Addicted to novelty since 2001

How To Run a Great Informational Interview

Early in my professional career, I did a lot of informational interviews. I did an internship program after university, so that required that I talk to a lot of potential employers. Those conversations focused my mind on what I did and did not want to do in my career.

In the past few years, I’ve been able to return the favour, and answer questions about the worlds of marketing, software and so forth. When possible, I try to make introductions to other folks the interviewer might find helpful. I guess I do an interview every month or so.

I’ve had enough experience with information interviews, then, to make some recommendations on how to complete a great one.

  1. Prepare your questions in advance. This forces you to think about the meeting ahead of time, and demonstrates to the interviewee that you respect their time.
  2. Make your questions as specific as possible. Specific answers are probably more useful than general ones–they’re also easier to answer. If you’re just kicking the tires on a career, then try to get your broad questions answered by other means (books, the web, industry events, and so forth).
  3. Be friendly and personable. You want to put the other person at ease. If they’re relaxed, they’re likelier to speak frankly, which will prove invaluable in the long run.
  4. Don’t ask for a job.
  5. Don’t ask how much the interviewee makes. Again, the internet is your friend for estimating salary ranges.
  6. Tell your story. You should listen more than you talk, but it’s important that the interviewee gets a sense of who you are.
  7. Ask what the interviewee loves and hates about their job. These questions, I think, can be particularly illuminating.
  8. At the end of the interview, always ask “is there somebody else you think I should talk to?” There probably is, and the wider you cast your net, the likelier you are to find the job that best suits you.
  9. Send a thank-you card. An email is acceptable, but a card is extra classy.

As for being the interviewee, I think the most important thing to do is to be encouraging but honest. If you think the market for blimp pilots is pretty flat, for example, then say so. You’re doing the interviewer a disservice if you just tell them what they want to hear.

I was reminded to write up because my most recent informational interview experience was particularly kick ass (thanks to the interviewer, not me).

15 Responses to “How To Run a Great Informational Interview”

  1. Richard

    And take down notes of what you learned directly after the interview. I’ve conducted an information interview or two in my life and promptly forgot everything. Never again.

  2. Emma Hamer

    Good post! And so helpful that I can point my career coaching clients to real-world experience (See? It’s not just *my* opinion – this sh*t really works!) Thanks for making my job a little easier.

  3. Juan

    Very good advice, Darren. Although I have to admit I felt a little guilty after reading it as I did not send an official thank you card after my meeting with you and Julie.

    Consider this the official e-thanks!

    BTW – A very informative and helpful talk. :)

  4. Julia Zado

    Great suggestions. I have been on several informational interviews throughout my career (especially when I moved to Vancouver) and found them very valuable! I know you say not to “ask for a job”, but I found it very useful to attach a copy of my resume in the original ask…just to give them an idea of my background. More often than not, they ended up recommending me…and had the info on hand to forward to a contact.

  5. Amanda Ip

    Thanks for all the great tips! I’m a college senior embarking on this difficult journey called finding a job! Your tips gave me a good sense of what NOT to ask and reminded me of some of the basics too! Would you advise that we bring a cover letter and resume to the interview?

  6. Darren

    @Amanda I’d saying bringing a resume is okay, but I wouldn’t bother with a cover letter. In fact, I’d email your resume on after the interview, so that they’ve got it in an easily-forwardable digital format.

  7. The Best Kept Secret for Career Planning – The Informational Interview : Miss Mentor

    […] So you asked some great questions, got some invaluable insights, and thanked them for their time. Now what? Send another thank you! They’ve done you a great service, show your appreciation. An e-mail is one way to do this, but according to Darren at http://www.darrenbarefoot.com, a thank-you card is “extra classy”. That sounds like a lot of brownie points to me. (If you want more great tips on informational interviews, click here.) […]

  8. The Best Kept Secret for Career Planning – The Informational Interview, Part 3 : Miss Mentor

    […] So you asked some great questions, got some invaluable insights, and thanked them for their time. Now what? Send another thank you! They’ve done you a great service, show your appreciation. An e-mail is one way to do this, but according to Darren at http://www.darrenbarefoot.com, a thank-you card is “extra classy”. That sounds like a lot of brownie points to me. (If you want more great tips on informational interviews, click here.) […]

  9. Sara Hamler-Dupras

    I really enjoyed reading your blog, I’m probably going to come back to it before my next informative interview to review your recommendations. At http://sarahamlerdupras.wordpress.com/ I wrote a response to your blog, adding a few details to some of your points. Thanks for the great read.

  10. Cherrie Pavey

    hello!,I like your writing so much! share we communicate extra approximately your post on AOL? I need an expert in this space to solve my dilemma. Maybe that is you! Seeking ahead to see you.

Comments are closed.