Informational Interview

How do you accelerate your understanding of a job position or company? I first learned about informational interviews, highly utile and rarely used, my junior year in business school.

My first interview? An international human rights arbitrator and judge. She put herself through law school as a purser on international flights attending class during the week and handling the on-flight monies between Oregon and somewhere in Russia on weekends.

Purpose: to gather information about a particular job or company from someone who is in the know.

Prep Work

  1. What position or company are you interested in? Why?
  2. Who do you know in that position?
    1. Be bold! Ask someone you don’t know.
    2. Interviewing someone you know is safe, but someone you do not know will introduce you to more unknowns (opportunity!).
  3. Before scheduling the interview, determine what you are trying to understand (how they got the job; responsibilities, purpose, etc.). If you don’t know exactly, that’s ok, too.
  4. Start writing down a list of questions, order does not matter.
  5. Develop open-ended questions.

Asking for the Informational Interview

  1. Know ahead of time if you would like to do a phone interview, meet for coffee or for a meal (increasing time commitment).
  2. Begin by introducing yourself, how you got their name and number and why you are interested in interviewing them.
  3. Tell the interviewee approximately how much time you need (15 min on the phone, 20-30 min for coffee or an hour for lunch). Be considerate – if they only have time for coffee, do not push for a lunch.

Conducting the Informational Interview

  1. Dress in business casual or business professional.
  2. Begin by setting the context: why are you interested?
  3. Have a couple of fun questions ready (what book is on the interviewee’s night table?).
  4. Generally speaking, people love to teach and share their experiences. Don’t be afraid to ask interesting questions.
  5. Ask permission to take notes (overwhelmingly people are flattered and say yes). Then TAKE NOTES. I use a dedicated comp notebook for this purpose and review periodically.
  6. Offer to pay for coffee or lunch.

Post-Interview

  1. Send a hand written thank you note afterwards. Include a comment that resonated with you.
  2. Keep in touch with the person who spent their time and expertise on you.
  3. Start looking for your next informational interview: why are you interested and what you hope to learn?

What do you want to know? Who can share their experiences with you?

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