The phrase “informational interview” is commonly used and, unfortunately, often misunderstood. Used correctly, an informational interview can be a valuable tool to make connections and advance careers. Used incorrectly, it can be a waste of time.

While informational interviews often take place when an individual wants to expand their external network, companies can also benefit from informational interviews within their organizations.  When companies encourage employees to reach out to leaders in other areas—across functions, divisions, etc.—everyone benefits. Employees can explore prospective career opportunities within the organization and expand their internal network, perhaps meeting potential mentors and sponsors. Leaders broaden their own knowledge of, and relationships with, internal talent. And the company fosters a development culture that promotes not only internal movement but also retention of high-potential employees.

Here’s how informational interviews work and how to get the most out of participating in one.

What an Informational Interview Is and Isn’t

An informational interview is a powerful networking tool that can help professionals learn about career paths and build future relationships. It isn’t a forum for trying to obtain a job offer or line up future employment.  

The focus is to learn about someone’s organization, their role, and their path to that position. 

Informational interviews can be scheduled while the interview seeker is still in school or already in the workforce, especially when someone is trying to launch a career or change careers/industries. The result can be valuable information and insights into career and industry options.

Some professionals wait until they are actively looking for a new job to schedule informational interviews, but it’s actually more beneficial to conduct them throughout one’s career.  Doing so can lead to invaluable insights and information about potential new opportunities that might normally not be obvious.

Requesting and Conducting an Informational Interview

When requesting an informational interview, keep in mind that you’re asking someone to do you a favor. Be as polite, professional, and flexible as possible.

Start by sending an email or a message on LinkedIn or another professional forum. Explain who you are, what you’re interested in, and why you chose to contact that person. If someone else referred you or you have some other connection, mention it.

Explain that you’re researching potential employers or industries and want to learn more about their role, organization, and industry. Suggest multiple days/times for an interview and be mindful of the other person’s schedule. Even though you’re not directly seeking a job with that person, include your resume or a link to your LinkedIn profile to give some context for the conversation.

If you don’t hear back after attempting to contact the person 2-3 times, move on. Remember, an informational interview is a courtesy.

During the interview, respect the other person’s time and be organized and efficient. One suggested approach:

  • Recap by explaining who you are and why you want to talk to this individual.
  • Ask questions about the career area.
  • Ask questions about the future of the industry/sector.
  • Ask questions about how that individual got their first role into their career/industry.
  • Ask about training/skills that might be beneficial.
  • Ask advice about potential next steps.
  • Thank the interviewer and ask if you could stay in touch as you continue to explore career possibilities.

Do not expect that the person being interviewed will become a mentor or a career counselor, unless they indicate they want that type of ongoing relationship.

A ‘Hidden’ Organizational Benefit of Informational Interviews 

Think of recruiting as a sales process: an organization is “selling” itself to job candidates while deciding whether to “buy” a candidate’s services, talents, and expertise. And, just as a store doesn’t wait until the shelves are empty to order more product and salespeople don’t fully complete a sale before moving to the next prospect, an organization benefits from having a “pipeline” of potential talent.

Organizations also benefit from having a pipeline of strong candidates when an employee leaves, rather than scrambling to fill a critical position.

Advertising positions that don’t exist is an unethical and ultimately unhelpful way to gather resumes from potentially qualified talent. Informational interviews can be an excellent way to establish relationships with talent at all levels that one day might prove critical to the organization. Conducting informational interviews with candidates who may not be a good fit for any current job openings, but may have the potential for future roles, can help employers build their talent pool.

In today’s competitive job market, as employers search for candidates to fill open positions, it’s more important than ever to replenish talent pools to help ensure excellent candidates are available when an opening occurs.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations build a structured informational interview program to encourage professionals to explore their company and industry and expand their talent pools, as well as build other educational programs for entry-level or new employees. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.