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From "Hello" to "Thank you": 7 Steps for a Successful Informational Interview

Jun 9, 2015

I've been on both sides of the informational interview table. As a job seeker during the recession, I used informational interviews to actively build my professional network of future colleagues, now some of my top mentors and supporters. And now, as an established nonprofit professional, I've been on the other end of subpar informational interviews. From issues in etiquette to ill-preparedness to poor follow-up, there's plenty that can go wrong—but plenty you can do to ensure it goes well.

An informational interview can provide you an inside perspective and the opportunity to glean unique information about company plans and goals, internal culture, applicable skills, and professional pathways. Informational interviews also provide companies the chance to articulate their values and mission to an interested audience, and gain professional contact with a potential workforce. Ideally, these conversations benefit both parties involved, not just the job-seeker.

So, how do you ensure a successful informational interview? (Keep in mind that success isn't defined as another connection on LinkedIn: this as an opportunity for genuine relationship-building as you navigate the job market!) Here are some tips to ensure your informational interview is worthwhile for both parties:

  1. Prepare: Thoroughly research the history, products, programs, organizational structure, etc. of the company or organization in question. Identify one or two key goals you have for the conversation that will direct your preparation and research with clearer focus and purpose. Arrive to the interview early. Bring your resume.
  2. Introduce yourself: Don't let nerves drive you straight into your questions. Explain why you're there and your goals for the conversation.
  3. Choose the right questions: Focus on asking questions that accomplish your goals for the conversation, and are open-ended enough to give your interviewee space to share their knowledge and expertise. Avoid yes/no questions. Ask follow-up and clarifying questions.
  4. Keep time: Managing time is just as important as managing questions. Most informational interviews last 30-45 minutes. Respect the time allotment your interviewee has given for your conversation.
  5. Take key notes: Balancing writing and active listening is a skill, and one you can hone from informational interviews. Don't document every word, but do record key points and discoveries.
  6. Ask for referrals: Keep the process going by asking for advice on who you should speak to next. Ask if they are willing to provide an introduction, and then follow up on those leads.
  7. Follow up...and keep following up: Close the interview by thanking the interviewee for their time and insights. Follow up over email with thanks, and send a thank you note as well. Then, keep in touch—when you land your next job or have professional news to share, send that person an update. The relationship doesn't have to stop once you've landed a job. Stay hungry for new information and connections!

Jessica Frederick graduated from the University of Washington with Departmental Honors in English and Political Science in 2008, returning for Professional Certificates in Nonprofit Management and Fundraising Management in 2012. She currently directs fundraising and communications strategy at Seattle Works, a local organization dedicated to connecting volunteers with nonprofits.