Picture yourself with a magic wand. You can get answers to any professional questions you have and meet with people at any company you’re interested in. Sounds like magic, right?
It isn’t! Answers to professional questions are what you unlock through informational interviews.
An informational interview, also called a networking chat, is a one-on-one conversation, usually 20 minutes to 1 hour in length, covering a healthy mix of personal life get-to-know-you talk with career-related discussion.
Informational interviews have some similarities to the standard job interview you’re probably familiar with. Let’s take a look at the consistencies between informational and formal interviews.
🎯 Your reputation is on the line. As with any interaction you have with someone in your network, you’re actively shaping how they perceive you. How you present yourself is particularly critical when you’re meeting someone for the first time, as first impressions are long-lasting.
🎯 You must prepare. For a conversation to be meaningful, you should do prep work in advance. For a formal job interview, you’ll be set up for success when you’ve rehearsed your responses to common interview questions and practiced your elevator pitch. Preparation is also vital for informational interviews, although instead of focusing on how you would respond to questions, you’re focusing on which questions you want to ask the other person.
🎯 A thank you note should be written after the conversation. There aren’t scenarios where writing a thoughtful thank you note can be a bad thing. Writing a thank-you note is almost always going to help you. Whether you’ve just wrapped up a job interview or an informational interview, aim to have an email thank you note sent out within two hours of the conversation.
Now that we have a sense of the consistencies between interviews, let’s identify the core differences between informational interviews and formal job interviews.
There are a few key differences:
⭐ Informational interviews are more casual. Rather than solely focusing on your credentials and work experience, informational interviews allow for more casual, candid conversation. It’s appropriate to ask for someone’s advice or talk about your children in an informational interview, whereas this is less appropriate in a job interview.
⭐ You take the lead. Informational interviews require you to drive the conversation. When you ask someone for their time and advice (which you’re doing when scheduling an informational interview), it’s essential to prepare questions that show you’ve done your research. This signals to the other person that you respect their time and are maximizing the meeting.
⭐ The focus is on learning about them. The tables turn in an informational interview - you’re not in the hot seat answering all of the questions! In these conversations, you’re asking the questions of the other person. The focus is on learning about them (compared to a job interview where a hiring manager is trying to learn about you). Note that your prepared questions should allow for organic conversation - it shouldn’t feel like an interrogation.
While informational interviews might sound intimidating if you haven’t done them before, you’ll quickly get in the swing of things once you get your first one under your belt. We’d even wager to say you’ll end up enjoying them!