Best Practices for Informational Interviewing

By Sheeva Azma

Informational interviewing is a specific type of networking. In an informational interview, you connect with a professional (usually, someone doing a job that you want to do) for a quick 15- to 20-minute chat. Informational interviewing is a valuable tool in the job search that can lead to new job opportunities. Learn my best tips for informational interviewing in this post.

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

What’s the Big Deal about Informational Interviewing?

Informational interviewing, as defined by the University of California Berkeley Career Center, is “an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you.”

Informational interviewing is a simple concept: it involves talking to people who have jobs that are aligned with your career goals. Informational interviews are not the same as job interviews. The goal of informational interviews is to learn more about a career path, rather than to get hired for a specific job opening (though you can learn about new opportunities through informational interviewing).

To be most effective, an informational interview should be conducted after you’ve already done your research. The point of an informational interview is to learn about aspects of the job that you can only gain insight into from speaking to someone who has that job. You want to approach an informational interview well-informed and curious about specific aspects of the job that you care about. This includes things like what you might do on a day-to-day basis at the job, what it’s like to work in that capacity, and what your chances are for moving up the food chain. Informational interviewing is used a lot in places like Congress to network and gain career leads.

Informational interviewing is a great tool, especially if you are seeking a new career or looking to make a career transition. You can use the information gained in your informational interviews to switch to a new industry, or learn about skills you can gain to help you level up in your current career.

these conversations matter because you find out info you’d never figure out otherwise (from google, from reading their website). you can ask questions you’re truly curious about regarding the day-to-day life.

How I Used Informational Interviewing to Work on Capitol Hill

When I was trying to get an internship on Capitol Hill, I lived halfway across the country from Washington, DC. The job search felt hopeless and complex. Rather than giving up, I decided to try informational interviewing, as I had heard that it was a winning approach.

First, I reached out to senators’ offices to see if any Senate staffers could give me any tips on working in Congress. I made sure to only contact those senators’ offices who represented the places where I had lived, since regional ties are very important to Congress. A staffer from a Senate office contacted me and we set up a chat, and they gave me some great advice.

After that, I used LinkedIn to find Congressional staffers, and asked them if they’d be willing to chat for 10-15 minutes to help me learn about working there. I asked them about their job, how they got it, and what they did there. I also wanted to ask them if they had any advice for someone trying to work there and if they knew anyone else that would be helpful to talk to.

While my approach took several months, it worked. I talked to tons of people, both former and current Hill staffers, and I landed a job there. It was all thanks to informational interviewing!

I Still Use Informational Interviewing as a Freelance Writer

I did tons of informational interviews to get a Capitol Hill internship. I found them so useful that I still conduct several informational interviews each week as a freelance science writer.

If you’re a journalism, marketing, or public relations person, you might benefit from the mentoring opportunities provided by Digital Women Leaders and Journalism Mentors. You can sign up for a free mentoring session with marketing, journalism, and other professionals on these sites, and approach them the way you might an informational interview.

I did tons of calls with the mentors on these sites, and also reached out to my professional network people who were doing the types of things I wanted to do. It turns out that people are more than happy to chat for 15 minutes about what they do and how they got to where they are in life. I try to be as helpful as possible in these interviews, also, and serve as a resource. Sometimes, I even find that the things I am grappling with as a freelance writer are the same challenges my interviewee is facing.

I’ve made many professional connections just through networking and informational interviewing with colleagues I’ve met on Twitter and LinkedIn. I’ve bartered work, learned about new opportunities, and made friends in the process.

6 Tips for the Best Informational Interviews

Here’s my best advice on using informational interviewing to get a job, make a career change, or simply learn about opportunities that might be available.

Tip #1: Plan to Talk to Lots of People (Don’t Worry, Introverts — They Should Do Most of the Talking)

Plan to do informational interviews with many people. Especially if you want to work somewhere competitive, like Congress, expect to talk to tons of different people. Different perspectives help you refine your career goals and search. Keep your interviews short, no more than 15 to 20 minutes at most, because you will likely be talking to some very busy and important people. If you’ve done your research and come up with questions, you could theoretically do a really fast informational interview in as little as 10 minutes!

If you’re an introvert and you’re not thrilled about the prospect of having one-on-one conversations with people more successful than you, don’t worry. The person you are interviewing should be doing most of the talking.

Tip #2: Work Your Connections

You can make the most of your connections to find informational interviewees. You may find that your Facebook friend has a friend that is doing what you want to do, or that one of your friends from high school or college just started working at a company you might want to work for. So, work your connections on social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. You can also search for people who have your desired job on LinkedIn. When I was applying to Congressional internships, I looked up Congressional staffers on LinkedIn, then emailed them to ask if they’d be willing to take 10 to 15 minutes out of their day to speak to me for an informational interview. Many people were willing to speak to me.

Tip #3: Master the Art of the Quick Cold Email

Once you’ve made a list of contacts, you will need to reach out to each of them. Email is typically the best way to get in touch. You’ll need to learn how to write what is called a “cold email.” A cold email is an email sent out of the blue, often to get someone to do something. Cold emails can feel awkward to write because you’ve probably never talked to the recipient before. The most important thing is to keep them short, professional, and to the point. Here’s a guide to writing a cold email for an informational interview.

Tip #4: Do Your Research on the Interviewee

To make the most of your conversations, do your research beforehand. Make sure you have some good questions prepared that you can ask to get the conversation started.

You’ll want to research each interviewee before talking to them. You can do a quick Google or LinkedIn search of the person so that you can spend your interview time asking more informed questions than where they went to college. You can also ask interviewees whether they know anyone else who might be willing to speak with you for more informational interviews.

Tip #5: Come Up with Questions before the Interview

You never want to go into an informational interview unprepared. Take a moment to come up with questions before your chat. You’ll want to ask questions (preferably open-ended questions) like:

  • How did you get your start in this line of work?
  • How did you get this job?
  • What are your professional career goals? Do you like your job?
  • What is your favorite thing about what you do? Least favorite thing?
  • What is a typical day in your life like?
  • Do you know anyone else I could talk to about this field or position?

Tip #6: Network, Network, Network

Remember, an informational interview is as much an opportunity to network as it is to learn about the person’s job. Follow them on socials, and keep up with them. You never know when their expertise might come in handy in your life! When I am conducting an informational interview, I also ask my interviewee if they know of anyone else that might be interested in talking to me.

For more information on informational interviewing and building your professional network, check out this tweet thread.

Conclusion

Informational interviewing isn’t difficult, but it takes dedicated time and attention. The more you conduct informational interviews, the better you will get. Don’t forget to thank your interviewee for their time after the interview, and to stay in touch with them.

Informational interviewing, and networking in general, doesn’t yield overnight results. Remain curious and open-minded in your job search and continue to ask lots of questions. The only way to forge a career path for yourself is to ask people who have done what you want to do, and informational interviewing is the best way to do that. Good luck!

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