An “Informational Interview” is a conversation with someone that you’ve identified as having more experience in your targeted industry, is connected in the networks you want to be a part of, and is generally a career persona that you aspire to embody. Your purpose with your interviewee is to learn about their career path and soak up any advice to consider while you navigate your own career. This process will not only add to your current interview skills and help you learn from someone else’s experiences, but it will also get you noticed by your managers and potential employers.
STEP ONE: Choose your interview candidate
If you have someone in mind already – great! If you don’t, start by considering the management in your current workplace, family friends with careers of interest to you, family members with experience that you haven’t tapped into, or public figures you’re able to get in touch with.
STEP TWO: Start talking
This step is all about laying the conversational foundations that make it natural for you to introduce the idea of an informational interview. This can be as easy as introducing yourself in person, over email, or through social media (think LinkedIn, or on a platform where they have a professional page, such as a business Instagram). Hopefully, they will already have an idea of who you are, but don’t assume they know what you want. Make it clear in meeting – or e-meeting them – that you’re serious about your connection with them. Things to include in an introductory conversation are what it is about them that interests you, achievements of theirs that stand out to you, and how exactly they’ll contribute to your goal success in connecting with them.
STEP THREE: Popping the question – ask for the interview!
The framing in this step is very similar to how you introduced yourself – frame this question with what it is that makes you want to interview them. In conversation, this sounds something like this: “I’ve really enjoyed hearing you talk about XYZ and I’m interested in the topic because I’d like to pursue similar endeavours in my own career. Would you be open to meeting with me so I can ask you a few more formal questions?” Et voila! If you haven’t already, this is a good time to exchange contact information – make sure you get their email address because this is crucial to Step 4. Let them know that you will be in touch within the next couple of days to arrange a time to talk.
STEP FOUR: Send your interview questions to your candidate ahead of time.
Over email, propose a time to meet – over coffee is sociable and low pressure – and send a document containing the interview questions you will be asking. Sending your interview questions ahead of time will offer you well thought-out responses during your interview and it will convey to your candidate that you are prepared, that you value their connection, and that you act with intention.
STEP FIVE: It’s interview time.
Even though you are conducting the interview, it’s YOU who needs to dress and act professionally. Follow up your great first impression with a put-together second impression. Go through the motions of opening the conversation with a handshake (if appropriate), get things going with some small talk, and then break into your interview. Have your interview questions printed, and a pen in hand to take brief notes. During the interview, remain conscious of time so that you can have your key questions answered. As the interview draws to a close, thank your candidate for their time and be sure to remark about a topic that surprised you, or that you have a deep interest in. Including that last remark will illustrate your level of commitment throughout the conversation, and it also gives you something to follow up on if you decide to stay in touch.
STEP SIX: Post-interview action items, and the decision YOU need to make
Follow up your conversation with a thank you note 24-48 hours after you meet. Feel it out whether you think a thank you card or an email note would be most appropriate. Now, it’s time to think about whether or not you’d like to meet with this person again. If your candidate displayed good involvement and you feel positively about the interaction, your interview candidate would be open to some follow-up interview questions. This is the gate-way to securing this person in your professional network!
Phew! That was a long one. If you’re interested in developing mentorship relationships, informational interviews are a great way to break the ice and find out if your candidate is a good match for your career objectives. Keep in mind that, despite following the same steps, this process will vary between candidates.