Once you have set up your informational interview and finished your preparation, it is time to focus on the actual interview itself. Below are some suggestions to help you conduct a successful informational interview.
- Organize your research and interview questions. Whether meeting in person or having a phone conversation, it is important to have your preliminary research available and organized because you will likely need to refer to these materials during the interview. It is also important to have a pen and paper handy so that you can take notes during the interview.
- Be on time. It should go without saying, but be sure that you are on time for your interview! If calling on the phone (or receiving a call from your interviewee), be sure that you are ready at the appropriate time.
- Make a strong first impression. Professional dress, a firm handshake, and good eye contact are all ways to display confidence and professionalism in a face to face meeting. If talking on the phone, be sure to greet the interviewee in a clear and professional manner.
- Provide background information. After an initial greeting and some small talk, it is time to begin the interview in earnest. It is important that you provide your interviewee with some background information about yourself and that you clearly articulate your general goals for conducting the interview. By providing this information up front you increase the likelihood that the interview “stays on track” and that you learn what you want to learn.
- Let the conversation flow naturally. Ideally, your informational interview will be a conversation and not an interrogation. That said, it is your responsibility to steer the conversation back to your questions if the conversation wanders. Remember, time is limited, so if the conversation drifts into areas that are not useful to you, do your best to get it back on track. Take notes during the conversation if appropriate, and be prepared with a question in case the interview stalls. Obviously, every interviewee is different – some will talk endlessly, whereas others will look to you to guide the conversation. During the conversation, be professional and polite, and be sure to keep steering the conversation in the direction you want it to go. Remember, do not directly ask your interviewee for a job during the informational interview! That will put the interviewee in an uncomfortable position and make the rest of the interview very awkward.
- Keep track of the time. Your interviewee is doing you a favor and you want to be sure that you are respectful of their time. Pay close attention to the interviewee’s body language and tone as the interview progresses and be sure to take notice if they are sending signals that they want to end the conversation. You can try to squeeze in your last important questions, but be sure not to overly impose on the interviewee’s time. At the end of the conversation, be sure to thank the interviewee for speaking with you. Depending on how the conversation went, you may also want to ask if there is anyone else in the organization that they think you should speak with.
- Wrap it up. Once the interview is complete and you are alone, take a moment to review your notes from the conversation. Write down your general thoughts and impressions, and anything else that you will want to remember. Soon after the interview (but not too soon, the next day is fine), send a polite thank you e-mail to the interviewee. If you agreed during your conversation to send them any information or materials, be sure to follow up on these commitments.
Informational interviews are one of the best ways to move your career forward or to learn more about a different organization or industry. Best of luck in your interviews, and please comment below if you have any additional questions.