6 Tips For Your Next Informational Interview

Informational interviews can be tricky. Because these meetings are intended as research on a desired industry, company, or type of role – rather than a discussion about a job – this form of networking can seem murky.

“I think sometimes students set up an informational interview hoping that it's a job interview, and those two things are very different,” said career coach Barbara McGloin, who advises Columbia students in the M.S. program in Communications Practice.

We sat down with McGloin to find out more about informational interviews and her best practices for getting the most out of these meetings.

1. Make your request specific and concise.

Your interview request should be in the form of an email, and the request must be clear.

“As with most things, people will respond to something specific. The more specific your request is, the higher the probability that the interview will go beyond just good will,” said McGloin.

2. Stick to your objective: research.

McGloin underscored that an informational interview is purely informational. It is a conversation with an industry professional to learn about a job, company, or industry that one can’t find on LinkedIn or Glassdoor. Such interviews can serve as the foundation for a future professional relationship.

The conversation might not turn to specific job opportunities. “If they move it forward in that direction, fantastic. But I think you really want to stick to the agenda,” said McGloin.

3. Let your curiosity guide you.

When thinking about what to ask, McGloin said to pursue the subject matter that interests you. She suggested that aspirants should consider, “What is it that you're really trying to learn?”

The answers can vary. While sometimes the questions can be more technical, like the function of a role in an organization, other times the questions can be more nebulous: “Would I fit in here?” “Is this the kind of company culture that I want?”

4. Target your most relevant contacts.

To get the most out of an informational interview, McGloin encouraged students to be strategic in whom they choose to talk to.

“I would talk to more junior people about roles, about the culture of the firm. I would talk to more mid-level individuals about strategy: 'Am I on the right path?'” said McGloin.

She often advises students against setting up appointments with senior-level executives when searching for information.

“Sometimes we get connected to someone who is too senior; they are too far removed from what you need to know, and they have an overly broad overview. They're very gracious and accomplished individuals, but students often walk away thinking, 'What do I do now?'” said McGloin.

5. Remain genuine and authentic.

When interviewers express true curiosity, they plant a seed for a professional relationship that may grow. Professionals love meeting other professionals who are passionate about what they do.

6. Don’t ask for a job.

Networking can resemble an awkward dance – but there’s no need to trample on your partner. That is, in informational interviews, don’t ask for a job outright. The meeting itself implies interest in job opportunities.

“Once that conversation gets going, it ends with them, hopefully, making an offer to either introduce you to someone else, or to stay in touch because they will be hiring in the future,” said McGloin.

Save your job discussion for a follow-up conversation. According to McGloin, the primary goal of an informational interview is to establish a rapport with the individual and get answers that go beyond what you can find on the company’s website.

Learn more about the M.S. in Communications Practice.