What are Informational Interviews?

What exactly is an informational interview?  An informational interview is where you interview a professional in your industry about their career, industry, or position.  Informational interviews are especially useful in situations where there isn’t an intern position posted in your desired company, if you’re trying to learn more about a company, or wanting to expand your professional network.

To find a professional to interview, I suggest connecting on LinkedIn.  Find a company or industry you want to work in or learn more about, add your college [Purdue] or a specific department to the search criteria, and find someone who may be a second or third degree connection.  If they graduated from Purdue, it already gives you something to talk about with them.

If you can, connect with them; personalize your invitation to connect by explaining who you are and why you are requesting to connect.  Ask them if they would have any time to speak with you about their career path since graduation and about their current company.  If you are a third degree or farther contact, try asking your mutual connection to introduce the two of you.

After you’ve set up an interview, do your homework.  This is similar to a job interview, except now you will be the one doing the interviewing.  Prepare intelligent questions to ask.  Check out your professional’s LinkedIn profile and Google them to see if you can take any questions from that content.  Make sure you don’t ask questions that can be easily found elsewhere.  If you use Google or LinkedIn content, ask questions that will expand on what’s already out there.

Don’t send them your resume or cover letter unless they request it.  Remember, you’re the one doing the interviewing; this is about them, not you.

Prepare enough to talk about for the duration of the interview.  You’re leading this interview, so make every second count.

Keep your end goal (internship/job opportunities, networking) in mind, but don’t let it lead the conversation.  The main purpose of this is for you to get to know the professional and to learn from what they’ve done.  Don’t dominate the conversation with what you’ve done or hope to do; remember, you’re interviewing them, not the other way around.  If it’s going well, they will most likely ask you about your experience and end goals anyways.

Some sample questions to ask:

  • What is a typical day on this job really like?
  • How did you get into this field?
  • What do you like about your job? Any dislikes?
  • What’s the best way to find out about jobs in this field?
  • What kind of experience or training is required?
  • What is the career ladder for this position?
  • How do you stay current in your industry knowledge?
  • What’s the company culture like here?
  • What are the most important parts of your job?
  • Which firms do you think are your toughest competitors, and how do they differ from your company?

REMEMBER: This isn’t a job interview.  DO NOT ask for a job, unless they offer you connections or to pass on your resume, etc.

Don’t forget to follow up either.  Make sure to email the professional to thank them for their time and add a personal note.  Keep in touch with them afterwards because you never know when your friendly check-in could lead to a job interview.

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