The Complete Guide to Informational Interviews

College is the time to explore various career paths, majors, industries, and role types. But what if you want to learn about a specific field that you don’t really know anyone in? That’s where the power of informational interviews come into play.  

What is an Informational Interview + Why Should You Seek It Out?

So, what exactly does an informational interview look like and how is it different from a traditional job interview? 

An informational interview is a networking technique that allows you to connect with people from companies and industries you’re interested in. During this conversation, you can learn more about the industry you hope to enter after graduation, receive advice on how to succeed, and expand your network. Informational interviews can help guide your course selection, major decision, internship opportunities, part-time work, and career goals. And, if you form strong connections, the network you build from informational interviews may also influence your future job opportunities.  

Who to Interview + How to Reach Out 

Now that you understand the significance of informational interviews, it’s time to determine who to interview and how to reach out. 

When considering who to interview, try brainstorming a list of people you would categorize as “weak ties.” These are people you have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well. Think of people in your outer circles, such as former coworkers/classmates, 2nd and 3rd connections on LinkedIn, family friends, neighbors, or friends of a friend.  

If you can’t think of anyone who works in your desired industry, consider resorting to LinkedIn to find someone to interview. The power of searching for professionals to connect with through LinkedIn is unmatched. You can search by university (ex. IU or School of Public Health alumni), a specific company, or location. From there, identify one or two individuals who have similar backgrounds, interests, or career paths as you.  

To request an informational interview, you can send the individual an email or LinkedIn message. Here is what you need to include in your message to make it clear and concise (and increase your chances of receiving a response). 

  • Introduce yourself (name, year, school, majors) 
  • Share how you found their contact information (shared connection, alumni group, company search) 
  • Express interest in their career path/experience with specific company or role 
  • Ask if they would be willing to speak with you (short phone conversation, video call, or in-person) 
  • State your availability in the upcoming weeks (dates, times) 
  • Thank them for their consideration  

Informational Interview Process – Before, During, + After 

You’ve successfully completed the hardest part of an informational interview – finding someone to reach out to and scheduling a time to chat! Now, you need to prepare for your informational interview.  

While it’s important to prepare for any type of interview, the preparation for an informational interview looks different than that of a typical job interview. In this case, you’re the one guiding the conversation and asking the questions. Therefore, you should research the person you are interviewing and the company they work for. What are their job responsibilities in their current role? Where did they work before? What does their educational background look like? What does their company do? What is in the news regarding their company? What are the company’s values? Researching these types of questions via the internet, company website, social media, and LinkedIn will help you feel and look more confident, prepared, and interested. 

Another key to leading an informational interview is to prepare a list of questions to ask the person you’re interviewing. Here are some questions you can ask to learn more about the individual’s career path, position, and company.  

  • Can you tell me a bit about your career path and what led you to where you are today? 
  • How did you become interested in [SPECIFIC INDUSTRY OR ROLE]? 
  • What is your favorite part about working for [COMPANY], and what is the most challenging part? 
  • What is a project you’ve worked on recently that you were especially proud of or that excited you? 
  • What do you wish you’d known when you were starting out in this career/role? 
  • Do you have any recommendations for other people I should talk to or other resources I should explore? 

While it is likely that you will be asking most of the questions, you should be ready to answer a few questions about yourself too. For example, the question “tell me about yourself” is a common way to start off an informational interview to get to know each other better and break the ice. Consider crafting the perfect elevator pitch to share 1) who you are, 2) what you do currently or hope to do in the future, and 3) what you hope to learn during this conversation.  

Once the informational interview is completed, your work doesn’t stop there. The first thing to do post-informational interview is to send a thank you note within 24-48 hours after your meeting time. In this message, you want to express your appreciation for both the time the individual took to speak with you as well as the valuable insights shared. In order to stand out and make a strong impression, you can also include a few sentences describing something you especially enjoyed learning about in the interview (ex. specific story or detail discussed). To conclude your email, make sure you follow up regarding additional resources or references stated in your conversation and express your enthusiasm for staying in touch and continuing the conversation.  

After establishing an initial connection with someone from the industry or company you’re interested in, it’s your responsibility to continue the relationship. Find new ways to connect with the individual, whether that may be through LinkedIn, email, or text. Then, keep your eye out for news about the company or activity of the person you interviewed. For example, say you see on LinkedIn that the person you interviewed received a promotion or award at work. This is the time to reach out, share your congratulations, and see what the individual has been up to since your last conversation.  

Conducting an informational interview can help you land a job. Even if it doesn’t, having a conversation with someone who works in the field you’re interested in allows you to grow your network, receive valuable insights and advice, and learn something new.  

By Claire Silcox
Claire Silcox Career Mentor