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27 January 2024 - 7 minutes

What is an Informational Interview?

Discover what an informational interview is and how to master it.

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You’ve read our content about interviews and what to expect: those common questions and the best answers, what to do after an interview, and how to prepare for them. But we haven’t yet touched upon an equally important part of the job hunt: finding the right role for you. 

Depending on where you are in your job search, you might be struggling with knowing which role is a good fit for you or even where to start when it comes to talking to companies and the interview process. And that’s why we wrote this article: to explain the importance of informational interviews.

As more and more job opportunities pop up all around, information interviews are gaining popularity and there’s a reason why: the job hunt is lengthy and can suck up valuable resources. Knowing if a role is a good fit (and being able to gain important information before you choose to apply) can help you be more confident in your decision to apply (or not!) for a role. 

In this article, we’re going to cover the basics of information interviews and how to navigate them, especially if you’re just starting out. 

What is an Informational Interview? 

First things first: an information interview is not part of the interview process, despite the name. And you, the candidate, will be the one to initiate it and lead it–yes, you read that right! An informational interview is a meeting with someone who’s either currently in the role you’re interested in or the company to gain first-hand information about what they do, the office culture, and any other burning questions you’d like answered. 

Information interviews also don’t have to be about a specific role in which you’re interested; they can be set up to learn more about someone’s career path, experience, or company. This informal chat can be a truly phenomenal way to gain valuable insights about someone’s real-life experiences and have any of your doubts resolved. 

Informational interviews and reap the following benefits: 

  • You can hear details about a company or position from someone who’s currently in the role: while you can research company information online, it’s rare to hear from someone who’s in the role at that moment and get to ask direct questions. In addition to the obvious benefits of this private conversation, you can take the chance to ask follow-up questions and make sure the role, career path, or company is a good fit. 

  • You can explore new career paths: informational interviews serve as a fantastic way to learn about someone’s unique career journey, which may open your eyes to new ideas surrounding your future possibilities. By speaking to someone who’s currently in your field, you can ask about both their responsibilities and those of your colleagues to expand your current outlook. 

  • You can learn valuable tips and tricks about the application process: if you’re sure you want to apply for a role at the same company, you can gain some insight into how the interview process works and things to keep in mind throughout the process, which can help you be both more confident and more successful with your application. 

  • You can expand your network: even if you don’t end up applying for or landing a job with the company, you can still nurture this connection and see if it can help you later in your career. 

There are a lot more benefits to informational interviews, such as getting personalized feedback about your CV or portfolio, but we want to dive right into informational interviews themselves, how to land them, and what to do once you’re seated across from the tech professional. And, of course, we’ll cover things to avoid during the informational interview to help set you up for success.

Planning for Your Informational Interview 

There are five major steps to check off during the process of planning, performing, and following up for your informational interview. Take the time to carefully read through them and make sure you implement them for your next interview. 

Decide your goals for the interview

This might seem a little self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many people go into informational interviews without having clear goals. Because informational interviews can go many ways–you could want insight into a particular company’s day-to-day or simply how that professional arrived where they are today–you need to know what you’re trying to learn from the interview before finding the right person. 

If you want to know about potential career paths in data, make sure you choose a professional who has a background in data and if you want to know about a certain company, find someone who’s in the right department. It seems quite obvious, but narrowing down your objectives can help make sure your interview is truly helpful. 

Look for potential people to interview 

Luckily for you, the majority of professionals are eager to help out the next generation of techies and would love to chat. But this doesn’t mean you should reach out to the first person to pop up on your LinkedIn or someone your mom knows–take time to explore various options and have a few people you’d like to talk to. Most people you reach out to will be eager to help, but you want to have a backup option just in case it’s a busy time for them. 

When you find potential interviewees, reach out and express your interest in chatting with them, explaining why their knowledge is helpful for your career progression. Clearly express that you’d like to set up an interview and be proactive about finding a time that works for both of you. 

Come prepared 

Remember: you’ll be guiding and leading the informational interview and while it may seem daunting, it’s actually a good thing! This means you can plan out the questions you want answered and make sure that the interview covers your needs; however, it’s essential to come prepared with lots of questions and follow-ups so that the conversation flows and is beneficial for both parties. 

Researching your interviewee’s background and experience can help you prepare questions that are tailored to them, allowing them to give you more personalized and detailed answers and making them feel like you’re truly interested in what they have to say. 

Be professional during the interview

Scheduling and planning for the interview is just a part of it; you need to make sure you’re professional throughout the entire interview. Keep the following in mind: 

  • Being on time shows that you respect the professional’s time; ending the interview on time and not going over the allotted time does the same.

  • Positive body language such as eye contact helps transmit that you’re engaged and interested in what they’re saying.

  • Asking follow-up questions proves you’re listening and contributes to a more interactive and informative conversation. 

  • Asking for permission before taking notes or recording the conversation transmits professionalism and lets the interviewee feel more comfortable. 

Follow up post-interview 

A quick thank you after the interview goes a long way in building and maintaining a professional relationship. And just like with all your contacts, make sure you nurture this connection and check-in periodically. 

For example, if you took what you learned from the informational interview and applied it to your next interview or application, relaying that to your interviewee can be a great way to open the door to another conversation and show them that you really appreciated their time and insights.

Things to Avoid During Informational Interviews 

There are a few faux-paus that you need to make sure you avoid during informational interviews; let’s dive right in: 

  • Asking for a job: informational interviews are not job interviews and asking for a job in the interview is incredibly unprofessional and will make the interviewee think that you’re only there to land a job and not to learn from them. 

  • Treating it as overly informal: although it’s not a job interview, you should still dress appropriately and act professional; this could be either someone you work with in the future or a connection throughout your career and it’s important to start off the relationship on a positive note. 

  • Not preparing: no matter if you’re just there to learn about their experience or are interested in a job at their company, you must prepare for the interview and research both the role and the professional ahead of time, planning questions. 

  • Not respecting the person’s time: this goes for both arriving too early/late and extending the meeting longer than the allotted time. The professional probably has other work to do, so if you have an in-person meeting, don’t arrive too early or they’ll feel pressure to start ahead of time. And if you have so many questions that you’re afraid you’re going over time, simply ask for another time to speak instead of going over the scheduled time. 

Informational interviews are incredibly helpful, especially in the tech field where the number of available career paths is vast and growing every single day. Take what you’ve learned here and try scheduling an informational interview with a professional in your field; you’ll be better suited to set your career up for success.

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