5 Things to Do for a Successful Informational Interview



We are all collectively navigating some seismic changes in the world of work. With trending hashtags like #GreatResignation, #QuietQuitting, and #QuietFiring it is clear that what people want from the workplace today is in a state of change.


If you are facing uncertainty in your employment or if you're thinking about changing employers or even industries then there is no better tool at your disposal to help you plan and prepare for such a move as the Informational Interview.


What is the Informational Interview?

An informational interview is a pre-arranged conversation between someone who wants to learn about a company or career and a person who is in that company or career. Informational interviews can happen both with someone inside of your organization and with people in completely unrelated fields and organizations to the one you are currently in.


So, how do you have an incredibly successful informational interview?


1: Don't ask any questions that you can find online

Before you even set up the interview check out the LinkedIn profile and any other information you can find through Google about your potential interviewee. Many times this will allow you to go much deeper with questions. Instead of asking something generic like "Tell me about your career path?" you could ask "I see you moved from company x to company y about 5 years ago. These are in very different industries. What did you do to prepare to make this a successful move?"


2: Get clear on your goal for the conversation

Build a set of questions for the interview with a clear goal in mind. Perhaps you're attempting to learn about the education and certifications needed to enter a certain career field from someone in the field. Or, perhaps you want to learn about the culture of a specific company or industry. You are NOT asking for a job but you are creating an impression on someone in an industry or organization you want to work in so have a clear goal in mind for the conversation.


3: Help your interviewee prepare for the interview

I think it's best to send a draft set of questions to the interviewee in advance of the interview. I find 3 - 5 days in advance is best. I'm always clear that I may wander from the list during the conversation but that I will use these questions as the rough outline of the interview.


This step serves two purposes.


First, it ensures that you are well prepared for the interview and have set a deadline for yourself for your preparation work. This feeds directly into the next tip as well - being fully present.


Second, it lets your interviewee prepare for the conversation. Informational interviews should require very little preparation for the interviewee since they essentially answering questions about their life and career. That said, they might provide you richer examples and organize their thoughts in a way that gives you time to go much deeper if you send them questions in advance.


4: Be fully present during the interview

Block some time just before the interview begins to center yourself and prepare to be fully present during the conversation. Take care of any personal needs so that you can focus. Make arrangements to take the meeting from quiet space where you will not be interrupted.


Doing this extra preparation allows you to be fully present during the interview so that you follow the conversation - and ask follow-up questions where they occur to you. And, because you sent interview questions in advance, you'll hopefully have time for these follow-up questions.


5: Follow up after the interview

There are three specific follow-ups that should follow any informational interview.


Connect: The first you may have already done and that is to connect on LinkedIn if you've not done so already. If, during the interview the interviewee offers other ways to connect with them (a newsletter, other social channels, etc.) it's certainly appropriate to also connect in those ways.


Say Thank You: Whether you send a follow-up email or a physical thank you card, do so within 24 hours following the informational interview conversation. I don't think that a physical gift is needed or even appropriate for informational interviews but a note of thanks - digital or physical - is a must. It's also a step far too many people forget to take.


Follow Up: In a few months or even a year, follow up after you've made your career move or change and let the person know they were instrumental in your change. Each time I've done a batch of informational interviews, I've kept a list of those I talked to and then followed up with them when I was settled at my new destination.


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