An informational interview is a totally different breed than an employment interview. How? Well, when asking for an informational interview you are doing so from a place of research. Conducting an informational interview isn’t about getting a job; it is about gathering information.

Informational interviews provide valuable information about potential industries, companies and their culture, the type of work they do, potential positions where your skillset might fit and the education and qualifications that various positions require. It is your opportunity to ask the questions!

Conducting informational interviews is a great way to transition into another career. When I decided I wanted to make a change from working in various roles in Financial Services including Project Management, Training and Digital Marketing, I did many informational interviews. How was this helpful? I learned how they did their hiring and what the company structure was like, among other things. For entrepreneurial endeavors, I got clarity on what steps people took to be successful in launching a business.

Making these connections and adding to my network was incredibly valuable and I also got a feel for the company environment. In fact, I landed my first Leadership Coaching work via an informational interview! I was given an offer to work with a business right on the spot!

How to land informational interviews

Use your network

One of the keys to obtaining an informational interview is to contact someone who does the type of work you might want to do. Having their name so you can address them directly will help. LinkedIn is also a great way to get an introduction and so is cold calling. Use your personal network as well to get to the contacts you need.

Develop a phone or email script

The script should contain:

  1. A short sentence or two about your background and experience
  2. A request for a meeting
  3. The amount of time you require. Fifteen minutes is a good amount of time to ask for. The time is key because when people get requests for meetings they may say they don’t have the time, thinking it is going to take an hour. By clearly stating you want 15 minutes – the same amount as a coffee break, folks are more open to meeting with you.

Here’s an example of a cold calling script that led to informational interviews: “Hi, my name is Debbie Clover. I am a recent graduate from UVA and I am doing some research into where my skills and qualifications might fit. Would you have 15 minutes to meet with me and discuss your company and role? When might be better this week or next?”

Persistence pays

Persistence pays off and so does timing. If you are met with resistance when asking for an informational interview, ask if you can call again at a better time. Then ensure you record the time and date to follow up and do so!

Meeting in person is preferred, but with current COVID impacts, this can be done via video conference or phone.

Make sure to ask this question

Develop a list of questions to ask at the interview. One of the best questions to ask at the end of the interview is, “Can you recommend someone else I might talk to.” And when they do, “Can I use your name when I contact them.” This expands your network and provides another person to do an informational interview with. Plus you now have a warm call to make that will open the doors to more informational interviews!

So I got the informational interview…. Now what?

Although this isn’t an employment interview you want to treat it as an interview and take the meeting seriously. Here’s a checklist to follow:

  • Dress appropriately if you will be seen – that means professionally. When in doubt, dress one step above what people in this type of industry/work wear.
  • Develop a list of questions to ask; Check the company website prior to developing your questions to avoid asking anything that is on the company website.
  • Be prepared with your resume (provide the resume if it is requested, as this is an information interview)
  • Avoid chewing gum and turn off your cell phone before the meeting
  • Remember to smile and be positive!
  • Thank the person for their time at the end of the interview
  • Beware of the time so at the 15-minute mark you mention you will wrap up; schedule yourself for extra time in case the person wants to have more discussion–which is often the case–or offers you a tour

Follow Up

Part of making a great impression is by doing a follow-up. Send a written thank you card after the interview or email and then check in on a regular basis with your new contact. That way if an opening becomes available down the road you will be one of the first people they will contact.

If I can be of support, you can get on my calendar here:

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