How to Get and Rock an Informational Interview

Yes, even during the pandemic.

While I was working as an executive assistant to the CEO of a major bank, I remember having to schedule these quick 15-minute coffee meetings between my boss and some very eager employees. These were typically younger up-and-coming folks looking to get some career advice. I didn’t know it then, but I was scheduling their informational interviews. 

An informational interview is what I like to call a “pick your brain” meeting. Depending on who the person is, it could be between 15 and 30 minutes but possibly longer if you already know the person. The point of this type of meeting is to get career advice from someone who’s already made it (even though they can be at any stage of the game). But it’s also to see if the culture of the company they are at would be a good fit for you and if the job title is what you expected it to be. 

And it’s never been easier to secure informational interviews. Since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and most people are working from home, it’ll most likely be over Zoom, which means you don’t have to go anywhere to meet anyone, and you can set several up in the week without investing too much time. 

So, in order to have a fruitful informational interview, I’ve put together a short list of things that are important and useful. 

Be Prepared

Before you do anything, ask yourself what you want to get out of this interview. Then proceed to write down the right questions. Keep them short and simple but make sure it’ll drive out an information-packed response. Don’t make the questions too general like “What is your typical day like?” Instead ask, “What are some of the projects that occupy most of your time?” This will require the interviewee to cite specific examples, which will give you a better sense if the job is something you would actually like to do. 

Choose People on All Levels of the Ladder

Start at the bottom and work your way up. You’re gonna wanna know if the entry-level position is just as enticing as the executive position. While we all know that entry-level means a lot of grunt work and executives oversee more than anything else, you’re going to want to know if the actual job requirements stand out to you. You’ll also find out about things that you may not be excited about and can figure out ways to overcome them before you even arrive. 

When it comes to finding the right people, LinkedIn is your friend. You can find anyone by name, location, company or university. Take time on this. You want to find people that have a similar career path to what you envision yourself doing long term, but you’ll also want to focus on a diverse set of people who may have had different experiences. Don’t stop at LinkedIn, though. Check out their other social profiles to get a good sense of who they are. This will help you formulate your questions tailored to each person you want to interview. It’ll also be easier to break the ice if you have read or watched something they created. 

Mention Your Alma Mater

College is expensive for many reasons. One of them is being able to say, “I’m a Gator, too!” The sense of camaraderie is almost instant. I never understood this until I went to a reputable university, so if the person went to the same university you did, mention it. Trust me. 

In my experience, people want to help. If you’re eager and organized, this could not only be an asset for you in terms of information, it could also turn into a contact in your desired industry. 

Sally Espinosa

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