October 23, 2015 |

Take the Awkwardness Out of Your Informational Interview


You are at a coffee shop sitting across from an employer that you have never met.  You are ready to ask them questions about their career and experiences.  As casual as chatting over coffee may seem, an informational interview like this can feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable.  The fear of the awkward should not deter you from setting up an interview and meeting with professionals in your field!   These interviews can be the perfect opportunity to narrow your career focus, find out about an organization you are interested in, and expand your network.  So where do you begin?

First, what is an informational interview?  I’m glad you asked.  Simply put, an informational interview is a conversation.  You sit down with a professional in your desired field, a career path you may be interested in, or a company you want to find out more about and interview them.  It is a learning experience for you as you navigate the career search process and it can help you improve your interviewing skills in a more casual, low stakes environment.  You prepare the questions to get exactly what you want out of the interview.  Don’t mistake this for an opportunity to land a job with the employer you are interviewing.  Informational Interviews are meant mainly for you to make connections and discover information about possible career avenues.

How do I land an informational interview?  Figuring out where to begin can be really challenging.  Start by finding someone you are genuinely interested in talking to.  You can do this by looking at employees of a company you find interesting or talking to your current connections to see if they know anyone in your desired field.  Even simpler, you can browse LinkedIn for the perfect person.  Once you find someone, reach out through email.  In this message be clear about why you are contacting them and what you are looking for.  Also express your thanks and gratitude right away for their consideration to take time out of their busy schedule to meet with you.  After this email is sent, you play the waiting game.  Don’t be afraid to follow up if you are waiting on a response from someone you feel passionate about talking to.

How do I make the conversation feel natural?  Whatever your reason for setting up an informational interview, there is one key factor that unites them all:  wanting advice.  If you look at the interview from this lens, it should alleviate some of your stress and nerves.  Think of it as going to a mentor for help or sitting down to talk with one of your favorite professors.  The questions should be crafted around your curiosities, which should naturally propel conversation forward.  By bringing prepared questions that focus on your interests, goals and aspirations you will have a concrete plan laid out in case your nerves get the best of you.  Have this plan prepared, but also be flexible to adjust to where your interviewee takes the conversation.

What kinds of questions should I ask?  You want to ask questions that foster a meaningful conversation.  These questions should be open-ended and geared towards what you want to learn.  Make sure your interviewee the star; they should be talking more than you!  Here are some example questions to help when developing your own list:

  • How did you get started in this field?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What is the most rewarding aspect about working in this field?  What is the most challenging?
  • What are your responsibilities in this position?  What skills do you use?
  • What are the challenges you face on an everyday basis?
  • What is the hiring process like in this field?
  • What are your long-term goals?
  • What types of experiences would be beneficial when preparing to enter this field?
  • Who else would you recommend I talk to?

How do I follow up?  Thank them.  The person you interviewed took time from their busy schedule to help you better your career search.  Make sure to send a follow-up note or email expressing your gratitude for the experience.  Also, make sure to stay connected.  Connect with them on LinkedIn or send them an email after making progress in your job search.  Then, reach out to the other professionals who they told you about.  Now you are ready to start the process over again!



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