There is no better way to learn about a role or company you are interested in than going straight to the source. Informational interviews — a conversation or meeting with an expert in your area of interest in order to gain insight or knowledge about a role/company — are an important tool for young professionals entering any industry. More times than not, established professionals are eager to share their experience and background with those who admire what they have achieved.
But are informational interviews really that important?
So in short the answer is YES, informational interviews are valuable! As an emerging professional in any industry, connecting with people that have your ideal role can not only bring insight to your career journey, but establishing a relationship could bear fruit over time. Plus they can help you:
- Build new connections that can be useful in a future job search
- Learn about company cultures – great insight when you are choosing a new employer
- Learn about real-world job functions or new aspects of the job you didn’t know before – is this really right for me?
- Open your eyes to opportunities you never thought of. Maybe you thought planning was right for you, but after talking with a Director of Planning they suggested exploring more product-oriented roles like buying or merchandising instead.
So how do you go about arranging these sessions?
- Identify contacts to reach out to. These could be direct contacts, even if they aren’t in your ideal industry or position, like family or friends. School alumni are also good options. Lastly, connecting with people on a platform like LinkedIn that are assuming your ideal role is good.
- Craft a message. It should convey your interest, establish common ground, and show your admiration for the person’s achievements. It should be concise and easy to tweak in case you intend on sending it to a few people. The message should suggest a short discussion (maybe 15 minutes), so that people know you are not looking to take up a lot of their time.
- Suggest a video or phone call in order to make the meeting as convenient for the person as possible. While the gesture of offering to buy someone coffee is kind, professionals tend to be busy. Giving as much flexibility as possible will increase the odds of securing an informational interview.
- Do the research. Once you get that “yes, I am interested” (congrats — this is a great step in the process!) it is time to put in some baseline work. Research the industry, company, role, and person you are interviewing. Going into the discussion with a general understanding will show that you are credible and motivated. They may be more inclined to help or recommend you if you come prepared.
- Prepare a list of questions to ask. Just like any other interview, going into it with questions that will actually benefit your understanding of the company/industry/role/experience are important. Try to really think about questions that you can translate into your own life and career.
- Take notes. Think of this interview as homework. Jotting down important points will allow you to reflect on them even after the meeting is over with. This part can also be helpful for your thank you note.
- Express your gratitude after the meeting. This person just carved out time of their day to offer you advice and share their expertise with you. Sending a thoughtful thank you — noting specifics from the conversation — is a great way to create a more meaningful connection, especially if they were able to give you any next steps or refer you to someone.
- Keep in contact. This could be interacting with posts on LinkedIn, congratulating them on work anniversaries, or an annual email to check in and share your career developments. Even if there wasn’t much action to be taken directly after the meeting, cultivating a long term relationship can be beneficial down the road.
Will anyone actually talk to me?
Yes! We polled LinkedIn, and the results were unequivocal. Out of 347 respondents, 97% voted “yes” when asked if they would set 30 minutes aside for a young professional or recent graduate if they asked to learn more about their career.
To conclude, the information you can learn is often invaluable, and meeting people in these positions can help you get referred for an internal position. Setting aside some extra time to learn more for informational interviews could be the key to your ideal role.