Informational Interview: What It Is and How It Can Help You

Informational Interview
Created by Cake

What Is an Informational Interview?

An informational interview can be one of the most insightful and useful tools in the job-hunting process. Whether you’re looking for your first job, or preparing for a career change, it opens the door for you to learn firsthand about the position, company, or industry you’re interested in. 

Informational interview—its definition easy to understand—is a conversation with someone about their experiences in the company or field that interests you. Some like to call it coffee chat, informational meeting, or in a broader term, networking (it’s a great way to establish connections in a field). 

An informational interview is not a job interview. Although it might bring on opportunities for you, it is not why you do it. In essence, an informational interview is a means for you to collect more in-depth and authentic information, allowing you to make more well-informed career decisions.

It can also boost your confidence with the job search, uncover a new career path, help your interview preparation, and might even let you gain a little access to the hidden job market. 

How to Hold an Informational Interview

✅ Step 1. Finding the Person to Interview

If you already have friends in the position, company, or industry that interests you, you’re among one of the luckiest—just ask friends out for a cup of coffee.

If there’s someone in your second degree of the network (those who share a mutual connection with you), ask if that mutual friend can help introduce you for an informational interview. 

Your school’s alumni network and LinkedIn are also great ways to identify someone to interview.

Most people who share a common background or perhaps have even been in the same situation as you are now are very likely to respond positively to an informational interview request.

✅ Step 2. Reaching Out

Sending out an informational interview request to a stranger can feel a bit intimidating and untoward, but keep in mind that most people love to talk about themselves and their experiences!

Chances are it’s a great way for them to reflect on their career too. 

Reach out via email or a simple message on LinkedIn, asking for an informational interview. Keep your message polite and to the point—briefly introduce yourselves, your situation, and ask for their feedback.

If you’re unsure how to write an informational interview request, feel free to use our email template below. 

✅ Step 3. Preparing for the Meeting

There is nothing more frustrating than saving your time for an interviewer who’s not prepared.

Your interviewee has insights and experiences that you can’t learn from the internet, so do your research beforehand and prepare questions to ask in the information interview. 

Take note of the company and industry they’re in, learn about their previous experiences, and reflect on what you want to take away from the conversation. 

Examples of some of the questions you can ask in an information interview:

  • What does a day look like on your job?
  • Why did you get into this industry?
  • What does career progression look like down this path?

✅ Step 4. Holding the Conversation

As casual as a ‘coffee chat’ sounds, an informational interview should always be done in a professional manner.

You want to leave an impression and lead the conversation well enough so that if you have further questions, they’d be happy to extend the favor or introduce a colleague. 

✅ Step 5. Writing a Thank You Note

Don’t forget to follow up with your interviewee! They’ve shared with you their valuable time and hard-earned knowledge. In this day and age where time is money, and knowledge is assets, all you can do is to express your gratitude.

Send them a thank-you email with concrete details of how this informational interview has helped you, how you were inspired by them, or how you will follow their advice. 

If you've built great rapport or benefited greatly from the chat, follow up with them in a few weeks or months to share your progress!

Building a good professional relationship is important for you in the long-run. It helps you set up the right attitude toward your career that will take you further in whichever career path and open more doors for you in the future.

15 Informational Interview Questions & Answers

Below are some questions to ask in an informational interview to get you started. After your research, you should be able to tailor them based on your interviewee’s experience, your own career plans, and their company or industry.

Keep in mind that questions you ask in an informational interview should help you make important decisions or progress in a career. 

A good informational interview should be like a smooth chat. With your purpose in mind, lead the conversation and explore what you are genuinely interested in or curious about. 

🖋 Informational interview questions about your interviewee’s career field:

  • How did you begin in this field? How does one get into this field?
  • What kind of experience or skill is necessary for this industry?
  • What kind of people do well and enjoy working in this field?
  • How is this industry changing?
  • What are some other related fields you’d be interested in working in?

Sample informational interview question and answer:

Interviewer: “How did you first begin in this field?”

Interviewee: “I studied accounting in college. This is a field where concrete knowledge is essential, and experience is key in climbing the company ladder. Whether you showcase your knowledge from education or certifications, it’s a job that seeks for perseverant and thorough people.” 

