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What is an Informational Interview & How Do I Get One?

Informational Interview“Is this another informational interview? If it is, I really do not want to go. These interviews are a waste of time.”

This quote was from my daughter, a recent graduate with 2 undergrad degrees, ready to take on the world. If she wasn't interviewing for a specific role, she didn’t want to interview at all. She believed the informational interview would not help her quest in getting a job, so I had to explain to her all the ways it would advance her search. I'd like to share those ways with you, too.

Informational Interview vs. Job Interview

An informational interview is similar to a job interview, with one big difference—there's no job opening. The goal of an informational interview is to build knowledge, get advice, and maybe even get leads to people or opportunities that can help your job search. It can be an excellent way to gain insight into a specific field, industry, or organization that interests you, without the pressure of a job hanging in the balance.

Goal of an informational interview:

  • Build a lasting professional relationship
  • Grow your network
  • Get your name out in the industry
  • Connect on LinkedIn

There's always a hidden job market ready to be discovered, so it pays to be in-the-know. It's like the old phrase, “it's not what you know but who you know.”

Choose Your Industry and Identify Companies

Your job search is a project: Research the industries that you would want to work in, then research specific companies in that industry. Next, start expanding your network by finding people who work at these companies. Once you identify some potential contacts, you can make the move to set up an informational interview.

Getting the Informational Interview

You can cold-call contacts that you find within specific companies, but the best way to get an informational interview is to ask someone in your network to make the connection for you (if they have connections with the company, of course).

Once you set up this opportunity, what is your approach? There is no job opening, and you know that up front, so how do you proceed when you meet to discuss the industry and company? Here are a few questions you can ask your contact:

  1. Tell me about your career trajectory.
  2. What would I need to do to get started in this industry?
  3. Do you think my resume is interesting enough to catch a recruiter’s eye?
  4. If you were hiring, would you be interested in my candidacy?
  5. If a job opening came across your desk or through your network, would you feel comfortable passing my name along?
  6. Would it be ok if I sent you an invitation on LinkedIn?
  7. Could I stay in touch by email while I begin searching for jobs in your industry?

Keep the focus on the contact's experience with the company and the industry. But whatever you do, do not ask questions that you could find answers to on your own through Google or the company's web site!

Following Up

After the meeting, make sure to follow up with a thank you note. Then, stay in touch periodically, especially If this contact is in one of your dream companies or your industry of choice.

Have you ever gone on an informational interview? If so, tell us about it!

About the Author

Today's post is written by Ron Thomas (pictured), a human resources professional with more than 15 years of experience, including roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. He was recently named to the Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy at the Human Capital Institute in Washington, D.C. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Workforce Management, Chief Learning Officer magazine and Crain's New York Business. Recently, he was named to the HR Hall of Fame by HR Network of New York. Ron's blog, StrategyFocusedHR, focuses on human resources from a strategic perspective.


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Networking's Best-Kept Secret: Informational Interviews
What the Heck Is "Networking" and How Do I Do It? 

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