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What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is an interview in which you gather information from a person about:
- the company he or she works for
- the person’s career path
- the person’s job function
Some might call it a networking interview. That’s it. It’s not an opportunity to ask for a job or to “accidentally” leave your resume.
Why You Should Ask for Informational Interviews
Anyone contemplating a career change should consider conducting informational interviews because doing so shows initiative, provides you with practice having one-to-one “interview-like” conversations, and gives you visibility.
The visibility you gain from doing informational interviews leads you to pop into someone’s mind when there is an opening at the company. In this way, an opportunity may come your way without ever having been posted in a formal job announcement. In a similar fashion, if you speak with people in the company you currently work for about their job functions, you stand a chance of being considered when a job opens in a different department than you currently work.
Most people, especially in manufacturing environments, do not know about informational interviews. By doing informational interviews, you will stand out from the crowd.
How to Ask for an Informational Interview
Step 1: Determine whom you want to interview.
LinkedIn may very well be the best tool to accomplish this task because it literally connects you with people across the globe. If this form of interaction feels awkward, or even downright weird, you can consider asking people you already know first. Think about your existing network. Does an in-law work at a company you’re interested in learning about? Does a fellow member of the Masons have a job title you’d like to have? Has your neighbor made a transition similar to the one you are hoping to make? If so, consider speaking with these people.
Step 2: Contact the potential interviewee.
Email or talk to the person and ask if you can speak with them for 20 minutes about the company they work for, their career path, and/or their job function. Be clear, concise, and direct in your request. Many people suggest meeting for coffee (or an alcoholic drink depending on how well you know the person), but oftentimes the interviewee is too busy to meet in person so always give them the option of a phone call. If you offer to meet for coffee or lunch, be sure to explicitly mention it will be your treat.
Here is a sample email request:
Thanks so much for speaking with me recently at —–. I enjoyed hearing about your transition from being a welder to a production supervisor. As we discussed, I’m considering a similar path. Would you be willing to have a 20–minute conversation with me to discuss the steps you took to make your transition a reality? I’d be happy to have a phone call or buy you coffee—whatever you prefer and best fits your schedule. I look forward to hearing from you.
Step 3: Consider following up once if you don’t get a response.
People lead busy lives, and the person may have forgotten to respond. Don’t take it personally if the person declines; if that happens, write a concise email to thank them (e.g., Dear Tony, Thank you for taking the time to respond to my inquiry.”).
Step 4: Prepare!
Do your research and make a list of questions for the interviewee. Ideally, the interview will feel like a natural conversation and not a rigid question and answer session. You will feel more comfortable and be able to have that natural exchange if you are prepared and know the topics you want to cover.
Step 5: Follow through.
Treat this as seriously as you would a “real” interview. Do not cancel unless you have a true emergency.
Step 6: Confirm the call/meeting 24-48 hours in advance.
Then, be your best self for the interview, and keep track of the time. At the 20-minute mark, you can offer your thanks and wrap up the interview. Alternately, you can inquire whether the person still has time to continue the conversation. This attention to detail and respect for their time will likely leave a good impression.
By conducting informational interviews you will obtain valuable information and insight, nurture existing relationships, build new connections, practice succeeding in career-driven conversations, and communicate your goals and aspirations to those who might be able to help you out down the road.