How To Get the Most Benefit From an Informational Interview

Jennifer Herrity

Updated December 28, 2022

Published January 3, 2020

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

If you want to know more about a career, consider asking someone with primary experience for an informational interview. This brief meeting is an effective way to learn more and gain advice from someone with experience in a job, career path or industry that interests you. They can provide insight into working in a certain position or field, whether the role is a good fit for you and if you should pursue it. Understanding what to expect in this meeting may help you ensure the meeting is beneficial for you.

In this article, we explore the purpose of this type of meeting, explain how to request one, review what to expect in an informational interview and offer tips for a successful interview.

What to expect in an informational interview

An informational interview is an informal question-and-answer discussion between someone searching for a job and someone who works in a particular career, industry or company culture that interests them. It's more of an informal conversation than a job interview, typically requiring 15 to 30 minutes. The goal of a successful informational interview is to leave the conversation with a better understanding of a career, industry or company knowledge.

Other potential benefits include:

  • Learning how to research or screen careers, positions or employers

  • Preparing for future job interviews

  • Learning how to ask direct and follow-up questions

  • Increasing network contacts

  • Learning steps to pursue a potential career

  • Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses for a potential role

Related: 20 Common Interview Types and How To Succeed at Each

How to set up an informational interview

It's important to use the appropriate approach when considering an informational interview. Here's how to schedule an informational interview:

1. Establish your goals for the interview

Determine your goals for the informational interview. Think about if you're more interested in this person's skills and experiences, their company or information about the industry. You may be more likely to receive a positive response from the person if you can clearly communicate what you hope to gain from the meeting.

2. Decide who you want to interview

Consider asking for an interview with someone in your industry, field or a company that interests you. Ideally, you want to meet someone in your dream role at your dream company. Once you decide who you want to ask for an interview, conduct your research to find out more about them.

Some examples of people you may have an informational interview with include someone who:

  • Works at a company where you may seek employment

  • Has experience in your career path or industry

  • Attends a university where you may seek admission

  • Teaches higher education programs related to your career interests

  • Holds certifications or credentials that you're interested in pursuing

  • Has an education or professional background similar to what you have

Related: How To Research Career Paths in 8 Steps (With Benefits)

3. Ask for the interview

After selecting them, prepare a message to ask the person you want to interview. Choose a method that allows you to message them privately, such as email or another professional online platform or social media service that allows social media messaging. Avoid using personal social media profiles to ask for the meeting, and ensure your request remains private. Send a professional and polite message that clearly states why you're contacting them.

Request for informational interview template

Here's a template for an email requesting an informational interview:

Subject: [Your name]—informational interview request

Dear [Name of recipient],

[Write about how you heard about the company or recipient]. I find your work incredibly interesting and would like to know more about what you do.

I would greatly appreciate learning about [insert what you want to know].

I know you're probably busy, but would you be available for an informational interview [suggest at least one date and time]? Let me know if you can meet at one of those times or if there's a better time for you.

I appreciate your time and thank you in advance.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

[Your contact information]

Request for informational interview example

Here's an example email request for an informational interview:

Subject: Grace Jacobs—informational interview request

Dear Mrs. Fergilli,

My name is Grace Jacobs, and for the last five years, I've worked as a consultant with our mutual friend, Henry Smith, and he recommended I listen to your podcast on the issues that women in management roles experience. I really appreciate the insights you shared.

I hope you might meet for coffee or lunch to discuss this further. I have some questions I would love to ask you on that subject, especially the best way to approach pursuing promotions. Of course, if it's more convenient to talk on the phone for 15 to 20 minutes, that also works for me. I have some free time next Wednesday, Thursday and any time the following week if any of those options are convenient for you.

Thank you again for sharing your experiences, and I look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,

Grace Jacobs
784-568-9241
g_jacobs@email.com

Read more: How To Ask for an Informational Interview

How to optimize an informational interview

Follow these steps to plan and conduct an effective informational interview:

1. Research the industry and the organization

Informational interviews are a great way to acquire insider information, but doing this properly requires you to complete thorough research about the industry and the company that interest you. Search for information and resources to learn as much as possible about industry terminology, the latest industry trends, important figures in the market and the company's reputation, and look for details about the company's culture, history and plans. Conducting research can help you determine what information to ask about during your informational interview and may increase your credibility by avoiding questions with easily accessible answers.

Read more: The Complete Guide To Researching a Company

2. Prepare a list of questions

Prepare to lead the interview by creating a list of open-ended questions about the person's role in the company, area of expertise and details regarding their company culture. Consider categorizing your questions to create a conversational flow, such as separating them into groups about the industry in general, the organization's culture, the interviewee's role and what it implies. You might ask about other important details like work-life balance or the work environment. Consider highlighting the questions most important to you to ensure you ask them before the meeting ends.

