Informational Interviews: Just Like the Real Thing

Job interviews can give you the jitters.

Informational interviews, however, have a lot less riding on them, at least as far as the fate of your employment status goes.

Still, when preparing for an informational interview, you should take just as much care…if not more.

Those who grant informational interviews have a lot less to gain from donating their time to you. Because of this, you should show them the proper level of appreciation, and prepare for your meeting in much the same way you would for a job interview.

I mentioned informational interviews briefly last week, as a means of gathering information about possible career paths. Now, I’m about to go on one myself.

What have I (hopefully) done to prepare?

Forego the sweatpants-and-flip-flops look.

When I’m working from home, I often blog for a few hours wearing nothing but undies and my falling-apart flip-flops, at least until I get a few posts up and feel I’ve earned my right to shower.

By the time I head out for my interview, I’ll look a lot less gross. I swear.

Business casual is usually safest, and the flip-flops should definitely be left at home, comfort be damned. Looking polished is a sign of respect.

Do your research.

Companies love it when interviewees do their homework. Whoever has deigned to chat with you will be just as appreciative of any research you do prior to your meeting.

Before heading out, make sure you have at least a cursory familiarity with their business and background. If you can’t show at least some knowledge of with that they do for a living, they’ll wonder why you decided to call them (out of trillions of others) in the first place. Pinpoint what it was about them, in particular, that led you to first make contact.

Come prepared to take advantage of your subject’s expertise.

You may get only one shot with this person, so you’d better make it count. Just as you’d draw up a list of questions when preparing to interview someone for a magazine piece, you should also jot down what you’re looking to find out from your generous-with-their-time expert. List your questions in order from most important to least important. That way, you’ll have ended up with the best possible information if time runs out. Some questions you should consider asking?

  • What skills are necessary to make it in this line of business?
  • How many hours do you put in from week to week?
  • Does a career such as this have the flexibility to allow for other projects, or family obligations?
  • How much money does it generally take to start up such a business? What are the biggest expenses?
  • How much money is it possible to earn in a year when just starting out? When working at it for some time?
  • What type of training or certification is required within this field?
  • How do you market your services?
  • What are the toughest aspects of your job, and how do you handle them?
  • Do you know of anyone else I should contact, or any organizations I should look to for further information?

Come prepared to share your own motivations.

Your expert’s willingness to help you is in direct proportion to the levels of interest, motivation, and ambition he or she perceives in you. Be willing to share your motivations…the things that made you consider this career path in the first place…the aspects that then held your interest…

Share the path you see yourself eventually taking, and the fears that are holding you back. Your expert will be able to tailor the ensuing conversation to best meet your needs.

Be grateful as heck.

I like to send a hand-written thank you card as soon as I return home from a job interview. Do the same with the subject of your informational interview. Their time is truly a gift.


  1. […] help you further your career. So take advantage of the position you’re in. Ask me out for lunch. Pick my brain. Ask for advice, insight on the industry, or even job leads and contacts. If you’ve proven […]

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