A Step-by-Step Guide to a Stress-Free Informational Interview

Ever wondered how to prepare for an informational interview?

Approaching strangers to ask them about their job may seem daunting, but I assure you it’s much easier than you think, and can even be enjoyable.

So how do you approach them without feeling the agony of impending rejection and disappointment?

Here are some important tips to put your mind at ease.

1. Engage Your Network

Job searches are discouraging, even depressing. But speaking to people in your field can give you just the boost you need.

The process of engaging with your network is truly of benefit, and looking for someone to interview is a perfect way to kickstart this activity!

Not only will it give you a different angle on the profession, industry, but it will help you to understand what you are great at, and what skills you need to build.

When you find a lead to interview, remember these two things:

  1. People love to talk about themselves (and will most likely say “yes”), and
  2. Getting rejected is good practice!

So forget about the results of a given search or activity. Just being in the mix and having conversations (for instance, in LinkedIn groups) is huge.

It will help you demonstrate your skills and interest, but also help other people notice you.

And this holds true no matter how much experience you have, or even if you aren’t actively looking for a job immediately — try to make a habit of staying visible, because recruiters will be looking for passive candidates as well.

Tip: If you are nervous about talking to strangers, try thinking of yourself as a journalist out to get important information. Think of your purpose in an objective (instead of personal) way, and try to stay in that mindset.

2. Make Informational Interviews a Cornerstone of Your Job Search

With an informal interview, you can essentially “clear out the cobwebs” and get back into the mindset you need to land a stellar job.

Before you learn how to prepare for an informational interview, you should first understand why it would be relevant from the interviewee’s perspective.

A job opening will get posted after a manager knows they have to hire. They will either at that point or even beforehand, likely go through a list of people they know.

Some organizations also have referral programs for their current employees.

If they remember your discussion and liked you, why wouldn’t they reach out when a position opens up?

Don’t look for candidates based on what is already posted. Instead look for connections to people in your industry who work at organizations you genuinely would want to spend time at, or at least you think you would.

Informational interviews will help you to understand where you don’t want to work, too.

3. How to Find and Approach People for Informational Interviews

All you need to do is jump into social media and put a call out for help.

LinkedIn is obviously best, but other channels will work too — whatever you already use and is relevant to your industry.

Your call can start with:

I’d like to speak to somebody in [your industry] in [city/county]. Does anybody know someone I can talk to?

You may also want to do general searches for your industry, local businesses, associations, and other key terms for your field.

Once you get a response, you can then ask the connection to introduce you. If you find someone on LinkedIn you’re not connected to, you can send them a connection invite with a short message. Don’t go into detail until they’ve accepted.

If they accept, you can pursue a conversation:

  • Tell them how you found them, and that you are looking for expert advice in x field.
  • Offer to meet for 30-minutes over Zoom (if coffee out of the question) at their convenience.
  • Don’t make it sound like you are asking for a job.

Here’s an example of a request:

Hi John. I was referred to you by X person. I am looking to speak to experts in [your industry] and Connel advised me that you are the top person to speak to in this field.

I’m new to the industry/country, and I’m seeking the advice and recommendations of 10-15 experts in this field.

Whenever you’re free, I’d like to treat you to coffee/lunch at a time and location that’s convenient for you. I won’t be pressuring you for jobs.

I only seek to learn from your expertise and insights. Your experience in [something that you can relate to from their LinkedIn profile] stands out and I’d like to understand how you handled the challenges you faced. Hope to talk to you soon.

Tip: When doing your outreach and through your interview, remember AIR: Advice, Insights, Recommendations.

How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

You are using a person’s valuable time, so make sure it is meaningful and genuine.

You don’t want to grill them, but frame your questions so that you get valuable insights and recommendations in return.

  • Research the person
  • Research the company
  • Make it friendly and personal
  • Prepare a short introduction (30 seconds) -tell them why you are interested –
  • your skills and strengths
  • Prepare a list of questions
  • When you’ve set a date and time send a message with some questions you want to ask so that they can prepare
  • Have a resume (or portfolio/LinkedIn link) handy

Build Questions Around Key Goals

If you’re wondering how to prepare for an informational interview, you may just want to start from the “end.”

This means that you focus on what you want to learn first, then build questions from there.

This is your chance to genuinely connect with them, not just read from a script, so make sure they know it’s about them, and don’t talk about yourself too much beyond the introduction.

You will also be assessing them to see if they’re the person or even type of person you might want to work with.

They should be on their best behavior too if they are scouting for new talent in your field.

Your questions can center around:

  1. How the industry solves problems
  2. How they overcome day-to-day challenges
  3. What they had to overcome while training or in school … (etc)

Just Before and During the Meeting

Advice for how to prepare for an informational interview these days will likely involve some digital expertise.

If you are doing a videoconference, be sure to test your computer, audio and video ahead of time, and be familiar with the software.

Dress for success — business-casual is a good guideline, and take notes.

Make an extra effort to be conscious of their time, showing up early and mentioning if things are going late (set a timer for 25 minutes for a 30-minute meeting).

Finally: Act as if you already have a job in the industry!

You might be intimidated at first, but if you position yourself as their colleague (rather than their “inferior”), you’ll likely be more relaxed and confident.

You are a professional, after all!

Sample Questions

Here are some sample questions that will keep your interviewer engaged.

You don’t need to stick to a set script — you should have new questions come up as you go, but you do want to keep your goals in mind and actively listen.

  • How did you get into this line of work?
  • What type of education do your peers have?
  • What are some tough projects you’ve accomplished?
  • What is your favourite thing about this job?
  • Are you still learning on the job, and if so how/what?
  • What is the work/company culture like?
  • What types of associations or groups should I join to stay on top of trends?
  • Do you plan on going back to school for formal education in this field?
  • What do you find challenging and how do you deal with that?
  • What type of personality would fit this industry/position?
  • What are some things that are evolving or changing?
  • What do you wish you’d known before you got into this line of work?

Do not, under any circumstances, ask them about how much they or their colleagues earn or ask any details if they offer such information.

Your final questions can include something like:

  • I have a couple of jobs that I’ve applied for. How do you recommend I prepare for the interview?
  • Do you recommend anyone else I can speak to about [your industry]?

Following Up

It’s not just about how to prepare for an informational interview, it’s also what you do after. In fact post-interview activities might even have more of an impact than the conversation itself.

After the interview, reflect on your notes and get a clear understanding of why it was valuable — one sentence will work.

Then, send a thank you message to the interviewee sharing what you liked and found valuable about the interview.

Put a reminder in your calendar to touch base with them again in a couple of months to update them on your job search and let them know how the interview helped with that.

Get Started Today

Don’t put it off any longer — it’s probably going to be easier and more rewarding, for both parties, than you think.

So long as you make sure the conversation is valuable, and you respect the person’s time, you’ll find that most people are more than willing to step forward to help.

And when you’re engaged you’ll prove to yourself and them that you are passionate and capable.

So what are you waiting for? Start reaching out today!

Join us to learn how to find the best jobs in your field.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:

7 LinkedIn Mistakes that Might be Killing Your Chances of Landing Your Dream Job
10 Unique Job Search Tips for Newcomers To Canada
Advanced LinkedIn Strategies That Converts Views To Interviews

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