informational interviews

In the ever-evolving professional landscape, informational interviews have become a powerful tool to gain profound insights and foster meaningful relationships. Unlike job interviews, the primary purpose is to broaden your understanding of a specific field, discover potential career paths, and learn about the culture of a particular company or industry.

This article will explore effective ways to leverage these interactions, including a six-question framework to streamline your approach and strategies to identify internal advocates. Stay tuned as we unravel the secrets to mastering informational interviews.

Identifying and Approaching Potential Interviewees

Successful informational interviews start with identifying the right individuals to approach. These could be professionals working in your interest, industry leaders, or even recruiters. LinkedIn is a valuable platform for this task, where you can search based on job title, industry, or company.

After identifying potential interviewees, the next step is making the initial approach. This requires a delicate balance of professionalism, courtesy, and genuine interest. It’s beneficial to start with a brief introduction about yourself and your career goals. Clearly articulate why you are reaching out to them specifically, what you hope to learn from them and express appreciation for their time. Remember, this is not a job application, so avoid asking directly for job opportunities.

Email is often the best way to reach out for an informational interview. Keep your message concise, respectful, and professional, using an informative subject line, like “Seeking career advice from an industry expert.” At the end of your email, propose a meeting time, either in person or virtually, but also express flexibility to meet at their convenience. If you don’t hear back within a week or so, sending a polite follow-up is acceptable.

Gaining Insight and Building Relationships

An informational interview is arguably one of the most effective ways to learn about the type of industry, company, or role you are pursuing from a professional in the field so you can uncover opportunities where you could illustrate tangible value. They are a safe environment to ask questions and gain firsthand knowledge about a specific position, company, or field. The benefits of these interviews include the following:

  • Gaining insight and perspective
  • Expanding a professional network
  • Increasing confidence and interpersonal skills
  • Enhancing visibility in your market

Ideally, it would be best for potential hiring managers and teammates to aim to gather direct insights into their experience, the company culture, and industry trends. Use a consultative approach by probing into challenges, chatting through problems, and offering up ideas and solutions that could have a meaningful impact on the team.

Always remember that the main goal of an informational interview is not to secure a job but to gain insights and build relationships. Respect your contact’s time and express gratitude for their willingness to meet with you.

Be an expert problem solver or a creative thinker, and focus on bringing value to every encounter and conversation using your strengths to add value to the team and company. When you’re in tune with your strengths, you can confidently focus your energy on solely adding this value to others. Do your part and add as much value as you can.

Using the Six-question Framework to Structure Your Approach

An informational interview is a discovery process that often reveals potential areas where your expertise or resources could provide tangible value—often described as building rapport and truly understanding the individuals’ and their teams’ challenges and goals.

Be aware that some calls will gather information, and some will lead to referrals. If someone is willing to spend 30 minutes on the phone with you, they see potential in you and will likely spend five minutes sending you a referral. Not all connections will lead to a referral – and that’s okay! 

Before every meeting, prepare a list of questions ranging from asking about their career journey to seeking advice for someone in your position. Focus on preparing thoughtful questions that will lead to insightful discussions.

  1. What did your journey look like to get to where you are?
    • Potential follow-up question: What did moving from one position to another take?
  2. I understand you [share what you know about their job duties]. Can you provide more details about your typical day/week?
  3. Which skills are most important for a job like yours?
    • Potential follow-up question: Are there any additional skills you think will be especially useful for someone like me entering the field in the next five years?
  4. What are the goals for your team over the next 3-6 months? How do you plan to achieve these goals?
  5. What are the most significant growth opportunities?
  6. What are the biggest challenges the team is facing currently?
  • Ask about their journeys: “Could you tell me more about your journey in [industry/role]? What were some pivotal moments or decisions that have shaped your career?”
  • Skills and qualifications: “What skills and qualifications do you consider essential for success in this position or industry?”
  • Identify challenges: “What would you say is the biggest challenge your team is currently facing? Are there any specific obstacles impeding your progress?”
  • Highlight potential value: “Given what you’ve shared about your challenges and goals, I believe [your product/service/expertise] could provide significant benefits. For example, it could [explain how it could help address a challenge, achieve a goal, or provide another form of value].”

You can adapt additional questions to prompt conversations to your purposes; the idea is to help you spot the roles and fields that match your skills and experience and understand how top performers are described.

  • What are the most vital steps someone should take to prepare for a role like yours?
  • ​​I’m interested in speaking with people [in X field / Y role / at Z company]. Who else would you recommend that I connect with?
    • Potential follow-up question: Would you mind making an introduction to [person’s name]?
  • How would you describe the corporate culture?
  • What are the biggest challenges the company is facing right now?

Always remember:

  • Never openly ask for an interview. Informational interviews are intended to share information, not job referrals. Ask questions to determine whether the company, its culture, and its employees fit you. Let people know you want to learn from their experience in your field. If you turn around and ask for a job when you meet with your connection, they may feel as though you lied and set up the meeting under pretenses.
  • Never ask for a job or a referral up front! As you speak with your connections, let them know you’re in the market for a specific role, and they would appreciate it if they let you know about any potential opportunities. 

During the interview, make sure to listen actively. In conversations, try to listen more than you speak. This shows respect for the other person’s ideas and can help you learn more about them. Engage with the individual by expressing genuine interest in their responses and sharing relevant experiences of your own. This will help you build a rapport and create a meaningful connection. By focusing on their needs and experiences, you demonstrate a genuine interest in their success, which can deepen the relationship and open up opportunities for collaboration.

Express gratitude after every interview by sending a thank you note expressing your appreciation for their time and the insights they shared. This helps build a long-term relationship and keeps the lines of communication open for future interactions.

Case Study #1: Before a client landed a job at Google, she networked with three new people each week, but no one referred her to their companies. Everyone talks about networking as the key to landing interviews, but why wasn’t it working for her? Entitlement. She would set up multiple calls weekly, run through a list of 5-7 questions, and end the calls hoping they would give her a referral. It took her months of networking to realize it didn’t work that way.

Identifying Internal Advocates to Help You Skip the Line

To maximize the effectiveness of your networking efforts, here’s a step-by-step guide to identify internal advocates, such as hiring managers and teammates, that can help you skip the line and maximize your value.

  1. Identify qualifying prospects from your target company’s list. Start by listing ten contacts at each company you’re interested in. Aim for potential hiring managers and team members.
  2. Type a company name in LinkedIn’s search bar and head to the home page. Click “see all employees on LinkedIn.” From there, use the filters to figure out who your potential boss would be. Then, you can head to Hunter.io to search for their email for a more direct approach.
  3. Start by engaging with their content online, recognizing their career milestones, asking for advice, and following up with results. Reach out in private messages or post thoughtful comments on their posts. Follow their careers and be aware of any changes they may have made. This will help you stay connected and demonstrate that you care about their success. 
  4. Send a short, direct message that includes the following:
    • Why you’re looking to connect 
    • Tell them you have nothing to sell 
    • Mention one thing you’re interested in learning from them
  5. Establish a consistent cadence with a few touchpoints that can lead to an informational interview meeting. Networking can take some time to make meaningful connections. 
  6. Always remember to never openly ask for an interview and never ask for a job or a referral upfront. 
  7. When making initial outreach, focusing on the other person and showing gratitude will help build your relationship and make them more likely to help you. When you allow someone to talk about themselves, they’ll view you more favorably.
  8. Don’t stop connecting with your advocates once you’ve landed a job. Continue to stay in touch and offer your help whenever you can. This will help you maintain a strong relationship and build your network. 

As we wrap up, remember that the power of informational interviews lies in the rich insights they provide and the potential relationships they foster. The key is to approach these interviews with authentic curiosity and genuine interest. The Six-question Framework will help you maintain focus and structure in your conversations. Identifying internal advocates can significantly expedite your journey, allowing you to bypass traditional hurdles.

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge and resources needed, it’s your turn to take action. Reach out to someone in your network today and pave your way to success through your first informational interview!

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