An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like: It is a way to learn information about a career path, an industry, a specific organization or even a specific job. An informational interview is not a job interview. Instead, it is an opportunity to talk to a person who has a job you are curious about. It can help you find answers to the questions you have not had the opportunity to ask.
Everyone always stresses the importance of networking. An informational interview is your chance to develop a new relationship. You might not get a job out of it, but they might give you contacts at other companies and useful advice. You might even hit it off so well that you can turn to this person as a mentor in the future.Remember: In an informational interview, you should build a relationship first and ask for favors second.
Before the Interview
Once you’ve decided on a person you’d like to interview, starting by trying to find personal connections. Reintroduce yourself to someone you’ve met. If you have a mutual contact, ask for an introduction. If you can’t find someone to make the connection, do it yourself by sending them an article you think might be of interest. Tell them you want to learn more about their job or organization.
The next step is research. This applies to both the person you plan to meet with and the organization. Just like with a job interview, if you want to be impressive you need to prove you’ve done your homework. Use what you learn to prepare a long list of interview questions about their job, organization, or industry.
During the Interview
Dress professionally and carry yourself like any other job interview. The difference here is you will ask a lot more questions. Remember: Do not ask for a job. They know you want one, but don’t talk about your experience unless they ask.
This is your chance to ask as many interview questions as you want. Ask about the organization’s culture, employees, and supervisors to see if you would be a good fit. Ask about how they got their current role. Ask about the expectations for entry-level positions. Maybe even ask for a quick tour. You can learn a lot during an informational interview, so be sure to take notes.
After the Interview
When the interview is wrapping up, thank them and ask how to return the favor. You want to establish a mutually beneficial relationship. They took the time out of their busy day to speak with you. Show that you want to reciprocate their kindness.
Just as with all interviews, send a thank you note to the interviewer. Because there is no rush like after a job interview, this is the perfect opportunity to write the note by hand. Be specific in your note.
Maintain a relationship with your new contact. Connect on social media if you haven’t already. If you use advice they gave or meet with someone they refer you to, send another email to keep them in the loop. They’ll appreciate learning how they helped you.
Heather R. Huhman is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the instructor of Find Me A Job: How To Score A Job Before Your Friends, author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010), and writes career and recruiting advice for numerous outlets.