An informational interview—a meeting with someone in your profession or industry of choice—is a great way to learn more about a career, decide if a particular field might be right for you, or even find job leads.
It can be intimidating to reach out and request a meeting with someone you may or may not have ever met before. And once you’ve done that, it can be easy to sit back and think the hard part’s over. (Need tips for that setting-up-the-meeting part? Read more about networking or informational interviews).
But guess what? Your work’s not done as soon as you set up an informational interview. Now it’s time to plan your meeting so you can make the most out of the time someone’s agreed to give you. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Have a game plan. Take the time to identify—for yourself—exactly what you’re hoping to learn (Are you really curious about what a day-on-the-job is really like? Are you worried about how competitive the field is? Or do you want to know what a particular company is like to work for?)
Draft an agenda. You don’t have to write out word-for word what you’re going to say, but it’s helpful to have a list of questions that get at what you really want to know. Here are a few examples:
- What do you like most / least about this career?
- Is your job typical of others in this field?
- What are current job prospects like?
- Are there related fields I might want to look into?
- What makes a resume impressive in your field?
- Is my resume appropriate for this occupation?
- How do you stay current in your knowledge?
- What are employers looking for in this career (skills, education, experience)?
- What’s the best way to find out about jobs in this field?
- What is the career ladder for this position?
- What would you recommend I do at this point to get into this field?
- What are the future trends for this field?
- Is there anyone else you would recommend I talk to in this field?
Be professional. This includes dressing appropriately, being on time, being considerate, and all those other things you know you should do. Even though you’re not actually applying for a job, you want to make the best impression you can—you never know where a contact could lead you.
Respect your contact’s time. Limit your initial interview to 15 to 30 minutes, based on how the conversation is going. And always end with a sincere thank-you and a quick recap of how they’ve helped you or what you’re going to do based on their recommendation.
And once your interview’s over—then you get to relax, right? Yes! (As soon as you send your thank-you note and make a plan to follow up on any referrals your contact may have given you.)