Informational interviews center around a different type of questioning compared to standard job interviews. Informational interview questions are more than routine queries, they open doors to new insights and connections.
Unlike job interviews, these informal conversations focus on learning and networking, not landing a job.
In this guide, we'll explore how to make the most of informational interviews. First, we'll examine the differences between informational and job interviews.
Then, we'll guide you on crafting a compelling informational interview email to request a meeting, and importantly, we'll discuss how to engage effectively through 30 informational interview questions.
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What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area of your interest or expertise.
It’s not about securing a job offer; it's about learning.
Far from being a passing corporate trend, informational interviews are a proven, strategic tool encouraged by esteemed institutions like UC Berkeley, Harvard Business Review, and Yale for students and career changers alike.
The purpose of these interviews is threefold: career exploration, networking, and learning.
They offer firsthand insights into roles and industries, help expand your professional network, and provide insider information that you can't find online or in books.
The three key features of informational interviews include:
- The primary goal is to gain insights and advice, not to ask for a job.
- These conversations are usually very casual and can happen over coffee, during a lunch break, or even through a virtual meeting.
- The participants are you and a professional in your field of interest.
Informational interview vs. job Interview
While a job interview assesses your suitability for a specific role, an informational interview is an opportunity for exploration and learning.
Here are some key differences:
- Goals. Informational interviews let you explore different career paths or industries and see if they fit your interests. In job interviews, the company is looking to see if you have the right skills and experience for a specific job.
- Initiation. You're the one who arranges informational interviews. During these, you're in charge and ask most of the informational interview questions to learn as much as you can. In job interviews, it's the company that invites you and leads the conversation. They ask questions to find out if you're suitable for the role.
- Types of questions. Your questions in informational interviews are about understanding the job or industry better. You might ask what a typical day looks like or how the industry is changing. Standard job interview questions ask about your experience, skills, and how well you would fit into their team.
- Atmosphere of the interview. Informational interviews are relaxed and more like a two-way conversation. They're a chance for you to chat openly and get real insights. Job interviews are more formal and focused. They have a clear goal – to assess whether you're the right candidate for the job.
- Expected outcomes. From informational interviews, you hope to gain insights, advice, and maybe expand your professional network. It's more about learning and making connections. In job interviews, the aim is to impress the employer and move closer to getting a job offer.
Benefits of an informational interview
Informational interviews are a goldmine for anyone looking to step up their career game.
Here are five top benefits you get from them:
- Gain a realistic perspective. Talk to people who work where you want to work. They’ll tell you what a typical day is like and what the company culture is really about.
- Get insider information. Find out things only people on the inside know. This could be about the company’s next big move or what it's actually like to climb the ladder there.
- Rethink your qualifications. Learn straight from the source if you need to take a course or get a certificate to get the job you want.
- Interview without pressure. Have a chat without the stress of trying to land a job. It’s just about learning, which can make the conversation more open and useful.
- Identify career barriers. Discover any obstacles that could be in your way and figure out how to deal with them before they become a problem.
Using informational interviews can give you a serious edge.
They make it easier to understand a job or company, see if you're on the right track with your skills, and find out what could get in the way of your dream job.
Preparing for an informational Interview
Just as with a regular job interview, preparing for an informational interview is essential.
Doing your homework and coming prepared not only prevents wasting their time but also guarantees that you learn everything you set out to. It turns a simple chat into a valuable learning opportunity.
- Find the person you want to interview. Identify a professional whose expertise and role align with your career interests.
- Research the person and their organization. Delve into the background, career path, and achievements of the professional. Familiarize yourself with their organization's mission and standing in the industry. This knowledge allows for more targeted and meaningful questions.
- Ask for a meeting via email. The next step is to reach out to the professional via email to request a meeting. The upcoming chapter will provide an example of an effective informational interview request email to guide you in this process
- Set clear objectives for the interview. Define what you hope to gain from the interview, whether it's career guidance, industry insights, or networking opportunities. Having clear goals helps steer the conversation effectively.
- Prepare your questions. Craft a list of thoughtful questions based on your research and objectives. This preparation keeps the conversation focused and ensures you cover all key topics of interest.
- Make a reservation. If your informational interview is going to be in-person, such as over coffee or lunch, take the initiative and make a reservation. Doing so avoids the awkwardness of arriving to find no available tables and demonstrates your respect for the other person's time.
This level of preparation not only demonstrates your professionalism but also lays the groundwork for a meaningful exchange of ideas and information.
How to ask for an informational interview
Asking for an informational interview can be daunting, but it's a crucial step in expanding your professional network and gaining industry insights.
