How to Conduct an Informational Interview
Every time someone asks me what I did to secure a job before graduation, I give them some variation of "network, network, network." (Sometimes it’s “coffee, coffee, coffee”). This is my biggest piece of advice, because it’s what led me to my role at Olive & Company.
But what do you do once you’ve locked down an informational interview? Here are a few tips to get you started and help you feel more confident going in:
When you reach out to someone, it’s important to remember they are busy (just like you!) If you’re like me, you probably check your emails and text messages like it’s your job. It used to absolutely baffle me when someone took longer than half a day to respond to a message I’d sent. But many people don’t have time to be glued to their inboxes. It may take someone a few days—or even a week—to respond to your request. Be patient.
If you haven’t heard from someone in a week or two, don’t be afraid to reach out again. They may have forgotten about your message as it made its way to the bottom of their inbox (this doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk to you). Consider sending a follow-up message like: “Hello [person’s name], I am reaching out again to see if I can buy you a cup of coffee and ask you about your role at [company name] and how you got started. Let me know at your earliest convenience when you might be available. I look forward to meeting you!”
Pro tip: Saying “I look forward to meeting you” as opposed to “I look forward to hearing from you” comes across more confident, because it assumes that this person will, in fact, reply and set up a time to meet. I do it when proposing my freelance services, too. Rather than “I look forward to speaking with you,” I sign off with, “I look forward to working with you,” because it shows I am confident that they’ll choose to work with me. I swear it works!
Once they respond, be flexible! Chances are, you have more time in your schedule than they have in theirs, so be sure to provide as many available dates and times as you can. Ask them what works best for their schedule, and accommodate their request. The person you’re meeting with will appreciate your patience, flexibility, and cooperation, which gives you brownie points before the interview has even begun.
Whoever you’re interviewing has taken time out of their busy day to meet you, so you better not waste their time by showing up late! Treat an informational interview as seriously as you would a “real” interview; arrive early, be confident, and stay calm.
I learned the hard way when you ask someone for an informational interview, they expect you to ask questions. Your questions don’t have to be hard hitting, but make sure you've prepared at least a few. Ask about their role, how they got started, and what inspires them.
Do your homework. Read through their LinkedIn profile to get a feel for their background and expertise. Explore their website, if they have one. Check out their company’s mission and values, too. By showing up prepared, you’ll have plenty to talk about, and will be able to draw on what you know if there’s ever a lull in the conversation.
Because informational interviews are relatively informal, you don’t have to worry about dressing to the nines (unless you want to.) There is a bit of freedom in grabbing coffee with someone new; you can dress business casual. This means no T-shirts or sweatshirts, no sweatpants or leggings, but rather, jeans (sans holes), nice shoes, and a blazer, or something along those lines. Dressing professionally shows that you are taking this interaction seriously. It’s part of being prepared.
You’ve heard it before:
Don’t dress for the job you have; dress for the job you want.
(Stay tuned for a post on dressing for the job, coming soon!)
As the person who initiated the meetup, you should offer to pay for the other person’s drink. Oftentimes, they’ll deny your offer, or offer to pay for your drink instead (they know you’re a struggling college student, and they remember what it’s like!) But, always offer. This shows you’re not only prepared, but courteous.
It’s very important to reach out and thank this individual for their time. Not only is it polite, it’s expected! And, it keeps your name top-of-mind as this person continues on with their week.
What to say:
[Person’s name], It was great getting to know you this [morning/afternoon/evening]. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to answer my questions and share career advice with me. I especially enjoyed talking about [insert something specific you talked about here]. I look forward to staying in contact with you. Enjoy your [week/weekend], [Your Name].
When to hit ‘Send’
The sooner, the better. Ideally, send thanks once you get back home, but don’t wait more than 24 hours to follow up.
There you have it!
Questions? Comments? Feedback? Drop it in the comments below.