5 Steps to Acing an Informational Interview

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on September 19, 2011
5 Steps to Acing an Informational Interview

You know how to network and are familiar with the traditional job interview, so the informational interview, which combines aspects of both, should be a snap. “It’s less intimidating than networking, and less high-pressure than an interview,” says Lissy Carr, expert on informational interviews and founder of So Whaddya Do.

Fundamentally, an informational interview is an information gathering session. The goal is simple: discover what someone does. Here’s how:

Say “Howdy!”
Whether you’re pursuing a job in pizza delivery or investment banking, you should get a first-hand account of what the position entails. Once you find a connection in your
desired field—through family, friends, school, or work—it’s time to make contact. Shoot them an email mentioning the mutual connection, and request a brief, 20 to 30-minute informational interview.

Location, Location, Location
You can really benefit from interviewing someone in his or her natural environment—for instance, speaking with a fashion designer in her studio. But at the end of the day, the location is up to the individual you’re interviewing, says Carr. “As the person requesting the interview, you should allow them to decide where they will be comfortable.”If your meeting is over lunch or a cup of coffee, offer to pay as a token of appreciation.

What to Ask
You should prepare a whole slew of questions that are specific to your chosen field, but to get you started, here are four time-tested queries:

  • How did you get into this field?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What are some of the challenges of your job?
  • What type of person should NOT pursue
    this career?
What Not to Ask              
This is not—repeat, not—a job interview, so don’t ask for a job. Your interviewee is already doing you a favor by speaking with you, so unless they offer you further connections, job openings at their company, or to pass along your resume, don’t ask for them.

Follow Up
After shaking their hand and thanking your interviewee for meeting you, you should always follow up as you would to a normal interview: by sending
a thank you note, either via email or the old fashioned way, through the mail. Besides thanking them for their time, try to recall a personal tidbit from your discussion to personalize the message.

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