Navigating the process of requesting an informational interview can be straightforward if you follow these key steps.
This structured approach ensures you connect with the right individuals and make a professional impression.
1. Find a person to interview.
- Leverage your existing network. Start by asking colleagues, mentors, or contacts if they know anyone in the field you're interested in.
- Explore professional platforms. LinkedIn is an invaluable resource for finding professionals in your desired industry. Use it to search for potential interviewees with the expertise you seek.
- Do some Googling. A simple internet search can lead you to industry leaders or point you towards articles and interviews of potential candidates.
- Attend networking events. Both virtual and physical networking events can be great places to meet potential interview subjects.
2. Do background research.
- Confirm relevance. Ensure the professional's expertise and industry align with your career interests.
- Understand their role. Knowing their current role and past experiences can help tailor your conversation.
- Identify mutual interests. Look for any common ground, such as shared alma mater or professional organizations, to personalize your outreach.
3. Contact the person
- Choose Email for initial contact. An email is typically the best way to reach out for the first time as it’s direct and non-intrusive.
- Craft a clear subject line. Your email should have a subject line that gets attention and makes the purpose of your message clear.
- Personalize your message. Reference your research and mutual interests to show that you are informed and genuine in your request.
- Be concise and specific. Clearly state your intent to request an informational interview and why you chose them. Be respectful of their time and suggest a convenient framework for the meeting.
Informational interview email example
In the following example, you'll find a polite yet concise email template for requesting an informational interview.
Remember to personalize the details to suit your specific situation and the person you are contacting.
Subject: Request for Informational Interview
Informational interview questions
At the heart of every informational interview are the questions you ask. They should be crafted to not only reflect your interest but to also uncover the deeper insights about the job, career paths, and the industry at large.
Asking the right questions to someone about their job and seeking information in an informational interview setting is crucial for gaining valuable insights.
Here are 30 questions to ask in an informational interview:
- Can you describe your typical workday?
- What do you enjoy most about your job?
- What are the biggest challenges you face in your role?
- How did you get started in this field?
- What skills are most essential for success in this industry?
- How has this industry changed since you started?
- Can you tell me about the company culture here?
- What advice would you give to someone aspiring to enter this industry?
- What professional associations or groups should I consider joining?
- What are the growth opportunities within this field or organization?
- What project are you most proud of, and what impact did it have?
- How do you stay informed about changes and trends in the industry?
- What unexpected lesson has your current role taught you?
- Can you share an experience where your team overcame a significant challenge?
- What do you feel sets your company apart from its competitors?
- What technologies or tools do you find indispensable in your daily work?
- Where do you see the industry heading in the next five years?
- Is there a unique policy or practice at your company that you find particularly beneficial?
- What do you wish you had known before starting in this industry or role?
- Reflecting on your career, would you have done anything differently?
- How has your undergraduate major influenced your career path?
- What specific training or education has been most critical in your job?
- What personal attributes do you think are crucial for success in this field?
- Are there any trade journals or professional websites you'd recommend for staying current in our field?
- Looking back, would you have pursued the same degree or training?
- What is a realistic salary expectation for an entry-level position in this field?
- What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in this industry?
- Who else would you recommend I speak with for more perspectives in this field?
- How do you balance continuing education with your professional responsibilities?
- What are some common misconceptions about working in this industry?
After the informational interview
The informational interview may be over, but your work isn't done yet. What you do after the interview can be just as important as the preparation and the interview itself.
Here's how to effectively follow up, maintain connections, and make the most of the information you've gathered.
- Send a thank-you note or email, ideally within 24 hours of the interview. This shows appreciation for their time and advice. Mention specific points from the conversation that you found particularly insightful and let them know that the information they provided was helpful and has influenced your thinking or plans.
- Stay engaged. Connect with the professional on LinkedIn if you haven’t already, and engage with their content to stay on their radar. Occasionally update them on your progress, especially if their advice contributed to your decisions or successes.
- Utilize the insights you gained. Put the advice and insights into action. This could mean adjusting your career path, pursuing additional training, or researching further into a specific area.
Key takeaways: Informational interview questions
Informational interviews are your secret weapon for uncovering industry insights and getting tips from professionals. Top universities stand behind this approach because it connects you with people who can really show you the ropes.
While informational interviews are crucial, the endgame is to nail your actual job interview.
And when it's time for that job interview, tools like Kickresume's Interview Questions Generator can really come in handy. It can generate the most common interview questions for your industry, job role, and level of experience using AI ensuring you're well-prepared and confident.
Also, it's a good idea to practice answers to common interview questions like:
Remember, while informational interviews can open doors, your performance in a job interview is the key to walking through them.