So far in this series, you’ve learned what an informational interview is, who to ask and how to make a request for one.
Now, in this last installment, we’re discussing how to conduct the interview to make sure you get exactly what you need from the conversation.
The key to a successful informational interview is the same as it is for any other kind of interview: Preparation. You need to go into it knowing what you want to discuss and what questions you’d like answered. While this is meant to be an informal conversation, you still want it to be productive. Creating a list of questions and topics beforehand can help keep you on track.
What Questions to Prepare
The specific questions you ask will vary based on your unique situation, but you may want to consider some of the following:
- How long have you been in the field?
- How did you get started in the field? What is your background and education?
- What do you like most about your job?
- What do you like least about your job?
- What are your biggest career challenges?
- What do you feel are the key factors for success in this field?
- What is a typical day like for you?
- Where do you think this field is going in the future?
The most important thing is that you guide the conversation where you want it to go. Otherwise, it’s very easy to end up wasting time on irrelevant conversation that doesn’t provide you with the necessary information.
What to Do During the Conversation
At the start of the meeting, it’s useful to explain that you have some notes to help keep you on track and that there are a few specific things you’d like to discuss. That way, the other person knows they don’t have to just supply information; they can let you steer the ship.
It’s also a good idea to pull out a pen for taking notes. It’s too easy to get so wrapped up in conversation that later you struggle to recall important information. However, if you want to record the discussion using your phone or another handheld device, always be sure to ask permission before doing so.
Remember: You’ve asked this person to talk with you for an informational interview. Do not suddenly switch gears and start acting like this is a job interview. If the person offers additional assistance in your career transition, you’re welcome to take them up on it. But don’t push for that or you risk looking dishonest in your original request.
Additionally, keep in mind that this person is doing you a favor. Don’t take advantage of his or her time. Arrive on time for your meeting and wrap up within 30-minutes.
Finally, at the end of your time, express your sincere appreciation for the meeting. Let them know how valuable it’s been and that you recognize their generosity in sharing so openly with you. If it makes sense, you may want to suggest that you reconnect in the future to follow up. Often, an informational interview source can turn into a great lead if and when you’re ready to make a move.
In this series, we’ve deeply explored the topic of informational interviews. At this point, you should be well-prepared to engage in them. The next time you’re considering a big career move, use this strategy to help you gain insight and make well-informed decisions.