What Is an Informational Interview?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 28 July 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An informational interview can boost your professional career. It helps you understand the best path for you and the keys to success in a particular industry, company or role. In this article, we explore what an informational interview is, its benefits, how to prepare for one, questions you can ask and some tips to get the most out of your next informational interview.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a professional tool to learn about a job or explore a new career path. It gives you insights into a job position or company you are interested in. It involves contacting seasoned professionals in the field and conducting an informal interview via email or video calls, in person or over the phone.

Related: 16 Types of Interviews

What are the advantages of an information interview?

Doing an information interview has many advantages that repay you for the time spent and your effort. It helps you get valuable information on a variety of topics. You can then use them for a better job search. Here are four benefits of an informational interview:

Growing your professional network

An informational interview can strengthen the relationship with your friends and colleagues. It also helps you introduce yourself to new industry professionals who may put you on a shortlist even before the company starts advertising a job position.

Getting specific advice

As the interviewer, you decide the topics. You can ask the questions most related to your professional interests and goals. This is how you will get the most useful answers.

Obtaining insider knowledge

During an informational interview, you talk with experts. They can share their direct experience in a certain industry or company. This will help you obtain the most accurate information.

Improving your job interview skills

An informational interview lets you see things from the interviewer's point of view in a professional context. It helps you train your interview skills to develop and refine good strategies for your job search.

How to prepare for an informational interview?

To make your informational interview productive, you need to plan it properly. Here are the seven steps you can follow to better prepare for an information interview and get the most useful insight:

1. Search for the interviewee

To find people for your informational interview, you can reach out to friends, colleagues, employees of a company you would like to work at, authors of books and articles about your career path. Good places to find interviewees are professional associations, social media, industry events, recruitment fairs and employer presentations. Once you have made a list of people, you can start contacting them.

2. Contact people for an interview

You can ask people for an informational interview through emails, letters, calls or in-person. Your message can be somewhat informal when you contact your friends. Otherwise, keep it polite and professional. Always proofread it to ensure it is error-free. Here are six tips for writing a compelling message:

  • Write "informational interview request" in the subject line

  • Explain how you found the contact and the reason for the interview

  • Ask how much time the person can dedicate to you

  • Propose two alternative dates and times

  • Thank the person politely

  • Put your name

Related: How to end an email

3. Define your goals

Writing down the reasons for your informational interview make it more effective. It lets you focus on what you want to find out and shape your questions around that. For example, you may want to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of a job or the potential for career progression within an industry.

4. Research about the interviewee

By getting information about the interviewee's professional history, the company and its employees, you can add context to your questions. Consequently, you will leave a good impression by appearing more professional and interested.

5. Create a list of the most relevant questions

Think like a journalist and prepare informed, intelligent questions focused on the interviewee. They must be enough to fill the allotted time. Then order them by importance to ensure you get answers to the questions that matter most to you.

Related: Informational interview questions (with examples and tips)

6. Practice your informational interview in advance

Practice is key to gaining confidence and making the interview natural and comfortable. It also helps you estimate how long it will take to complete the interview. You can then adjust your questions based on the available time. Here are three ways to practice your information interview:

  • Interview your friends

  • Practice in the mirror or on camera

  • Participate in mock interviews

Related: Things to do before an interview to prepare (plus benefits)

7. Dress appropriately

Normally, you should dress how you would for a job interview. You can change your outfit slightly based on the formality level and interview set, but you must always look professional. Be clean and avoid accessories that may distract your interviewee.

Related: What to wear to an interview

What to ask during an informational interview?

During an informational interview, you can talk about multiple topics. The right questions can help you better understand the interviewee's career path and how you can be successful. Here are the most popular types of questions with real examples:

Professional history

The interviewee's professional history gives you information about what qualifications you need to get a similar job. You can talk about education, internships, accomplishments, jobs and ways to improve your skills (through industry publications and news, professional blogs, seminars, trade organisations or professional associations). These four questions can help you get information about a professional history:

  • What experience and accomplishments make you better in your field?

  • What is the typical path to get into your career?

  • How did your education impact your career?

  • How do you keep up-to-date on the industry?

Job responsibilities

A job description may give a generic view of the position. Asking the right questions can help you know more about the daily workflow and duties. For example, you can ask:

  • What does your typical workday look like?

  • What are the main skills you use daily?

  • What are the best qualities that helped you succeed in your work?

  • In what other career areas could you excel with your skills and knowledge?

  • Does your job require customer interaction?

Work-life balance

Knowing how a job influences your lifestyle helps you understand if it is a good fit for you and whether you are willing to make all the sacrifices to have success. Here are two examples of questions you may ask:

  • How did your job change your lifestyle?

  • What personal sacrifices did you make to succeed in your career?

Career growth

Through an informational interview, you can understand if a career path can give you growth opportunities that match your goals (revenue or leadership positions). Here are three common questions:

  • What do you think is the next step in your career?

  • How long did it take you to get promoted?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

Related: What is a career management plan? (And how to create one)

Company culture

Through an informational interview, you can talk with people within a company. They directly know the shared values, attributes and characteristics of the organisation. Your interviewees can help you by answering these questions:

  • Why did you apply for this job?

  • What is it like to work in this company?

  • How would you describe the management?

  • What would you change if you run the company?

Related: 17 interview questions about company culture (with advice)

Informational interview tips

To conduct a fruitful informational interview, you must follow the best practices. These informational interview tips will help you get the most out of it:

  • Show up on time. When you arrive on time or early, you show respect for your interviewees' time. You also make a good impression by demonstrating you care about the information interview and what they have to say.

  • Express your appreciation. At the beginning and end of the interview, thank your interviewees and explain how much you appreciate their help. This will create a positive and friendly atmosphere and encourage them to open up.

  • Briefly introduce yourself. At the start of the interview, briefly tell who you are and what you aim to gain from the interview. You will strengthen the connection by revealing your goals and common interests.

  • Listen to your interviewees and take notes. Always take notes while the interviewees talk. You will show your interest and create documents full of valuable insights that you can use as future reference.

  • Ask relevant follow-up questions. Your interviewees may come up with other interesting topics outside your list of questions. When relevant to your goals, follow-up questions may give you additional insights.

  • Thank the interviewee. After the meeting, send a thank-you note where you mention parts of the conversation and their value to you. Remember to add your contact information and ask for referrals so that you can grow your professional network.

  • Maintain your new connection. After getting a job, contact your interviewees (for example, by phone or email) and express your gratitude for their help. By doing so, you will keep in touch and make your professional relationships stronger.

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