After setting up an informational interview, it is time to get busy preparing. Like so many things in life, the key to a successful informational interview is preparation. You should prepare for an informational interview just as seriously as you would prepare for a job interview. Below are some tips to help guide you in your preparation:
- Clarify your purpose for conducting the interview. Why are you conducting this interview in the first place? Are you interested in learning more about a particular career or industry? Are you looking for advice about how to start a new career? Clarifying your purpose for conducting the interview will help you develop questions for the interview, and it will help you stay on track if the conversation wanders.
- Research the person you are interviewing. Even though your interviewee will likely tell you about him or herself during the interview, it is important that you know as much as possible about your interviewee’s background and career before beginning the interview. In an informational interview, a lot of information is exchanged at a rapid pace, so it is helpful to begin the conversation already possessing some background knowledge. You do not want your interviewee to have to repeat information nor do you want to miss important information because you are busy taking notes on more basic material. If your interviewee has a Linkedin profile or a profile on a similar professional networking site, this can be a great source for finding background information. Ideally, you should know the individual’s educational background and their basic work history. You should also know their role in the organization where they currently work. If your interviewee does not have a profile on a networking site, a basic Google search may be able to provide some background information (although remember that multiple people may have the same name!).
- Research the individual’s organization. You should also have a thorough understanding of the individual’s organization and that organization’s position in their industry. What does the organization do and how is it structured? Who are its key clients and competitors? When your interviewee is speaking about their organization, you want to be sure that you are able to keep up. They may assume that you have a basic understanding of the industry and they may use some industry-specific terms. To get up to speed on this information, be sure to go to the organization’s website and click on the various links. Read the organization’s mission statement and see what you can learn about their key services, their clients, and their structure.
- Prepare your questions. Once you have clarified your purpose for conducting the interview and have gathered your research, it is time to develop some interview questions. The specific questions that you ask will depend on your goals for the interview and the specific organization and industry that you are interested in learning about. In general though, you want a range of both broad questions that can be used to get the conversation moving as well as more specific, targeted questions. You may not use each question on your list, but it is important to have a list available in case the conversation stalls or goes off track. Remember that even if your ultimate goal is to get a job, the informational interview is not the time or place to directly ask for one. In addition to preparing questions you should also spend some time generating a strong “opening statement” to use in your interview. Before diving into a list of questions, you will need to provide your interviewee with some background knowledge about yourself so that they can provide you with useful information.
Although it may seem time consuming, thorough preparation is crucial for conducting a successful informational interview. An informational interview is a fantastic opportunity to further your career or strengthen your professional network, and you want to be sure that you make the most of it. By carefully preparing, you can ensure that you not only make a good impression on the person you are interviewing, but also that you have a useful and informative interview.