Demystifying the Informational Interview

As a job seeker, you’re often responding to a lot of questions. “What was your last position?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And the dreaded, “Why should I hire you?”

But there’s one tool you have as a job seeker that turns this structure on its head: the informational interview. Though it may look like a traditional job interview, the informational interview is fundamentally different because it puts you, the job seeker, in the power seat.

But informational interviews can seem confusing and even intimidating! It’s no wonder that this incredible tool is so underutilized. Simply put, an informational interview is a way to learn more about a position, company or industry that interests you from someone who has experience. To demystify this process, we convened three professionals from UCSF, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to share their experiences of informational interviews, from the perspective of the interviewee.

Here are some of their tips:

Requesting an Informational Interview
  • In the initial email or phone call, be clear about why you are reaching out to this person and how you found them. If you found this person through a mutual connection, mention this person’s name (if you have their permission).
  • Make it clear why you want to talk to them and how they can help you.
  • Ask for 30 minutes of their time and offer to come to them. Some interviewees prefer to meet over coffee or lunch but others insist on meetings at their office – let them choose the place and remember to confirm your meeting the day before.
Preparing for an Informational Interview
  • Go in with a game plan. Answer the question, “What do I hope to get out of this interview?”
  • Do your research on the person you’re interviewing, their company and their industry. This helps you establish a rapport and demonstrate your interest, and will also allow you to dive right in to your targeted questions during the interview.
  • Prepare 5-10 specific questions ahead of time.
During an Informational Interview
  • Ask an open-ended question to start off, like “How did you get involved?” Let them tell you their successes; people like talking about themselves.
  • Make it conversational! Ask follow up questions and paraphrase what the other person has said.
  • Wear a watch so you can monitor the time. If you’ve asked for 30 minutes, make sure you stick to it.
  • Close the interview with a question about next steps, like “Any ideas on what else can I investigate?” or “Who should I connect with to go further?”
After an Informational Interview
  • Send a thank you note. If you hand write a thank you note, make sure you email a thank you as well within 24 hours of the interview. In the thank you, refer to specific details from the meeting, such as something you learned, how they were helpful to you or what steps you will take to follow up.
  • If you have laid out steps in the interview, be sure to follow through with the person you interviewed.

I challenge you to use these tips in the New Year to conduct your own informational interview! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016!

Hilary Jacobsen
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