INTRODUCTIONPreviously, in part 5, we covered various scenarios and messaging and follow-up strategies for how to ask someone for an informational interview. This final post will cover navigating the informational interview, including defining a learning goal, preparing questions, and being mindful of the dos and don’ts. Let’s begin!
Informational Interview Overview
An informational interview is an informal, focused conversation about a topic that interests you.
In the context of a job search, these interviews revolve around meeting someone who can share valuable insights into what it’s like to work in a specific role, company, or industry.
Informational interviews are a great networking tool that helps you:
Below, we will cover the 5-step process for preparing for and making the most of your informational interviews.
Step 1: Research is critical.
I have received and granted requests for informational interviews. Nothing is more frustrating than offering to share my time with someone who comes unprepared and proceeds to waste mine.
Never go into a meeting cold. You worked hard to reach out to this person and inspired them to help you. Make it worth their time by learning as much as you can about the person before the meeting.
Start by seeing what you can learn about your interviewee, such as:
Afterward, familiarize yourself with their current company, such as:
Your interviewee will notice if you come prepared and show that you’ve made an effort to make sure the meeting is a productive use of time for both of you.
Step 2: Define your learning goal.
To make the most of your’s and your interviewee’s time, you must come to the meeting with a clearly defined learning goal. What do you want to learn from this person? Do you want to:
Step 3: Prepare thoughtful questions.
Once you determine your learning goal, you’ll want to prepare a list of questions across different areas to guide the conversation.
Below, I’ve included some sample questions. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it offers you some inspiration as you prepare for your informational interviews.
Remember, the goal is to gather information and insight, so don’t shy away from challenging questions.
Step 4: Initiate and guide the conversation.
Start by reminding the person how you were connected and details about who you are, what you’ve done, and your aspirations.
Here’s how I approached informational interviewing while working in the specialty chemicals industry:
I’m an Applications Scientist who has spent the last 3 years working in the specialty chemicals industry. I currently work at Emerald Performance Materials as part of the R&D team, supporting the development and commercial launch of a new sustainable, environmentally-friendly plasticizer line for the adhesives industry. I’m interested in meeting and speaking with 5-10 people in the chemicals product management space.
Doing this helps the interviewee understand that you’re looking for additional resources early on versus putting them on the spot or catching them off guard at the end of the meeting.
I also recommend clarifying any time constraints up front. Things come up throughout the day, so be mindful of their time and ask.
I know we built in [X] minutes for this meeting. Before we start, I want to make sure that’s still okay with you or if we have any time constraints to be aware of.
Stick to the agreed-upon meeting length, even if the conversation is going well and you don’t want it to end.
I want to respect your time. I want to keep talking, but we have [X] minutes left, and if you need to go, I understand.
Doing this will allow your interviewee to continue or wrap up the conversation respectfully and professionally.
Step 5: Thank and follow up with your interviewee.
Thank this person for taking time out of their day to meet with you. Send this note by email within 24 hours of the meeting so you have time to reflect on what you learned from the conversation.
Keep it short and focused, and stick to the following format:
Always, always, always send a thank-you note, even if the meeting didn’t go well or you didn’t learn anything, or even if the person was your friend. Basic interview and business etiquette keep communication open and active. These emails can be archived or shared with hiring personnel and company decision-makers.
Informational Interview Follow-up
Below, I’ve shared some sample thank you letters that you can modify and personalize.
Example 1: Standard Concise Follow-up
Dear [Interviewee Name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me on [Day of Meeting]. I enjoyed hearing about your experience at [Company X] and your perspective on your challenges in [Position X].
Your insights were truly valuable and reaffirmed my decision to [Insert 1-2 details from the interview].
I also really appreciate you putting me in touch with [Contact Name]. I hope you don’t mind if I keep you periodically informed of my progress. Thank you once again!
Example 2: Offering Your Assistance
Dear [Interviewee Name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me on [Day of Meeting]. I am grateful for your patience and eagerness to answer all my questions and share details about your career path as an [Position] at [Company X].
I also wanted to specifically thank you for providing information about the onboarding, hiring, and training process for new team members, all of which will be highly valuable as I develop my career in [Industry X]. I hope to continue this discussion sometime in the future.
Since I have experience in [X], I am happy to offer my services should [Company X] need additional help in the future. I look forward to staying in touch and future engagement. Once again, thank you for your time and consideration.
Example 3: Intention to Upskill
Dear [Interviewee Name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Your insights on [X] helped to support my decision to gain more experience in [Industry X] before I pursue graduate school.
As you suggested, I have already reached out to [Professional Organization], and I will regularly check the website you selected for leads. I look forward to staying in touch and will update you on my progress. Thank you once again for your guidance.
Final Dos and Don’ts
As we conclude the final post in our STEM job search series, remember the following:
CONCLUSIONInformational interviews are an invaluable job search and networking strategy that can help you gain a competitive edge. If you made a strong impression with your interviewee, s/he could serve as a sponsor on your behalf next time a position that fits your skills, experience, and background opens up. Most importantly, informational interviews offer the opportunity to gain mentors and build relationships. As your job search progresses, stay curious and look for leads who could offer new insights into your career target.
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