It’s rare to meet someone who, when recounting the story of their life or career, says, “I planned everything out, and my life followed the plan perfectly.”
In fact, I don’t think any person like that exists. If you know someone like that, please let me know!
We all must learn to find our gifts, ask questions, uncover interests, develop skills, and explore possibilities.
One of my favorite ways to do that is to talk with other people.
If you’re like me, the word “networking” isn’t one of your favorite vocabulary terms. The idea of going to mixers to “sell myself” does not sound appealing. But the idea of meeting people to hear their stories and share mine is something I like. Essentially, you could interchange “networking” with “making friends.”
One of the best ways to network is to conduct informational interviews.
These are opportunities for you to interview someone about their job and career path to help you map out your own.
Informational interviews are not about asking for a job. They are solely educational. You get to connect with an industry leader and hear about their life, path, and job, to decide if you want to pursue a similar job. You also get to hear any wisdom or suggestions the interviewee might recommend for your own career journey. These relationships could lead to job opportunities in the future, but that’s not the goal of the informational interview.
Here are my tips for conducting a superb informational interview:
- Choose someone in a role you’re interested in
- Choose someone from a similar background to you
- Choose someone with a different background than you
- Choose someone you want to be like
- Ask friends, professors, and colleagues if they know anyone you should connect with
- Search job titles you’re interested in, and then find people (search local businesses or LinkedIn) with those titles and ask to talk with them about their job
Inviting the interviewee
Whether you choose to email, call, text, Facebook Message, or use some other contact method you have available, be sure to include the following in your invitation to meet:
- Brief introduction to you and your background
- How you found them/got their contact information (mutual friend, industry leader research, etc.)
- Why you want to meet with them/purpose of interview/what you appreciate about their work
- Suggested location, date, and time (include end time so they can plan their day accordingly – typically one hour is good, and if you both feel like you have more to discuss, you can set a follow-up meeting) –– it’s nice to say something like, “If this time doesn’t work for you, please let me know one that does.”
- Your contact information (email, phone number, and LinkedIn profile)
Manners & Protocol
- Always research the interviewee before meeting. Check their personal or company website, social media handles (especially LinkedIn profile), any publications or mentions in the local newspaper, etc. The number one rule of any interview is, Don’t ask any question in the interview that you could have found the answer to online.
- Wherever you choose to meet (typically coffee shops are great settings), pay for the interviewee’s drink or food. Just like on a date, the person who invites the other person out is “in charge” and responsible to pay. The same rule applies here. Plus, paying for the coffee or snack is a courteous “thank you” gesture for the person who gave you their time to invest in your future.
- Send a thank you email (and card if you have their mailing address) as soon as possible after the meeting. Include takeaways you got from the conversation and your gratitude for the professional taking time out of their busy schedule to help you. They’re meeting with you because they care. It’s nice for them to know you got something out of the meeting.
This is your meeting! Ask what you want to know.
- Google “informational interview questions” and you’ll find many lists to choose questions from.
- Ask both specific and broad questions. Some of my favorites are:
- What is your favorite part of your job?
- What is your least favorite part of your job?
- What made you who you are today?
- Are you working in the job you expected when you were in college?
- How did you find your passions?
- What would you suggest I do next if I’m interested in pursuing a career or role like yours?
- Is there anything I can do to help you?
- This is a great gesture because the interviewee agreed to help you. If there’s anything you can do to help them (introduce them to someone in your network, share a job posting they’re trying to fill with your contacts, etc.) it’s a good way to return the favor.
During my senior year of college, I conducted about half a dozen informational interviews. Every conversation was different, and each helped me narrow down my interests in different ways. I learned about roles I had never heard of and dove deeper into careers I thought I understood.
After college, I still enjoy talking to people about their jobs and lives. That’s why we have the STORIES page on this blog! Even when you’re not looking for a new job, it’s fascinating to learn what people do—and they like sharing! These conversations build a network and add relationships to what author and speaker Jon Acuff calls a Career Savings Account.
It’s time to get out there!