Ellen Ensher, Ph.D.
As the professor of a Management class that helps undergrads discover their calling, I see many students who are unsure of which career path they want to take. And that’s okay. It’s just important that each student researches and asks questions. Networking events and panels are fantastic opportunities to learn about what appeals to you and what doesn’t. But there’s another option that may help even more: informational interviews.
Informational interviews are one of the most helpful tools in your job hunt toolkit. They allow you the opportunity to interview professionals who currently have or have had roles you may be interested in pursuing. You can learn about fields and industries you’re curious about, as well as hear firsthand about the culture of a company you admire. Ultimately, you can get answers to your questions in the way your Google search can’t.
Still, many students are intimidated by these conversations. They worry about awkward silences or asking “obvious” questions. However, it’s important to recognize that most people respect a willingness to learn. And they also remember what it was like to be in your shoes. Even CEOs used to be interns and entry-level!
Informational interviews are also great in the respect that you have the power. These kinds of conversations flip the script on traditional interviews. You guide the conversation, you plan the questions, you listen to someone’s story and answers. All you need to do is prep.
How to get started
Alumni from your university are great people to interview. LinkedIn has made it incredibly easy to find people from your university to connect with! By going to your university’s LinkedIn page and selecting Alumni from the tab on the left, you’ll be able to find a breakdown of where your school’s graduates live and work. This is a great way to browse and see who is working in a company, field or industry that you’d like to learn more about.
Once you’ve selected a profile that interests you, first follow them. Then, start liking and commenting on their posts so that you can get noticed. If you want to connect and ask for an informational interview, then click “Connect” and “Add a Note.” This is where you can introduce yourself and express your interest in their role or career path. You also will want to mention that you went to the same school. The most important part of the message is your call to action, where you ask if they have any availability for a 15-30 minute call for you two to chat. Remember, you only have 300 characters in this message so be brief.
Let’s say a few days later your request has been accepted and the professional you reached out to has agreed to chat.
Prepare a few questions. Think about why you chose to interview this person and what information you’d like to learn from them. Show that you have done background research on them and avoid obvious questions that repeat what is already on their profile or can be easily found on LinkedIn. Here are a few getting started questions but it is best if you make up your own.
- I learned about your career path from your LinkedIn profile. What were your lessons learned?
- What are the hard and soft skills needed to thrive in this position?
- How do you like the culture at (company name)? Again, do some digging beforehand and share that you have. If this is a large company, chances are there will be information available on glassdoor.com.
- What do you see as the future of (company name)? Show that you have done your research by mentioning a recent article about them.
More questions can be found here from the LMU Career and Professional Development Center:
During the conversation, be prepared to share a little bit about yourself, your experiences and your interests. If your chat runs over 30 minutes, check in with the other person and see if they have time in their schedule for a few more questions. You can do this by saying, “I want to be respectful of your time. We are about to go over 30 minutes but I have just a few more questions. Do you have time for them now or can I send them in an email?”
After the informational interview
Don’t forget to send a thank you message after your chat. This is a great way to remind the person what you may have bonded over and what you thought was the greatest takeaway. By sending this email, you not only express your gratitude, but you also keep the conversation going. Staying in touch with the people you interview can only serve as a benefit. You never know how this person can help you or how you can help them. Build your network!