How to Make the Most of an Informational Interview

by Ashley Horne

Informational Interview Meeting

Informational interviews can be an extremely helpful tool in the job search and job prospecting process. When you find that your request for an informational interview has been accepted, it is important that you take the time to plan the meeting in advance. If you only have 30 minutes, how are you going to spend it?

Let’s take a look at how you can best put together your agenda, including some examples of questions to ask.

1) Choose Your Location Wisely

Remember that the person you are meeting is doing you a favor. Choose a location that is convenient for them and not for you. If you can eliminate the need for them to go anywhere (i.e. meeting at their office or at a coffee shop close by), that will help maximize the amount of face time you get. It is also a gesture that you are appreciative of their time.

2) Keep Your Goal in Mind

When you began reaching out to people requesting their time, it was likely because you had an interest in their industry, work, or organization. Depending on what your background is, you may or may not know enough about their career or industry to hold a conversation. If your goal is to learn about a new industry, you will want to do some light research. Learn broadly about what the industry responsibilities include, dive deeper to understand how you see yourself fitting in, and be sure you keep the conversation on track to learn more about what interests you.

Remember that this person is not your career coach; they are offering you their time because they understand you want to learn more about what they do and the opportunities that may exist for you in their sector. Keep the conversation focused on their field. For example, you wouldn’t want to prepare questions only a finance professional could answer for someone who works in the marine industry.

3) Prepare Your Elevator Speech

Keeping in mind that you only have a short window of time to work with, it’s important to write and practice your elevator speech. You will both need to introduce yourselves, as it’s unlikely you’ll have met before, but you don’t want to spend half the time you have together talking about yourself. You want to be able to jump right in and start gathering information. It’s best to prepare a short description of your professional background and a summary of your goal for the discussion. This ensures you both are working toward the same end result.

4) Make a List of Relevant Questions

Although the conversation should proceed naturally, you’ll want to keep in mind that you are looking to gather data that will help you make a decision: Is this the right job/industry for me? Having a list of questions that will help to drill down to topics that are of most importance will be a helpful tool to keep you on track. Feel free to tailor some of the examples below to guide your specific conversation.

Introductory Questions

  • What does your job entail?
  • What career progression led to this role?
  • What do you like most about your job?
  • What do you like least about your job?
  • What do you find most challenging about your position?

Industry Specific Questions

  • What kind of training do you receive or is required to be successful in this industry?
  • Are there specific licensures that are important to obtain or maintain?
  • What major changes have you seen in this industry since you started?
  • How do you see the sector changing in the future?
  • What challenges to entry in this industry do you think are most likely?

Position Specific Questions

  • What skills do you look for in an individual in this role?
  • What kind of experience do you think would be most relevant for someone to be successful in this position?
  • Can you describe the average day of a person in this role?
  • Does this position require leadership experience?
  • What technology or software programs should a person be proficient in using to be successful in this position?

Additional Questions

  • Does this position/industry require a great deal of travel?
  • What books, newspapers, or journals do you read to stay current?
  • Who are your role models?
  • Who else would you recommend I speak with to learn more?
  • What one piece of advice have you received that has been most valuable to you?

5) Think About What You Have to Offer in Exchange

It’s true that you are attempting to gather information for your benefit, but it is always great to think about what you have to offer the person you are meeting. This may be a contact, information, or publication you believe would be beneficial to their growth, development, or work. If they are a researcher, for instance, you may want to connect them with a contact who is working on a similar research project. If you are speaking to someone in a leadership role, you may want to take a copy of your favorite leadership book or journal to give to them as a token of your appreciation. Think outside the box!

6) Allow Time for Open Discussion

Even the best laid plans can fall apart. Do your best to stay on target, but understand the importance of time for open discussion. You may find some of your best advice comes from an unstructured portion of the discussion.

7) Be Mindful of the Time

As mentioned in “Informational Interviews: How to Have a Constructive Meeting,” it is important to be respectful of the time allotted. If the meeting is slated for 30 minutes, attempt to wrap up the discussion on time. If your contact wants to continue the discussion they will.

8) A ‘Thank You’ Goes a Long Way

Always remember the value of a handwritten thank you note. Written notes are not only a dying art but imply a great deal without saying a word. Taking the time to write, address, stamp, and send a note of thanks goes a long way and can be memorable. Take the time to thank your contact and use it as a means to cultivating an ongoing relationship. Keeping in touch will hopefully mean that they will keep you in mind for potential job leads.

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Informational interviews are a great way to broaden your network, learn more about industries and positions with which you are unfamiliar, and help expand your job search. Make the most of the time you receive by being well prepared for a thorough and memorable discussion.

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