Whether you’re deep in the job hunt or just curious about new possibilities, an informational interview can be a fantastic way to get your foot in the door at a new company, build contacts, and score new opportunities.
What’s an informational interview?
An informational interview is essentially a face-to-face conversation that lets you get information on a company or industry without having a formal job interview scheduled. It can be a great way to explore the culture in that company you’ve always wanted to work for, or figure out whether you’d be a fit for that industry you’ve been curious about. Think you might be happier in a different department or role? An informational interview can help you find out.
What an informational interview isn’t is a sneaky way to score a job interview, though the person you meet with may very well put in a good word for you or suggest you submit your resume to HR if she’s impressed with your conversation.
Ideally, you want to request an interview with someone who’s in a position to help you get a job, whether directly or indirectly. It can be with someone you already know or someone referred through your network – but it’s also possible to land an informational interview with someone you’ve gone out on a limb to contact.
Why should you do an informational interview?
To get the low-down. Reading a job description, or even talking to a hiring manager, won’t tell you everything about a company’s culture. Now’s the perfect time to ask questions about salary, work culture expectations, opportunities for advancement, and anything else you probably wouldn’t ask in a formal interview. Always remember that you’re trying to make a good impression, of course!
To plan your next move. Have you ever sat through a job interview only to realize that you’d really hate working for a particular organization, or – worse – gotten the job only to realize it’s nothing like what you’d like to be doing? An informational interview can help equip you with the intel you need to make a smart plan for your career.
To get an “in” on a position. Talking with someone on the inside can give you crucial insight into the company’s needs before you start applying for positions – information you may never be able to glean when reading a job description. Many companies don’t advertise all their open positions, either, so an informational interview may be the only way you’d hear about a particular opening.
To make a good impression. Hopefully you’ve put your best foot forward, and your contact will be incredibly impressed. If so, this can go a long way towards landing you a job with the organization, since hiring managers are more likely to look at candidates who are recommended by current employees.
Here are some quick tips for landing – and having – a great informational interview.
- Target someone specific at the organization you’re interested in working for.
- Try to find a connection with a contact before approaching them – like an alma mater or mutual colleague. LinkedIn can be a great tool to help you unearth these.
- Prepare a list of questions, and bring a notebook to take notes.
- Ask at the end of the meeting for an introduction to someone who can give you even more information.
- Keep in touch afterwards, especially if you end up using their advice.
- Send a prompt thank you note!
- Put your contact on the spot. You’re not asking for a job, or for them to recommend you; you’re just asking for advice.
- Ask questions that could be answered with a Google search, like,”So, what does this organization do?” Make sure you’ve done your basic research before heading in.
- Hog their time. Keep it short – you want to take up no more than 30 minutes of your contact’s time.
- Assume it’s OK to use your contact’s name when applying for a position. If she was impressed with you, she’ll volunteer that privilege.