Informational Interviews: Why and How

Written by
Michelle Lanchart

Jun 3, 2019

Jun 3, 2019 • by Michelle Lanchart

Informational interviews are a form of networking and are a great way to learn about careers in different fields; to find a new job; or to learn about a company, college, or university.

The purpose of an informational interview is to get information about future career paths and opportunities. These interviews are not the time to ask for a job. 

Why request an informational interview if you’re not directly asking about job openings?

  • Because between seventy-five and eighty percent of people get jobs through someone they know. Informational interviews help you expand your network.
  • Companies and academic institutions appreciate an applicant who has a good grasp of what the company/institution does, what they value, and what their pain points are.
  • These interviews, or “phone or coffee chats” as they are often called, can help you gain firsthand experience about a career, job, or organization before you apply.

Finding People to Connect With

It’s common for the people you meet for an informational interview to introduce you to their own contacts—and you can even ask them if they can recommend anyone else you can speak to—so it’s actually easy to grow your network and find more people to meet with once you get started.

The easiest place to start is by sharing your interest in learning about a different career, role, or academic institution with friends and family (but not your coworkers if you’re currently employed).  If you’re unsure about what career field you’d like to explore, those close to you may have suggestions about where to start. If you have a specific career in mind, friends and family may be able to put you in touch with someone currently in that role.

But make sure to branch out to contacts beyond your inner circle. LinkedIn can be a great way to find someone in an industry, company, or role you’d like to learn more about. Start with alumni from your school, a former colleague, or someone in the same community organization, since people are more likely to respond if there’s something that connects you. Sending that first message can be daunting, but the only thing you have to lose is a potential opportunity.

Find opportunities that get you in a room with new people. Attending conferences or joining professional associations can be a great place to do that. Before you go, practice your pitch about why you’re interested in a specific area of expertise so that you can clearly communicate your interests and purpose, especially if you’re switching careers. Follow up with the people you meet by e-mail or send them a message on LinkedIn.

How to Request an Informational Interview

The idea of requesting an informational interview can be scary­—but don’t be intimidated. Most people are happy to meet with you or connect you with someone because this is likely how they got their current job, and how they plan to get their next job. Informational interviews are common practice in most industries.

Even though asking for informational interviews is common practice and something you should incorporate into your career search, you’re still asking someone to give up their free time to help you. Be appreciative, professional, and courteous.

If you’re e-mailing someone asking for an informational interview here are a few guidelines:

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Briefly explain why you want to talk to this person.
  • Ask for a fifteen to twenty-minute phone conversation or coffee chat (if meeting in person is an option).
  • Thank them in advance.

The e-mail should be brief. The person does not need to know your entire life or work history. Just explain in a sentence or two why you’re interested in meeting them.

Once someone agrees to speak with you and you set a date and time, you should:

  • Send them an e-mail confirming the date and time.
  • Be on time.
  • Be understanding if they have to reschedule. People’s schedules can be unpredictable, so be flexible if your initial meeting doesn’t work out.
  • Have questions prepared. Make sure you do your research so that you’re not just asking something that you can easily find online. You can ask about salary range (not their specific salary), life-work balance, challenges, travel, what their day looks like, etc.
  • Be prepared to take notes as they may give you resources to follow up on, like the name of a professional organization, a book to read, or the name of one of their contacts.

After the interview, send a follow-up e-mail thanking them for their time.

Informational interviews help you lay the groundwork and create networks so that when a job opportunity arises, the person or people you’ve spoken to can tell you about it, or even refer you for the position. The more people you have informational interviews with, the larger your network and the greater your possibility of being referred for a job.

Get tips about how to talk about your PhD to employers outside of academia.