Example informational interview questions include:

  • What has been your career progression?

  • How would you describe the culture of your company?

  • What skills or abilities do I need to be competitive in this field?

  • What changes have you seen to this industry over the last five years?

  • What does the day-to-day look like in your role?

Read more: The Best Questions To Ask in an Informational Interview

3. Be professional

Although an informational interview is not a job interview, professional behavior may help you impress the person and encourage them to share information with you. Respect their schedule by showing up on time or even a few minutes early, and dress according to the position you're hoping to learn about in the interview, which often requires wearing regular business attire. It's also important to confirm you know how to pronounce the interviewee's name properly and what their position within the company is.

Practice professionalism during the interview by listening actively to the interviewee and responding with appropriate follow-up questions. This is also a good opportunity for you to be honest, but still professional, with the person about your own experience. Be respectful if there are any questions they decline to answer or seem uncomfortable addressing.

Related: 21 Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great Impression

4. Be courteous and appreciative

Remember that the interviewee isn't meeting with you as a professional duty, but rather as a favor to you. In both the introductory email or phone call and the conversation itself, let them know you consider them a respected name in their field and that you're grateful for the opportunity they've given you. Be sure to mention your objective is to gain valuable advice and not a particular job.

5. Keep the introductory phase short

People often enjoy talking about themselves, so start by asking general questions regarding their experience with their company and in the industry. Ask how they got into that field, what their general impressions are regarding the company they work for and plans and developments both within the company and the entire field. When introducing yourself, be prepared to answer questions about your professional or personal development and career goals. An effective way to make a good impression and share information about yourself is to prepare an elevator pitch before the interview.

6. Find out what you want to know

By doing your research and keeping the introduction short, you can use the remaining time to ask about all the details that interest you most. For example, determine if a field or industry is right for you, focus on specific questions about the person's experience within the industry. If you're interested in working at their company, your questions should focus on that. Use your list of questions to help keep the conversation focused, and be sure to take notes.

Remember that informational interviews differ from regular interviews, and you can't expect the interviewee to answer questions one at a time. Focus on asking open-ended questions that encourage them to elaborate with details. Ask follow-up questions that encourage more discussion about issues that interest you.

Related: Informational Interview Questions

7. Avoid asking for a job

Remember that your purpose is to seek advice and information, not a job offer. Asking for a job may make them more reserved and less likely to answer questions freely. If the interviewee offers to recommend you for a certain position or forward your resume to a hiring manager, show your gratitude and take advantage of the opportunity.

8. Use the opportunity to network

The person you're speaking with likely knows others who may be willing to talk with you about their career, industry or company. Use the final minutes of your informational interview to ask them to recommend two or three people who can help you increase your knowledge even more. Think about what you learned during the interview, and decide what you want to learn more about. Be specific with your request for other contacts to help the interviewee identify which people to suggest.

Related: 10 Tips To Help You Build a Network (With Benefits)

How to write a thank you note for the interview

Sending a thank you note shows your appreciation to the person for meeting with you and providing valuable insight. It also fosters ongoing communication, which could lead to potential opportunities. Follow these steps to write a thank you note or email after your conversation:

  1. Use a business format. Prepare your email as you would any business email. Include the company's name and title of the person you interviewed, and add a proper salutation in appropriately formatted paragraphs.

  2. Show your appreciation. Explicitly thank the individual for scheduling time to meet with you. You might include specific details about what you learned or how a certain question was answered.

  3. Reiterate your interest. Speak about how they reinforced your interest in the industry, company or position during this conversation. Ask if you may contact them in the future if you have additional questions to help foster your networking relationship.

  4. Provide contact details. Include your name and your contact information in the closing. Providing methods for the individual to reach you can encourage future communications and may even lead to future opportunities.

Read more: Informational Interview Thank You Email Template

Example of a thank you email

Here's an example of a thank you email for an informational interview:

December 13, 2022
Halle Fredrickson, CEO
Maple Leaf Construction and Surveying, LLC

Dear Ms. Fredrickson,

I'm sending this email to express my gratitude and utmost appreciation for your meeting with me today. I appreciate your patience and eagerness to answer my questions and provide additional information about your company and how your staff approaches taking on new clients. I especially appreciate your giving me the resources necessary to obtain my contractor's license.

I also wanted to thank you specifically for discussing training methods to take on new apprentices and hope to continue our discussion again in the future. The new standards for trades and protocol for training you mentioned will be valuable resources for my career.

Since I mentioned that I have extensive experience initiating construction projects, I'd like to offer my assistance should Maple Leaf Construction and Surveying ever need additional support. You may contact me anytime, and I look forward to future contact with you.

Thank you again for your time and consideration.

Best,
Jeremy Yazer
(245) 112-0099
j-yazer@email.com
JYazerProjectPortfolio.com


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