How to Conduct an Informational Interview

I might be one of the few people who truly enjoy informational interviews.

Being able to learn from those that came before me is incredible and I am grateful to live in a time where it is possible to gain decades of knowledge and wisdom with a simple invitation to coffee.

The first time I heard about an informational interview, I thought the presenter was crazy, my thinking went : “wait, people will meet with me just to give me insights and advice about their career and industry . . . but what is in it for them?”  

I have had great mentors in the past, yet those were people who knew me and would assist me because of our relationship, the thought of a random stranger meeting with me for coffee after a long day of work seemed foreign.  I decided to try this strange idea by reaching out to people I met through my MBA program.

Then something even more crazy occurred, high-achieving professionals replied to my email and phone requests for informational interviews.  I was still skeptical and started with individuals near my age, yet who were very successful: consultants, digital marketers, and former MBA students.  After meeting with them, some of which are now good friends, I decided to raise the stakes and reach out to professionals with decades of experience, and sure enough they replied.  All of a sudden I was meeting with presidents of companies, consultants with decades of experience, creative directors at advertising firms, and executives in different states.

These informational interviews have completely changed my perspective on life along with elevating my career, yet you might think that now I am the crazy one.  Well, my craziness is exclusive of promoting informational interviews, and I want to give a step-by-step playbook for how to secure and conduct an informational interview in order for you to have life changing experiences.  

Here are the basic steps:

 

Prior to Informational Interview

 

  • Determine who you want to meet and be very specific.  Find an industry that you are interested in and then search for connections: look on LinkedIn, ask your personal network if they would connect you to people in your chosen industry, and just do a simple Google search of companies where you would like to meet people.
  • Once you have a potential interviewer in mind, make the conscious decision that you are genuinely looking for information, and are not looking for a job.  How do you even know if you will like the industry before you have first-hand information?

Send a short email to the individual and provide the following information:

  • Your name
  • How you received/found their information
  • Let them know you are in an MBA program, student, or just looking for advice
  • Ask for 15 minutes of their time in person or over the phone
  • Close the email

Your initial email should be short and to the point, do not ramble.  If you have not heard back within 5 business days then send a follow-up email, the person you are messaging is likely busy and they will appreciate persistence.  If they do not appreciate your persistence, then you do not want to meet with them, do not take it personal.

Once they do respond, be as accommodating as possible, help arrange the time, date, and location of meeting even if that is over the phone.  After setting the details: make sure to send them a meeting request and confirm 24 hours in advance.

Before the actual meeting, do your homework.  Make sure to know about the individual before meeting them in person or over the phone.

 

During the Informational Interview

 

  • When you finally meet, take the host role.  Offer to buy them coffee if meeting in person, make sure to be there first to find a table, and dress professionally - they are your guest.
  • Once they arrive, do what any sane person would do, say hello and smile, the difficult part has occurred, now you get to learn more about the industry that fascinates you.
  • Keep your commitment to 15 minutes, and if they extend the meeting then continue to speak, yet be courteous.  While you are meeting always ask the following questions: 1) Insights into their industry: what are current trends, where has the industry came from, and where is it going?  2) Ask for advice: how could you learn more about the industry, where is a good place to start, what are the best and worst aspects of their job, etc.?  3) Ask for resources: do they have a book, video, article, or podcast they recommend to know more about the industry?  If they provide a resource, use it!  Do not simply say, “I will read that book" and never pick it up, instead, consume that book and make notes, then contact them 2-3 weeks later with what you learned from the resource - this is your next touch point.

 

After the Informational Interview

 

  • After the meeting send a thank you email within 4 hours and a handwritten thank you note (if you have their work address) which includes something specific from the meeting within 24 hours.
  • Then it is decision time, did the two of you connect well?  If the answer is yes, then try to set up a quarterly meeting with them, and if the answer is no, that is fine, we will not get connect with everyone.

One of the best skills I developed in business school was my willingness to ask for informational interviews and ability to conduct them.  I want to pass on this skill to others and wish you the best in your informational interviews.

Matt Avery