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Informational interviews are a great way to meet the employment decision makers prior to the hiring process. There are a number of ways you can get an informational interview with a leader in your career field of interest. You can:

  • Follow up with a leader whom you met briefly at an event and ask for a chance to meet again to find out more about his or her organization
  • Leverage a friend or colleague who is a mutual connection and say that person recommended that you meet
  • Request an informational interview with a leader in your field with whom you don’t have a connection

In all cases, your initial email needs to clearly state what you are asking for (an informational interview) and what you are hoping the email recipient will do (agree to meet with you). If you have specific days and times that work for you to meet, include that information in the email. That will make it as easy as possible for the email recipient to set up an interview with one email or meeting appointment.

You will also want to put some parameters on your request to make it manageable. Say you would appreciate just 15 or so minutes of his or her time. Don’t make it look like you are looking for a job right now (even if you are) because then you may be referred to the HR department—or be declined with the message that the organization doesn’t have any positions open at the time. Follow up your email with a phone call in a few days.

Again, the purpose of an informational interview is to gain information!

Preparing for your informational interview

There are some differences between an interview for a specific position and an informational interview. But there are many similarities: be prepared for common interview questions, develop some questions of your own and do your research on the organization. Plus, promptly thank your interviewer. Here’s an outline to help you prepare for hitting all the points you need and still wrap up in 15 minutes:

  1. Start confidently by being collegial and asking the interviewer a few questions about herself or himself. A few ideas:
    “How did you start out in the organization?"
    “What drew you to this field of work?”
    “What’s the most exciting project you’re working on now?”
     
  2. Make a good impression by displaying your soft skills and talking about your technical skills—plus showing you’ve done your research, all while being conversational. Some examples
    “A business journal article I read reported a 34% increase in demand for widgets like the ones your company makes over the coming decade, do you see a need for more electrical engineers like me to meet that demand?”
    “I really admire the work you’ve done on the XYZ Company rebranding campaign, I had an internship at ABC Company where I learned a lot about the brand development process.”
     
  3. Find out what your interviewer can tell you that could directly advance your career plans. Like this:
    “What’s your advice for someone starting out or looking to move up in this field?”
     “What particular skills do you look for in new employees your department?”
    “What would you recommend I do to leverage my skills and experience for a position in your field or at your organization?”
     
  4. Thank the interviewer sincerely and ask if there is anyone else the interviewer recommends you contact for an informational interview. Such as:
    “You have been so helpful. Thank you so much for the time you spent with me today. I have a much better sense of my next steps. Is there anyone else you would recommend I speak with as I move forward?”
     
  5. Express your gratitude to the interviewer again after the interview with a short thank you note .
    If you meet with anyone he or she recommended, keep this networking connection active by sending a follow up with a thank you for that recommendation.