🖋 Informational interview questions regarding your interviewee’s position:

  • What does a typical day look like at your job? 
  • What do you love the most about your job? The least?
  • How does this position fit into the company or industry structure?
  • What is something you wish someone had told you before you got into this job or industry?
  • What would you recommend I do to be successful in this role? 

Sample informational interview question and answer:

Interviewer: “What does your typical day look like?”

Interviewee: “That depends on what companies I’m working with. It sometimes requires visiting the firms we’re auditing and checking their financial records. Normally my days have quite a set routine: in the morning, my team does a quick meeting to review our progress and adjust our agendas if necessary. Then all through the day we work on our analysis and audits individually.” 

🖋 Informational interview questions relating to your interviewee’s company:

  • What is the company culture like?
  • How do you collaborate with your own team and others?
  • What is the average employee turnover? What is the main reason for employee turnover?
  • What does a long-term career at this company look like?
  • How do you think this company differs from your toughest competitors? 

Sample informational interview question and answer:

Interviewer: “What is the company culture like?”

Interviewee: “We’re a very big and experienced firm, so our company structure has pretty much solidified. Of course, there’s changes with technological advances and societal progression, but the career pathways remain. With what we do, most directions and methods are top-to-bottom, no matter the company.  In terms of office vibes, it differs with each team, but in general I’d say we’re pretty focused. There’s only certain times when we have all-hands events like Burger Wednesdays where it’s very vibrant.” 

Tips for Conducting an Informational Interview

✏️ Be polite.

If your interviewee is reluctant or uncomfortable sharing certain things, don’t push it. Utilize the list of questions you have prepared to ask in the information interview as a guide. An information interview is not an interrogation. 

✏️ Dress smart casual.

If you are unsure, dress how you would if you were to interview or work at the company your interviewee works at.

✏️ Be punctual.

Plan your route in advance and make sure you are going to be there on time. ‘On time’ for an interviewer means being there early. Arriving before the scheduled time is a simple way to show the interviewee your respect for them. 

✏️ Bring your list of questions and take notes.

To set a comfortable atmosphere, ask your interviewee if it’d be okay to jot some notes down.

✏️ Briefly introduce yourself and be clear with your purpose.

Share your background, education, profession, reason for this informational interview.

✏️ Be ready to listen thoughtfully and steer the conversation naturally.

Set the premise that you’re there to learn from them and allow them to do most of the talking.

✏️ Respect your interviewee’s time.

Confirm in advance on their agenda and set up a time limit, preferably 15-30 minutes. When you’re reaching the end of the allotted time, kindly remind them so they can either extend the conversation or start on a conclusion.

✏️ Voice your appreciation and thank them for sharing their experience.

If you have further questions and the chat went well, ask if there’s anyone they’d recommend for your next informational interview to gain other perspectives.

✏️ Share with them what you learned and how it will affect your future actions or decisions.

Networking goes both ways. Share your learnings and plans keeps to let them know they have impacted your life in a positive way. It also opens the gateway for others to connect and help. 

✏️ Always be ready for an elevator pitch.

Don’t ever ask for job referrals or about vacancies in an informational interview, but if they bring something up, make sure you know how to sell your experiences!

Informational Interview Email Templates

✉️ Informational interview request email:

Hi [their name]

My name is [your name] and I currently work as a [job title] at [your company’s name]. I’m interested in [fields/jobs you’d like to learn more about] (and [your mutual connection] had suggested that I reach out to you). 

Would it be possible to schedule a 15-minute meeting with you in the next couple of weeks? I’d love to buy you coffee and learn more about your experiences. 

Warm regards, 
[Your name]

✉️ Thank you email after an informational interview:

Hi [their name],

Thank you so much for sharing your time and experiences with me. 

I’ve learned a lot about [things about fields/jobs you learned], and it was very helpful to know that[things about fields/jobs you learned 2]. Our talk inspired me to look further into [fields/jobs]. I’m now in the process of applying and interviewing for a few positions in this field and wanted to share this with you. 

I really appreciate the advice you’ve given me. Thank you again! 

Best regards, 
[Your name]

You’re all set! Now get on LinkedIn, Facebook , or any other social media and get some informational interviews lined up. You’re one step closer to building the career you want!

With Cake’s resume builder tool, resume templates and resume examples, you could showcase your best qualifications to land your dream job. Try making a resume online (free download) now!

--- Originally written by Yohan Ke ---

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