How to Use Informational Interviews to Get Ahead

Learn how to advance your career through conversations.

Lisa B. Marshall
6-minute read
Episode #92

How to Ask for an Informational Interview

Informational interviewing is not about asking for a job or about asking for referrals.

Because of the sneakiness issue I mentioned before, some people are hesitant to ask for (and agree to) informational interviews. So it’s very important when you ask to be very clear that you are not asking for a job interview and that you’re not asking them to directly help you get an interview with their contacts. If you’ve properly done your homework (meaning you’ve read all the person’s online profiles and about their company and industry, and have prepared three to five burning questions for them) you’ll be able to be very specific as to what you’d like to learn during your 20-30 minute conversation.

Send an email briefly introducing yourself and specifically state what you’d like to learn during the conversation. If you are close by, you can offer to buy a coffee (or tea); if not, offer to meet via online video chat. If you can get someone in your network to make an e-introduction, it’s even better. Remember, the more specific you can be with your request, the more likely someone will agree to participate.

Who Should You Have Informational Interviews With?

Coffee conversations can be time consuming, so be sure you are picking the “right” people to have your conversations with. Whether you are a young aspiring professional or someone who is well-established, you should always be thinking about what you’d like to learn next and who you’d like to meet to help you grow professionally. Target specific companies and specific people.

Use Informational Interviews to Prepare for Other Interviews

If you want to have an informational interview to prepare for an upcoming interview, talk to people in the same job who work for competitors. Talk to people who used to work at the company. Talk to people who currently work at the company but in a different department.

[[AdMiddle]If you are earlier in the job search process, target two or three organizations that you’d like to work for and see what you can find some common ground by researching online profiles of people that work there. Maybe you’ll find someone who is an alumni of your college, or someone that went to school in your home town.

Use Informational Interviews to Get Ahead in Your Current Job

If you are already working but want to learn more about a particular issue in order to become better at your job, then use linkedIn answers and twitter lists and hashtags to find people who know something about what you want to know; then contact them. I have found people to be very receptive to my requests and generous with their time.

Show your Appreciation

In addition to your preparation, it’s important to show your appreciation. Be respectful of time. Be on time for your informational interview and always start by asking, “ Is this still a good time to talk?” Never go overtime unless you have explicit permission. Oh and manners dictate that the person requesting the conversation should offer to pay for the coffee. Don’t forget to send a quick thank-you and follow up with anything you promised during the conversation. Finally, remember to check-in with the person every now and again just to see how things are going.

So there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to help you advance your career through caffeinated career conversations.  

This is, Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.


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Informational Interview image courtesy of Shutterstock;


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.