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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- Don’t ask for a job.
- Don’t ask how much the interviewee makes. Again, the internet is your friend for estimating salary ranges.
- Tell your story. You should listen more than you talk, but it’s important that the interviewee gets a sense of who you are.
- Ask what the interviewee loves and hates about their job. These questions, I think, can be particularly illuminating.
- 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.
- 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).