Coffee Talk: Informational Interview (Part I)

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My first informational interviews were incredibly stressful.  I was 22 years old, was afraid of exposing how little I knew, but most of all – I didn’t know what to expect from it.  A friend of mine who was recently getting briefed by her aunt who was setting up an informational interview for her actually said, “Maybe he’ll have a job for you, maybe he won’t, or maybe you’ll just marry him.” Clearly, it is a loose concept.

Perhaps hundreds of informational interviews later (participating as both interviewer and interviewee), my understanding and use of them have changed a lot, and I have actually come to really enjoy them. Based on these experiences, I compiled a short write up of my take for those who might be intimidated or confused as I was.  Which you really shouldn’t be!

Why have an informational interview?

You are interested in doing something that you don’t know much about.  Going back to school, having just graduated from school, or entering a new industry are perfect reasons to have them.  Or even if you just know you want to do something different, but you don’t know what yet.

What is an informational interview?

A casual conversation, usually over coffee, where you are able to take advantage of someone’s professional knowledge.  The main objective is not to get a job, or to ask someone to hire you or connect you with someone who can (though of course this is possible, but just not expected).  The point of the informational interview is to gather information, so that when you actually have a real interview you will know what to talk about and speak the industry/company lingo.  A good informational interviewer will also help connect you to other people or resources that provide additional information on your interests.

What do I ask during an informational interview?

Ask dumb questions: Don’t be shy.  Here are some questions that are great for an informational interview, but terrible for a formal job interview.

  • “What does this company do?”
  •  “What does your title mean?”
  • “What is your average day like?”

Learn why people (and others they know) got into the job/school they are now:

  • “What did you do before working here?”
  •  “Would you recommend working here?”
  •  “I’m interested in [fill in the blank: living abroad, working for the World Bank, environmental issues, being a full time lion tamer], do you know how people usually get to do that?”

Get advice about additional resources:

  • “What other companies do you recommend looking into?”
  • “Do you know of any websites, books, or articles that would be helpful to read?”
  • “How can I find out about openings?  If I find something of interest, can I ask you more about it in the future?”
  • Note: I personally don’t like to ask people point-blank if they will connect me with other people or recommend me a job – people will do it/suggest it themselves if they are comfortable with it.

Who should I have an informational interview with?

Anyone who has done something professionally of interest to you.  Peers (close to your age/experience level) can often be the best resource for a first round of informational interviews since they can give you the most time, and you will feel more comfortable to ask whatever you want.

Continue Reading “Coffee Talk: Informational Interview (Part II: ‘The Ask’)”

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