One of the most effective networking tools out there is the informational interview.
Yes, networking can lead to new job leads or project prospects, but its value extends even further. When an interview is done well, it can unveil aspects of the industry you may not have understood, or give you insider knowledge that gets you a leg up in your current position or job hunt. You might even go as far as to make lifelong career connections. It’s a tool that can be invaluable for those just beginning their career and midcareer professionals alike.
Here are some tips for nailing the informational interview, whether you rank as a freshly-minted rookie or an industry veteran.
For Young Professionals
1. Reaching Out
As a young professional, your goals are to learn about job opportunities in your field, identify entry-level roles that exist, and find what might be a good fit for your interests and relative experience.
Do your research to find out who has a job you’d eventually like to have. When you identify a prospect, investigate the person’s background and experience, and find out if there is someone you know who could introduce you to that person.
- Craft a phone script to keep you on track if you decide to reach out by phone.
- Draft an email if you’d prefer to initiate the conversation that way, but be sure to have someone proof it before sending. First impressions matter.
- Open with the clear intention to seek advice from a more experienced professional.
- Explain a little bit about your background and your clear desire to get into the field with concrete terms or goals.
2. During the Interview
Be gracious and express appreciation to the interviewee for taking the time to share advice.
Come prepared with questions and be ready to tell about yourself as well. Examples of good questions include:
- How did you get started in this field/company?
- What are your favorite/least favorite parts of the job?
- What skills helped prepare you best?
- What new trends are you noticing in the industry?
- Do you have any interview or job-search tips?
- Is there anyone else you think I should contact for advice?
For Mid-Career Professionals
1. Networking with Dynamism
More experienced career people will approach the informational interview from an insider angle. The goal here is to establish credibility and be seen as a peer. You are making connections in new or interesting companies, testing the waters for future positions, and finding mentors or friends who can share industry information.
The goal is still to get advice and counsel from the interviewee, but it’s also to find a nice back-and-forth dynamic in the conversation to get there. An easy opener might be:
“Thank you for taking time to meet with me. I reached out to you because I admire your work and I’m interested in growing my career (or fill in the blank with your goal here). Before I ask you questions, may I share a bit of my background?”
Give a brief explanation of what you’ve been up to and any recent accomplishments—new degrees or certifications, or the completion of a significant project or goal within your organization.
2. Share Knowledge and Opportunities
Try to find points of common interest as the conversation flows. Look for opportunities to share insights to build relationships and create opportunities to follow up.
For instance, your interviewee might mention that they have seen an increase in remote employees and that they’re looking for ways to keep employees engaged in the workplace. If this is something you’ve had experience with you could say:
“Oh, I’ve had some experience with that. Webinars have been really helpful for us. I’d be happy to share some of the best practices with you if that’d be helpful. I’ll follow up with an email. If you have any questions, we could always meet for coffee or lunch to chat!”
The Follow Up
Regardless of where you are in your career, one thing remains constant: A good thank-you note is always in fashion. Be sure to hand write it and send it promptly.
If an informational interview leads to a great job lead, offer, or connection, sending a quick email update to your contact is an easy way to keep up your connection. Be sure to offer your help as a resource. These connections should be a two-way street.
Want more in-depth information on networking, informational interviewing, and online social networking? Check out the Capella Career Center Connecting with Others video series.
The Capella Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.