If you love learning and like meeting interesting people, informational interviews are the way to go about building your career.
An intentional career-focused conversation can expand your ideas, help you identify new career possibilities, and provide a way to keep up-to-date on what’s happening in your target industry.
Many people arrange informational interviews only when making a career transition, but honestly, they should be an integral part of your investment in your career.
Back in 2015, I completed a counselling certificate. It was a good program that taught me decent practical skills. But I sometimes wonder where my career and business would be if I had invested those 3 hours a week into networking and informational interviews instead.
I talk about what questions you can ask here. There are no perfect questions – instead, ask about the things that interest you. One of the most meaningful questions I ever asked in an informational interview 10 years ago was “How do you see your work making a difference in the world?”
But the questions aren’t the only thing you should pay attention to when doing informational interviews.
Today I want to focus on the other essential elements that occur before, during, and after the meeting that can help you make a good impression and improve the process overall.
1. Make a Good Impression Before the Meeting: When you initiate an informational interview, be mindful of your communication through the process of arranging the meeting.
Be prompt, enthusiastic, and thankful in all your interactions. And always double-check your spelling and grammar in emails.
2. Send a Reminder: You can send a reminder email the day before your meeting to confirm the time and location.
3. Attitude: Go in with curiousity and a willingness to listen. People will be more impressed with an openness to learning than your intelligence. And do not try to convert the informational interview into a pitch for a job – this will do more harm than good.
4. Research: Do some research on the person you are meeting and where they have worked in the past.
5. Dress: Dress professionally, even if it's a coffee meeting.
6. Time: Be early, but not too early. Arrive 10 minutes before your suggested meeting time.
Coming early is especially important if you are meeting at a coffee shop or restaurant. Get a table before the other person arrives so you don't waste time searching for a place to sit.
If you committed to keeping the informational interview within a certain timeframe, then be sure to wrap up by the appointed time.
7. Offer to Pay: Offer to buy the person's coffee or lunch. They may decline, but it's a nice gesture and a great investment in your future.
8. Prepare, but be Flexible: Put together thoughtful questions, but don’t put too much focus on the questions at the expense of building the relationship.
People love giving advice and talking about their careers. Be sincerely interested in the person and their journey. This is hopefully the start of a long-term relationship, not just a one-time meeting.
9. Send a Thank You Note: After your meeting, send an email to the person, thanking them for their time and identifying any information that you found particularly useful.
10. Stay Connected: Connect with the person on LinkedIn. Look for ways to help them when you can. And let them know where you ended up, even if it was a while ago since you met up.
For me, informational interviews and networking meetings have turned into jobs, contracts, and client referrals. And as much as that’s awesome, what I really love about the process is the chance to connect with interesting people and build genuine, long-term relationships that benefit us both.
To your future career success,
Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace.