do you present your request? As noted above, avoid simply asking for some time to connect. That’s very open-ended and doesn’t speak to a targeted agenda. For many upper-level managers, it might seem like you’re simply trying to use them to bypass some career stepping-stones and get in on a future promotion.
Instead, ask for an informational interview the way you’ll conduct the interview—politely, concisely, and organized. Remember that most executives also have a goal of developing talented leaders within their company. As such, they’ll often be receptive to high performers who don’t have an angle but are genuinely seeking career advice.
We have some specific examples to get you started.
Regardless of whether you’re introducing yourself in email, on LinkedIn, or in person, don’t lead with a simple “hello.” Instead, start with a subject line or introduction that lets them know why you’re seeking them out specifically. For instance:
“John Davenport recommended I reach out to you.”
“I read your article about transitioning to marketing.”
Either way, let the person know there is a personal reason you’re contacting them for an informational interview. You haven’t simply picked their name randomly out of a directory.
We can’t say it enough. Your best chance of success is being concise and to the point in your initial request. If you ramble or waste time during the first contact, it will imply that the actual interview will also take longer than they have available. Avoid fluff phrases, like “I hope your day is going well.”
Although those are niceties and you might feel uncomfortable without them, they actually don’t add much value and simply take up space in the introduction.
Consider wording it something like this:
“John suggested that I reach out to you as I’m considering a career change from marketing to project management, which is similar to the path your career has taken.”
Get to the Point
Ask for their help with their specific experience that is valuable to you. Avoiding open-ended questions, you should give context to what you’re specifically seeking to learn, as well as how much time you’re hoping to get.
Note that executives will rarely have a spare hour, especially for someone they don’t have a relationship with. However, you’ll often find them more receptive to 15 or 20 minutes, especially if you’re presenting yourself as organized and without a hidden agenda.
In practice, that might look something like this:
“I was hoping we could meet for 20 minutes so I could ask a few questions around insights you have on professional development, which might assist me with the career transition. I have free time in my schedule next week or the week after, at your convenience.”
Ensure that you include your contact information at the end of your request.
All of that being said, you never know whose calendar is packed or who might be juggling massive projects with intense deadlines. Don’t give up if your first requests for an informational interview aren’t successful. You also want to ensure that you’re not narrowing your focus too much.
Consider starting with friends and family. Even if they aren’t in the particular career field or company you’re targeting, chances are they have valuable insight that will add depth to your professional perspectives.
You might gain insight into time management or networking, new technical tools you’ll find essential in a new role, or a creative approach to marketing your personal brand. Also, with the vast majority of jobs being found by word-of-mouth, you’ll be expanding your network exponentially. You never know who someone knows.
Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview (Examples)
When you arrive at the interview, have three to five informational interview questions prepared. Have a pen and paper for notes. Your questions are going to vary based on who you’re interviewing, your previous relationship with them, and how they relate to your desired career field.
For example, if you’re researching a company, you might ask informational interview questions such as:
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- Is there a personality type that generally excels in this department?
- What is the company culture like?
- How often does a role open up in this department?
- Is there a typical entry-level position I should consider?
On the other hand, if you’re inquiring about career perspectives, consider some of the following:
- Is your role typical of others in this field?
- What is a typical day like for you?
- What do you like least about your career field?
- Is there any training or professional certification that would make me more valuable?
- What does the typical career path look like?
How to End an Informational Interview
Regardless of why you were interviewing them, end your informational interview by asking if there’s anyone else they think you should talk to. Your second interview is often easier to get. You’ll be able to phrase that request with a personal connection, such as:
“I met with Bob Jones last week, and he suggested I reach out to you for some pointers on…“
And always send a follow-up thank-you note, whether that’s handwritten or via email. If there was actionable advice they gave, acknowledge its value and how you’re applying it. Don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn if you haven’t already.
Building a network you love goes hand in hand with targeted career growth. Enjoy the opportunities you can find when you flip the interview script by taking the lead.
Don't forget to share this article with friends!