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Structuring an Informational Interview

christinamcmahon profile image Christina ・4 min read

I’ve been getting in the habit of attending at least one virtual meetup every week and this week’s talk was conducted by Flatiron School Career Coach, Cesar Ramirez, on informational interviews.

To be clear, an informational interview is not the same as a job interview. The goal of an informational interview is to have a conversation with someone working in an area or at a company of interest to you. It is an effective research tool that is best done after preliminary research. In this article, I will go over the steps to structuring a successful informational interview.

Benefits of Informational Interviews

  • Get firsthand, relevant information about working in a particular field or position.
  • Get tips and insider knowledge about how to prepare for and land your first career position.
  • Learn about a company of interest including their company culture and values.
  • Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network in a specific career field.
  • Meet people who may help you move forward with a job lead in the future.

How to Structure an Informational Interview

Even though it can feel awkward to approach someone you don’t know for an informational interview, I’ve found that a lot of people are happy to share their experience and advice with someone that shows genuine interest and passion. In order to prove your interest though, you will need to do some preparation. To keep things simple, follow these steps to structure a productive informational interview.

1. Research Company of Interest

  • Gain an understanding of what the company does and what their popular products are.
  • Read the company about page, looking for their mission and signs of their company culture and values.
  • If there is a specific role you are interested in, be sure to review the posting and pay attention to what team and/or project you would be working on and what skills they expect of you. If there are any terms or concepts you don’t know, look them up and get at least a basic understanding.
  • Skim some of their most recent news to make sure you are up to date on company news.
  • Feel free to write down any questions you have during this process.

2. Identify People to Interview

  • Pursue your own contacts. If you know anyone at the company, these should be the first people you contact.
  • If you don’t know anyone personally, use LinkedIn to find people you have something in common with such as going to the same school or having a common connection.
  • If neither of above are the case, look for who you think would be a part of your hiring process or someone who is currently in the role that you are interested in. Prepare for Interview and Initiate Contact Once you’ve found someone to contact, send your LinkedIn request and be sure to include a message or send an email. You should definitely review their profile before sending your message and include your commonality or something that intrigued you about their profile in your message. If sending an email, you can write a longer message and include your portfolio and/or resume for them to review before your meeting. Two LinkedIn request message examples:

Hi [connection name], It was great meeting you at the [event title] today. It was great hearing your perspective on [common topic]. I’d love to hear more about your experience as a [position] at [company]. Let me know if you have a few minutes to chat!

Hi [connection name], I recently graduated from [school and program]. I’m intrigued by [company and recent accomplishment or product]. Would you have a few minutes to chat about what it’s like to work at [company]?

  • Your message should ideally include why you are reaching out to them specifically and a personal touch like a commonality. Then you can ask to connect and chat.
  • Once connected and they agree to chat, you can be more specific about setting up a call. Set up a time and tell them what you hope to talk about generally.
  • Based on your research, prepare questions

3. Conduct the Informational Interview

  • Arrive on time or a few minutes early.
  • Bring your list of questions and something for notes. Some sample questions:

How did you get into [field or position]? How do you like being a [role] at [company]? How would you describe the company culture at [company]? What do you think sets candidates apart in the hiring process at [company]? Do you have any advice for someone looking to break into the [field] industry?

  • Start with some small chat to make it feel more like a natural conversation and thank them for taking the time to meet with you.
  • Within the first 10-15 minutes, make sure to give some version of your elevator pitch to introduce yourself, your experience, and your goals.
  • Be prepared to direct the interview but also let the conversation flow naturally and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
  • Respect the person’s time. If you agreed on a 20 minute chat, stick to that.
  • Ask the person if you may contact them in the future if you have more questions.
  • Ask for names of other people to meet so as to gain additional perspectives.

4. After the Interview

  • Review and add to your notes while things are still fresh in your mind. Feel free to write down any additional questions you have or couldn’t get to in the interview.
  • Send a thank you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Mention something specific in your thank you from the interview to show that you are genuine. If you mentioned getting back to them with something that came up during the interview, send that now to show you follow through with what you say.
  • Keep in touch with the person, especially if you have a particularly nice interaction. If you followed through with some of their advice, feel free to tell them about it and the outcome or if you come across an article that you think they would like, keep the conversation going by sending it to them.

Conclusion

If you’re lucky, the person you interview may offer to refer you or connect you with other people for another information interview. This is all about getting information and creating connections.

Let me know if you found this guide helpful and if there is anything you would add.

Posted on Apr 28 by:

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