Appreciate an Informational Interview

Too many job seekers blow informational interviews off as a waste of time, but they can be an invaluable resource. An informational interview is not a job interview. The purpose of a sit-down with a successful person is to learn from their experience, learn about their industry, and learn the steps that they took to get where they are. Informational interviews can be brief discussions over cups of coffee, formal meetings in an office setting, or anything in between.

Amanda Nell, Director of Employer Relations at the University of Missouri, offers these tips to inform your about proper information interview etiquette.

  • When you request an informational interview with someone, make sure to open with how you got their name. For example, “Professor Smith recommended I contact you regarding your experience in the natural energy industry.” Personal references are always better than cold contacts.
  • Select someone in the position you wish to have someday, or who does almost exactly what you want to do. Ask them about their career path and how they got where they are today. Ask them for recommendations about how you can achieve your goals.
  • Ask them to look over your resume and point out areas where you need improvement. This isn’t about structural or grammatical improvements, but rather about your experience. Where are the gaps? Ask them to suggest things you could do to enhance your resume. This is also an appropriate way to get your credentials in front of someone.
  • Do not ask for a job during an informational interview. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, they may not be aware of job openings at their company right now. Second, asking for a job is pretty much a yes or no question. You will lose out on the opportunity to learn about the career you are pursuing. (Better they should be so impressed by you that they go and find out what positions are open and invite you to apply.)

But how exactly do you arrange to have an informational interview? There are no hard and fast rules, but one common method is to use your network. Who do you know that is in an industry in which you are interested? Do you have friends with a successful sibling or parent? Perhaps you have successful friends and you just want to sit down to pick their brain. Even if you don’t have a personal connection to someone, you can write a letter or telephone a complete stranger and state your interest in setting up an informational interview. Most times you will find people are flattered with your interest in them and more than willing to take time out of their schedule to meet you and talk about themselves. Since they are doing you a favor, be sure to meet at their convenience—and pick up the check! If you hit it off with your interviewee, they might know of someone else that you should talk to; they might know of a job that would be a good fit for you; and at the very least you just made a new contact in your network.