Informational Interview Cheat Sheet

cheat sheet

Mention informational interviews to a job seeker and you’ll likely hear how they’re a waste of time because the company isn’t hiring.

And a lot of managers, even if they’re willing to make time for a meeting, don’t get much out of them other than knowing that they tried to help another professional.

In both cases, the problem usually stems from an unfocused conversation. Even if you don’t click with the person you’re speaking with, a good discussion should leave you both with some new ideas and a good impression of each other. You might not get a job in the short-term, but you very well might be referred to another company or department, or wind up crossing paths in the future.

How do you make that great impression? No matter where you are in your career, you need to prepare. The process is the same whether you have a few years or a few decades under your belt. Once you’ve scheduled the meeting, thoroughly research the company and the department. You want to discover as much as you can about past and current projects, how the department fits into the company, and the current team.

A lot of job seekers stop there. But the next step is what makes the difference. You’ll want to build on that research to make a targeted list of questions that will allow you to drill into the manager’s needs and goals. Why? Because by guiding the conversation, and listening carefully to the manager’s responses, you’ll get her to focus on the labor gap in her department. And how you can fill it.

What to Do at an Informational Interview

  • Be prepared with questions designed to find out what the manager needs—where projects stand, where the gaps are, and where the team is headed.
  • Do more—much more—listening than talking. A good rule of thumb is that the manager should speak 70 percent of the time.
  • Drill down into current and planned projects, team and interdepartmental roles enough to define the tasks that still need to get done—the labor gap.
  • Make clear how your capabilities can fill that gap.
  • Follow up with a prompt and interesting thank you note.

What Not to Do at an Informational Interview

  • Ask for a job outright.
  • Dominate the conversation or sell yourself too hard.
  • Ask any question that a Google search could answer.
  • Imply that the current team is not up to the job.
  • Push too hard when following-up. After you send a thank you, writing or calling a few weeks later is fine. But then it is up to them.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.