The Informational Interview
The informational interview is one of the best means to learn about a company, its culture, the products and services the firm offers and what kinds of skills they need. It is not a job interview. It is not for giving the interviewee your resume and asking him to pass it on to the appropriate hiring manager.
As you plan to schedule informational interviews, you will want to decide what companies and industries you’re targeting. For example, if you’re in tech, you may have heard of a firm with a new product line similar to the products offered by your current employer. You like the products and the market it services though perhaps not the way your employer approaches it.
Do the Research
To find the individual who could offer what you believe would be the best window into the company’s operations, you first have to research the company and its departments. Who manages the department that is most appealing to you and that best matches your skills and accomplishments. You want to talk with someone who has the experience in the field you are exploring.
If you know someone in the company or know someone who may know others, ask your colleague about the person you’d like to speak to. It will help you collect data on what that person does. Your colleague may be able to give you some insight into how to approach the individual.
As you collect information, formulate your strategy: how will you contact the person? How will you “pitch” the reason you’re contacting him and explain what you want from him.
Remember that you’re seeking information not applying for a job. Let the individual know that you’re exploring opportunities in several companies in a specific industry and that he is one you especially would like to meet.
Informational interviews used to be in person often at a local coffee shop. With COVID-19 and social distancing, the meeting will likely be virtual, either a phone call or a video call like Zoom. The good news is that because more people are working remotely there is a greater chance of connecting. Schedules are more flexible. In addition, with the lack of workplace interaction, people may be more inclined to cultivate new relationships through networking and introductions through others.
Before the scheduled interview, spend ample time researching the company and the selected individual. Research the company’s website to learn about its products, its mission, the company strategy, the organization and leadership including its board of directors and advisory board. Look at industry trends and how the company fits in the industry. This is what you would do when applying for a job.
An informational interview though more informal than an official interview should be viewed with the same attention to detail as a job interview.
If you’re on video via Zoom or Skype, dress for success! In the era of video meetings this still means looking professional not like you’re in your sweats working from home. Although the meeting is to collect information and find out more about the company or industry segments, it also reflects on you. You want to come across as knowledgeable and mature.
Be prepared with a list of questions that address what you would like to learn about the company, about him. Be relaxed, be yourself, make it conversational.
For suggested questions that can assist in your conversation, go to Indeed.com Career Guide, The site offers a list of topics that will help you prepare for the interview.
Remember that the individual is doing you a favor. If you were referred to him by a mutual acquaintance, he is also doing your colleague a favor. Be gracious and thank him for taking time to talk with you. Keep the focus on him; don’t turn it into a discussion about you.
Just as you would do after a job interview, send the individual a thank you for his time and for sharing his expertise. If there was a topic that was particularly interesting to both of you, mention it and say how much you enjoyed discussing it with him. If appropriate, ask about others he might recommend that you talk to in the industry or in the company.
If a colleague made an introduction or helped you get the interview, send him a quick email to say thanks and let him know how it went.
You may need to do many informational interviews to find a company that meets your expectations. The process could be repeated many times. Be patient, be professional, be persistent in your quest.
Even though the informational interview is not a job interview, the individual you meet may be interested in your skills and career history. He may even have a job for you in his company.