Informational Interviews: Lessons Learned

Informational InterviewWho loves informational interviews?  Me!  So much so, I created a YouTube video about them.  My clients rarely hear me refer to them as informational interviews because “making connections” is a more accurate description of what these interviews are all about.

If you’re just interviewing someone for information, you’re missing a key piece of what makes this process so powerful: You want to engage them and stay connected with them so they become a part of your network.

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a master of making connections blossom – her name is Caitlin Horsley, and she’s the focus of this guest blog post.  What might surprise you is that she’s a fairly recent college graduate.  I think her approach and style is so effective that I wanted to share it with you because I’m certain there’s something even seasoned professionals can learn.

Take it away, Caitlin…


Informational Interviews: Lessons Learned

In the last few years as I have begun my career and built a great professional network, informational interviews have been one of my most valuable tools. Although most professionals are familiar with the concept, it doesn’t seem like many people actually utilize informational interviews on a regular basis.

I completely understand how daunting the idea of asking a stranger to meet for coffee in order to give you their hard-earned advice can be. I’m here to tell you a few dos and don’ts that I have learned in the hopes that it will get rid of some of that apprehension.

DON’T Be Afraid To Ask

Although it may seem too good to be true, I have never once been rejected when asking for an informational interview. Don’t be afraid! I know it can be an intimidating thought to ask for time from a professional with a busy schedule that you really look up to. But, think of it this way: it is a very rare occasion that professionals get to sit down without a set agenda and brag about their accomplishments. 

In order to further guarantee your “asking success,” here are a couple of tips when “making the ask”:

  • Be clear about your intentions for the meeting and your time frame. I usually state that I’m requesting an informational interview because I’m interested in their (job, company, education, etc.) and I’m curious if I could have 30 minutes of their time.
  • Communicate your flexibility with meeting times, modes of communication, etc. Although I prefer in-person meetings, I conducted one of my very best informational interviews over the phone while my interviewee was at home with her children. We were able to meet again a couple of years later and the connection was just as strong as other in-person interviews I have done.

DO Prepare

Showing up to any interview unprepared can be extremely embarrassing, and an informational interview is no different. I suggest returning to the original reason you decided to ask the person for the interview; their LinkedIn profile, a referral, a Google search, etc. If you were referred to the person, email the contact that referred you and ask for suggestions on what to speak with the professional about.

…informational interviews have helped me build a great network, provided me with job leads, increased my confidence, and given me truthful career insight in order to make educated career moves.  

Even though I prefer organic conversation without cues, I always bring a list of questions/prompts just in case. An awkward informational interview with long silences probably isn’t going to have the type of lasting impression that you are looking for. If nothing else, the list of questions can provide something to write notes on if you forget your notebook! (Embarrassingly this has happened to me too many times.)

DON’T Ask For a Job

It is a cardinal rule of informational interviewing, but I still feel like it is important enough to stress here. First and foremost, this is not the purpose of an informational interview. Just as important, making this sort of ask changes the conversation and can make your interviewee feel awkward and on the spot.

Although I have never asked for a job during an informational interview, my interviewee has brought up the subject of hiring me multiple times. Meeting with people you would like to work for or with is not a bad idea at all — just let them bring up the subject.

DO Follow Up

Always follow up!!! Extra points for a hand written thank you card. Your follow up is what will solidify your newly created connection as well as reminding your interviewee of any information you may have promised to share, i.e. a connection’s contact information, a job description, a volunteer opportunity, etc.

I will tell you my best thank you card story. Once after an employment interview, I sent thank you cards to each person who had interviewed me however, I did not end up getting the position. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from one of the interviewers that her friend was the Regional Vice President for a local company and he was looking for someone like me. I expressed my interest and was later hired for this position.

A couple of years later at our company Christmas party I was able to reconnect with the woman who had referred me and she informed me that my thank you card had sat on her desk as a daily reminder to connect me with my current job until she did so. Not bad for a $1 card and 5 minutes to write a little note 🙂

Informational interviewing can be incredibly beneficial. Although I think the best thing I’ve gotten out of my interviews is general advice, informational interviews have helped me build a great network, provided me with job leads, increased my confidence, and given me truthful career insight in order to make educated career moves.

If you are looking to get further involved in informational interviewing, I suggest setting a goal such as 1 interview per week. You will be surprised at how quickly the process becomes easy and even fun in addition to the career benefits.

Caitlin HorsleyAbout Caitlin Horsley:  Caitlin’s professional focus is on energy and sustainability. Caitlin is currently the Sustainability and Education Manager at the Home Builders Association of Metro Portland, and her career has included working for the City of Portland, the Energy Trust of Oregon, SolarCity Corporation, and CLEAResult Consulting. She’s a liberal arts graduate with a major in Economics.  For more information, visit Caitlin’s LinkedIn Profile.

Step up your careerFREE Webinars to Watch at Your Convenience: Need to makeover your resume? Or figure out what your next career will be? Need help attracting the perfect job to you? Learn more and signup for my FREE webinars here.