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Taking Advantage of Informational Interviews

Atrouli Chatterjee

Atrouli Chatterjee

For many, an “interview” means a job interview—a formal question-and-answer session after which, if successful, the interviewee is offered a job. However, interviews come in many flavors. One type of interview that is often underappreciated but can be very useful is the informational interview.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is usually a short conversation with a professional who is currently in an industry, organization or position that you want to pursue. The conversation is an opportunity for you to learn more about their role or career path without any obligation for a job thereafter. You can ask them about their experiences, assess your assumptions, and get more visibility should you decide to formally interview with their organization.

Considering the advantages

Informational interviews are particularly useful for obtaining information you cannot get elsewhere, such as a feel for the environment in an organization, the challenges associated with a specific career transition, inside details regarding a position, or the current focus of a group. Moreover, informational interviews allow you to explore different facets of an organization by meeting with a variety of individuals from different groups or areas.

These perspectives can offer insight into if a position is right for you and when it may be a good time for you to apply. As such, informational interviews are particularly useful if you want to make a change in your career path.

Setting up an interview

First, you have to find the right person to interview. This search often starts with family, friends, colleagues and mentors who are or were in roles of interest to you. Alternatively, conferences and networking websites like LinkedIn offer ways to expand your network to include helpful contacts.

For example, if you are a student starting to look for post-graduation career paths, consider reaching out to alumni from your university who are currently in your “dream” position or organization. In some cases, you can “cold” email an expert. However, it is typically beneficial to have a mutual connection introduce you to avoid getting overlooked.

When writing to set up an informational interview, be clear and concise. What do you hope to learn? How long will the conversation be?

When writing to set up an informational interview, be clear and concise. What do you hope to learn? How long will the conversation be? If you are writing to someone you are not connected to, consider including a short introduction to yourself. Or, if you are writing to someone you know but have not reached out to in a while, consider reminding them of how you became connected. At this stage, you want to emphasize that this interview will not be a significant time commitment and give them an idea of what you plan to ask, so they can also prepare.

You should also consider the venue for the interaction. Although there are several virtual platforms available now, many find that face-to-face conversations allow a more meaningful connection. In general, both the location and time should be of convenience to the expert you will be speaking with.

If you decide to have an in-person discussion, you will need to choose a location that provides space for a personal conversation where both you and the expert will feel comfortable having an open conversation. If you decide to have a virtual conversation, you will need to ensure that you have a secure internet connection and that you are able to present yourself professionally.

Be prepared

While an informational interview is more casual than a job interview, it is still expected that you prepare for the meeting. Some ways to prepare include:

  • Research the organization and position that you are interested in
  • Research the background of the expert you will be speaking with
  • Compile a list of questions that you would like to discuss—try to keep these questions as open-ended as possible to facilitate discussion without biasing the answers
  • Prepare a brief introduction for yourself that emphasizes any similarities you have with the expert and highlights the goal of the meeting. Try to make sure that your introduction is around a minute long but feel free to expand on your introduction during the course of the conversation

In short, your preparation should help you gain knowledge about the organization/career transition/position and provide a more concrete answer regarding the feasibility and timing for making the transition. Next steps As with any interview, you should always thank the expert for their time and follow up with them. If you are considering speaking with others, you can also ask the expert for referrals to their connections who may have relevant experiences.

Finally, after the informational interview, it is important to self-reflect. Based on the experiences you heard about, do you think that you still want to make the change? Is this the right time to move forward? What will you need to prepare? And if the time is right and you are committed to making the change—then best of luck to you!

Publish Date: 02 April 2024

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