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How to conduct an informational interview

How to prepare, what questions to ask, and what to do next.

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What is an informational interview?

Informational interviews are brief meetings to learn more about someone’s experience within a career or industry that interests you. The person you interview can give you real-world examples of what life is like within a given field. They’re a great strategy if you’re considering a career change or starting your job search.

Keep in mind informational interviews are not job interviews, so don’t use them to ask for a job. But, if handled properly, informational interviews can lead to job search suggestions and new connections. Plus, they can help you gain confidence as you practice your interviewing skills.

Who to ask

Start by writing down a list of job titles and companies you’re interested in. Then, ask around your network to find someone that matches your list. Start with friends, family, neighbors, and former coworkers. Ask them to check within their own networks.

Are you already using LinkedIn? LinkedIn can speed up your search by showing your shared connections between people and companies. Ask your connections to introduce you or reach out directly if you feel comfortable.

How to ask for an informational interview

Try reaching out over email or the phone—either directly or have someone introduce you. Start by mentioning how you got their name. Explain that you’re seeking advice and want to hear about their experience.

Ask to meet for 20–30 minutes in-person or over a video call.

Prepare for the interview

Do your research

A little bit of research goes a long way. It shows your interviewee you value their time and input. It can also help leave a favorable impression for future job opportunities.

Take the same steps you would when preparing for a job interview. That means reviewing the company’s website, recent news, and trending industry topics. Look up your interviewee on LinkedIn to get a better understanding of their career path.

Practice what you’ll say

During an informational interview, you’ll need to lead the conversation. To prepare, practice the following:

  • Briefly introducing yourself
  • Asking your questions and transitioning between them
  • Thinking through your expectations and how to set them early in the interview
  • Concluding the interview on a positive note
Tip: Informational interviews aren’t the time to ask for a job interview for yourself. Instead, keep the conversation focused on their career and experience.
Dress to impress

Dress appropriately on the day of the interview. If you’re meeting at their office, ask for the dress code. If you’re meeting outside the office or over video, business casual is a safe bet.

Questions to ask in an informational interview

Prepare for the interview with a list of questions you’d like to ask. Start with basic questions to break the ice before moving onto some of your bigger questions.

Time will pass much faster than you think, so pick a few important questions you want answers to the most. Here are some ideas: 

  • How did you get into this type of work? This job? 
  • What type of preparation, education, or training did you have? What is required? 
  • What do you wish someone had told you before you entered this industry but didn't?
  • What do you enjoy the most? The least? 
  • What three skills do you use most often? 
  • Describe a typical day or week. 
  • What motivates you? 
  • Describe difficulties you regularly face on the job. 
  • What are the advancement opportunities and limits? 
  • How does a person usually progress in this field? 
  • What must a person know to stay competitive? 
  • What’s the economic outlook for this career? 
  • How does your job affect your home life? 
  • What are typical entry-level job titles and duties? 
  • How do you suggest I learn more about this field? 
  • Here are my strengths. How do they fit in this field?

After the interview

Follow up with your interviewee

Be sure to send a thank you email after an informational interview. Thank your interviewee for their time and advice. Be sure to mention what you enjoyed hearing about the most. You can also reach out in a few weeks to see if there’s anyone else they recommend you talk to.
Also, this would be the time to inquire about any job openings you’re applying to at their company. They may offer to put you in touch with the recruiter or hiring manager to learn more about the role. If there are no job openings, ask them to keep you in mind if something pops up later.

Reflect on what you heard

Next, review your notes and think about how the interview went. Ask yourself: 

  • Do the day-to-day activities align with your interests?
  • Is this a company you’d like to work for? 
  • Does the work-life balance sound reasonable?
  • Does it sound like there’s room for growth?
  • Are there education or training requirements you need to consider?
  • What questions do you still have?

Don’t love what you heard in your interview? That’s okay! Their experience might not be the right fit for you. But don’t make a career decision from just one informational interview. Try to interview a couple of other people in different roles or companies before deciding on the next steps. More interviews will offer you more perspective and practice.

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