One of the best pieces of advice I received as I was starting my career was to take advantage of informational interviews.
It’s advice I’ve passed along numerous times over the years – to everyone from recent grads to experienced professionals who are curious and considering a change.
On the surface, an informational interview is an informal way to learn about the real-life experiences of someone who works in a field or at a specific company that interests you. But if you capitalize on the opportunity, the outcome can go much deeper than that.
On a personal note, informational interviews helped establish many important connections for me. They led to jobs (both for myself and people I interviewed) and initiated relationships with people who became mentors, industry peers, and significant members of my network.
When I think about the reasons why these meetings were successful and what I would tell anyone preparing for one themselves, the following factors come to mind.
When it comes to networking and expanding your horizons, any time is a good time. If you’re feeling under the gun to find a new opportunity immediately, you might put too much pressure on what is supposed to be an informal and “get to know you” situation.
If it’s the company that interests you, it might take some time for the right opportunity to open up. Similarly, students should not wait until graduation to start the process. If the meeting goes well, you will be remembered. Best to start the conversation early and see where it takes you.
While I just got done saying that informational interviews are informal experiences, I would prepare for them just like I would for a formal interview. This involves thoroughly researching the company and person you are interviewing with, compiling thoughtful questions, having an updated resume and portfolio of your work handy, and dressing appropriately for the situation.
If your interview is in person, arrive a little early. Or if it’s virtual, get on the line a couple minutes early so no one is waiting on you. Unless otherwise specified, assume your call will be on camera, so be mindful of your attire and surroundings. Make sure you’re in a quiet space with a reliable internet connection and that your background is clean and professional.
Think about the connection during your meeting from several perspectives. If you can envision yourself working with the person you’re meeting with, how is your dynamic? Try to learn not just about a specific job, but also about the company culture. If the purpose of the interview is more focused on the field itself, ask what you need to so you get solid answers and walk away with a more definitive direction. Also, consider connections that could be made beyond just this meeting. Who else would this person recommend you talk to? Are they willing to make any introductions for you?
Finally, getting to know the person on a personal level will help build rapport. Ask about his or her background, hobbies, etc. If you can bond over some commonalities or shared interests, then it’s more likely you will be remembered.
Just like you would after any interview, express your sincere gratitude for the person’s time and willingness to talk to you. This should be done before your meeting ends, but also reiterated in an email shortly after. If you haven’t already, also consider connecting on LinkedIn. If the person you talked to requested any additional information, then be sure to be timely about sending it. Finally, depending on the takeaway from your meeting, stay in touch as appropriate. Continuing to nurture the relationship is important and it’s what will lead to the most long-term outcome.
Whether you’re at the start of your journey or at a career crossroads, establishing meaningful connections is critical. And remember, in the working world when one proverbial door closes, another one opens. Open it yourself with an informational interview.