Guide to the informational interview

Whether you’re getting ready for your first day of class or your last, an informational interview can help you figure out what’s next. These brief meetups are a great way to learn more about a specific job or field that you’re interested in before you fully commit to pursuing them.

Before we go any further, let’s get this common misconception out of the way: informational interviews have nothing to do with asking for a job. Ideally, you should be going on these interviews before you’re even looking for work. This phase is all about discovering what kind of work you’ll enjoy doing day in and day out — so leave your resume at home.


Why schedule an informational interview?

Now that we’ve established that you’re not going to get a job out of an informational interview, let’s go over what you will get — the inside scoop.

There’s nothing quite as valuable as talking to a real person who does what you think you want to do every single day. They can share the good, the bad, and the ugly and give you the information you need in order to evaluate whether or not this position is actually a good fit.

Take graphic design, for example. It’s easy to get the impression that graphic designers spend their time designing logos for big companies and running glamorous photoshoots. While this may be the day-to-day for a highly experienced graphic designer, it’s not realistic for someone just getting started.

New graphic designers often spend years honing their skills while designing emails and web pages. If you’re more interested in orchestrating big, flashy projects than you are in design, something like project management might be a better fit.

Going on an informational interview gives you a chance to ask hard questions and learn how people in that position got to where they are today. If it turns out your dream career path isn’t really your dream after all, then congratulations — you just saved yourself a lot of time and effort.


How to set up an informational interview

Setting up an informational interview is easy. All you need to do is log in to LinkedIn, find the person you want to speak with, and write them a quick message. Simply let them know that you’re interested in their field and you’d like to learn more about it. Then ask if they would be willing to speak over the phone, schedule a video call, or meet you in person.

The idea here is to make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you. While reaching out to strangers is totally fine, it can help if you have a mutual connection who wouldn’t mind introducing you via email.

A good way to go about finding mutual connections is to check LinkedIn to see if anyone you know works at a company you’re interested in. You can then ask that person if they’d be willing to introduce you to someone in the department that you want to learn more about.

Tip: If introducing yourself over LinkedIn isn’t your style, you can always ask your professors or manager if they know anyone you should talk to.


Questions to ask

The questions you ask will vary depending on the field you’re trying to learn more about, but this list is a good place to start.

  1. How did you get into your field?
  2. What did you study in school?
  3. Can you tell me what an average day looks like for you?
  4. What’s your favorite part of your job?
  5. What’s something you find challenging in your job?
  6. Is there anything you would change about your career path?
  7. What skills does someone need to succeed in your field?
  8. Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?

Tip: When going on an informational interview, keep in mind that the goal of the conversation is to learn from the person that you’re interviewing. While it’s fine to add your own insights, try to avoid using the interview to talk about yourself.

On a similar note, be respectful of people’s time! If your interviewee only has 20 minutes, show up on time and cut the conversation off at 20 minutes.


Next steps

After you’ve gone on your informational interview, take some time to reflect. Think about what you learned during the conversation and how it makes you feel about the job or field in question. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can a) schedule another interview with someone else in the same field for a second opinion, or b) set up an informational interview with someone in a different field. Good luck!

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