Informational interviews, defined as a professional conversation about a desired industry, company, or type of role, can be tricky.
Don’t “set up an informational interview hoping that it’s a job interview. Those two things are very different,” says Barbara McGloin, Assistant Director of Career Development for Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.
She offers five tips for getting the most out of these valuable, one-on-one networking meetings.
1. Target your most relevant contacts.
To get the most out of an informational interview, McGloin encourages you to be strategic in whom you 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?’,” says McGloin.
Often she advises 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,” says McGloin. These may be gracious and accomplished individuals, but you may walk away thinking, “What do I do now?”
2. 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,” says McGloin. “The more specific your request is, the higher the probability that the interview will go beyond just good will.”
3. Stick to your objectives: rapport and research.
An informational interview is purely informational, says McGloin. It is a conversation to establish a rapport with an industry professional and to get answers about a job, company, or industry that you can’t find on LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or another website. Such interviews can serve as the foundation for a future professional relationship.
4. Let your curiosity guide you.
Ask yourself what you’re trying to learn, says McGloin. Is it something specific, such as the function of a role in an organization? Or is it something more nebulous, such as whether a company or an industry may be a good fit for you?
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.
Learn more about the Programs in Strategic Communication at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies.