Informational Interviews Can Supercharge Your Career

by Trista Harris
Reprinted with permission

One of the most critical habits you can develop to advance your career is to consistently conduct informational interviews. An informational interview is not a job interview. It is an interview to learn more about a job, career, industry or company and it is a wonderful way to build your network, develop new relationships, and learn key information that will advance your career.

Who should I ask for an informational interview?

People that you admire, someone who has a job that you would like in 5-10 years, or someone that works at a company that you would like to work at. You can find these people in industry blogs or newspapers, through alumni associations, or through referrals from people in your network.

Can you give me an example email to request an informational interview?

For students: Brad Owens, from XYZ University Career Services suggested that I contact you. As a graduate student studying nonprofit management, I would like to learn more about my various career options after I graduate. Because of your great expertise in XYZ, he thought you might be able to provide me with useful information. If you are able to find time, I would like to meet with you in person or by phone for 20 minutes to ask you a few questions about your career path.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to your reply.

For people that are employed: Amy Johnson, Executive Director of the Helping People Center shared your contact information with me. She is a big fan of yours and highly recommended that I reach out to you. I am currently a development officer at the Evergreen Health Society and am confidentially considering a move to the foundation field. Because you successfully transitioned from fundraising to a program officer position, I would like to talk with you about your transition and if you have any specific advice about how I can better prepare myself for a job as a program officer. If you are able to find time, I would like to meet with you in person or by phone.

Thank you for considering my request. I look forward to your reply.

What should I ask in my informational interview?

Can you tell me about your career path?

What does your average day look like?

What degrees are needed in this field?

What do you think best prepared you for this position?

What do you like most about your job?

What is your least favorite part of the job?

What are the next steps for you in your career?

Are there people that you would recommend that I talk to to learn more? Who do you admire in this field?

What sort of follow-up should I do?

Write a thank you note (handwritten is best) and if you get a job in the field at a later date, write them again to thank them for their great advice that helped you to break into the field.

What should I avoid in an informational interview?

  • Don’t waste the interviewee’s time. Assume that you will have 15-20 minutes for a phone call or coffee, consider any extra time a bonus. Don’t ask for a lunch or breakfast meeting because it is a much longer time commitment for the person you are asking.
  • Know your stuff. Be prepared with questions and basic information about their bio and the organization where they work.
  • Listen and learn. Most of the time should be the interviewee talking and you listening intently. You have wasted a valuable opportunity if you spend most of the time talking about yourself or your experiences because you are there to learn about their experiences and develop a relationship.

Bottom Line: Informational interviews are a great way to meet new people and learn about possible career paths. Make them a regular part of your professional development and you’ll quickly see the results.

Trista Harris is the newly appointed President of the Minnesota Council on Foundations. She is the blogger behind New Voices of Philanthropy and is the co-author of “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar”.

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