Preparing for Informational Interviews

Spending time to hash out the specifics of what you are looking for in a new career (and why!) is critical to your job search process. When you reach the informational interviewing stage, all the people you’ll come in contact with have a million other things going on in their lives, and while they most likely want to be helpful, your job search won’t be top of mind for them.

You have to make it easy for them to help you.

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Prepare Your Request

The first element is crafting a few versions of the request for an informational interview, which you can develop as you do your outreach and adapt it for different people, and especially for those who might not know you as well.

“I’m looking to transition my skills in business development into fundraising, and would appreciate spending 30 minutes with you to understand more about what your day-to-day work looks like.”

“As part of my career change process, I’m interested in connecting with people who work in marketing positions at start-up organizations, and was hoping you could think of three people to connect me with.”

“Jane Smith suggested I reach out to you. I want to move to an organization working in the international development space, and she spoke highly of your work and what XYZ is doing. Could I treat you to coffee in the next few weeks?”

“I understand your career path aligns well with what I’m looking to do. Though we’re not in the same city, would you have time for a 20-minute video call to share your experiences?”

Prepare Your Pitch

Next, you need to have a brief description of what you’ve been doing, what you want to do, and how your skills and experiences translate to this new environment. Do the work for them, so they know what direction to point you in! And, be prepared to answer questions like these at some level of depth.

  • What kind of organization, culture, values are important to you? (You may not talk about this directly in your conversation, unless there is alignment – otherwise, it may just inform the questions you ask them.)
  • What is the kind of work you want to be doing?
  • Describe what you want an average day or week to look like.
  • What level of responsibility do you want? In what kind of organization?
  • What kinds of challenges are you looking to tackle?
  • What are you bringing to the table that might meet their needs?

Do Your Research

Find out about their background to inform questions you might ask. Look into what positions are currently open at their organization, to see if there might be a potential fit, even a partial one, to explore. Understand what’s been happening lately with the company – big news, growth, issues.

Come up with your list of questions for them – remember, people like to talk about themselves! A few of my favorites are:

  • Tell me how you got into this work.
  • What skills/experience/training have you found essential to the work you do?
  • What are the challenges/problems you’re trying to solve?
  • What does your typical week look like?
  • What do you look for when you hire someone for your team?
  • What is the culture like here? How do people work together?
  • What do you enjoy about working here? What are some of the challenges of working here?
  • How does your recruiting process work? How can I best position myself?
  • What are the intangibles that make someone succeed in this role?

Preparation is a key part to having a great informational interview – when you show you’re prepared and thoughtful, those are some of the qualities they’ll remember about you.

And, doing all this preparation can turn a situation that’s nerve-wracking (or awkward) into one that’s less scary, where you can just have a real conversation with another human being, knowing you’re ready to share what you care about, and to engage them in a way that shows you care about them.

Brainstorm 3-5 questions you’d like to ask in your next informational interview – then try them out!

What do you think?

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