How to conduct a meaningful informational interview
Over the past few weeks, I’ve conducted numerous informational interviews with undergraduate and graduate students. I enjoy these interviews and welcome the opportunity to talk to students about their career ideas and aspirations. These students are looking for information that will hopefully inform them of whether or not to pursue a potential career, so being able to share insights and stories that can guide them in this process is something I enjoy and welcome.
Last week, I was speaking with a friend who also had done a fair share of informational interviews when they asked me what I thought were the ingredients of a good informational interview. I thought about the many interviews I’ve conducted as an interviewer and interviewee, and came up with a few characteristics.
Diligence – Informational interviews are great learning opportunities, but not all questions are best suited for an informational interview. It’s not very valuable for either of us if they ask me questions that can be found on the website.
I respect the people who take the time to do some homework before the interview. Sure – you can’t know everything about the industry or my computer (if you did, you wouldn’t have any use for me!) doing some prep work demonstrates that you value our time. To me that is a sign of respect.
Furthermore, it also shows me that you’re putting in effort to really learn as much as you can, not only on our call but also, before and afterward. That investment of time makes me want to do what I can to help the other person in their pursuit.
Curiosity – I really appreciate and value people who demonstrate curiosity and inquisitiveness. As the saying goes, “those who are interested are interesting.”
Curiosity often breeds interesting questions, thoughtful comments, and a memorable conversation. It also demonstrates a genuine eagerness for learning, which is something I both respect and appreciate. People who are interesting (in a good way) will always be more memorable, especially when it comes to remembering whom to refer for potential interviews.
Authenticity – I’ve found the best informational interviews are the ones that are ones that are natural easy-going conversations. Sometimes, I think we get caught up in the formality and professional nature of the discussion that we forget to be ourselves.
Instead of telling stories about our background, we explain key bullet points on our resume. Instead of letting the discussion unfold naturally, we stick to our bulleted list of questions we thought of in advance.
There is an art and a science that comes to an informational interview. Diligence and preparedness take care of the science, but curiosity and truly being your authentic-self take care of the art.
There’s no one right way to conduct an informational interview. Like anything, experience and timing (and perhaps a few mistakes) refines our craft. In your next informational interview, try focusing on these three things and see what you learn.