Information Interviews, Part 2

Posted by on July 24, 2014

In Part 1 about information interviews, I noted why they are such a great tool.  But how do you actually do them?  First, you’ll need to identify someone to speak with and politely ask them for their time.  Make sure to tell them specifically why you want to speak with them (since people like to see themselves reflected in your communications).  Perhaps they are an expert in the field you are interested in or you saw an article in the newspaper about them or a friend recommended that you reach out to them.

When you get a meeting set, do your homework before the interview.  Look at the company’s website, read recent press about the company, Google the person you’ll be meeting with, and prepare your questions.  Chances are good that after a couple questions the interview will turn into more of a conversation, and that’s great.  Just make sure to work your two or three most important questions into the time you have allotted.

Here are some questions you might ask at the information interview itself:

  • General questions about the company and its culture are fine; feel free to ask the person about what they find most and least satisfying about working for Company X.
  • Be sure to ask the person about their background and what their career path has been.
  • Remember that the best predictor of whether you might be happy in a job is to find someone doing it in the present and see if they are happy.  What does the person like about the job?  What’s their least favorite thing?  What skills do they have?  What personal characteristics are important for that position?  What does a “typical” day or week look like?
  • How does the person keep developing themselves?  Do they attend training, belong to professional associations, read certain publications, etc?
  • Give the person an idea of your education and work experience.  (It’s not necessary for them to review your resume, but you can have one with you, in case they’d like to see it.)  You may want to ask about what skills you need to develop to be in this field.
  • You are not there to get a job; it would be inappropriate to ask for one.  However, if it’s a company you would like to work for, you might ask something like, “When you think about someone like me, what role might I fit in here at Company X?”
  • I wouldn’t ask too many of these, but here are some interesting wild-card questions: “If you had it to do over, what would you do differently?,” “If you could go back 5/10/20 years, what would you tell your younger self?,” or “What question should I ask that I haven’t?”
  • Don’t forget to ask who else they would suggest you speak with as you learn more about this field.
  • If you would like to develop a relationship with this person, ask if it’s all right to contact them again in the future.

Remember to wrap up the discussion, even if it’s a great one, in about 45 to 60 minutes; never take up more time than you asked for.  After the interview, be sure to send the person a thank you that reflects the content of your conversation and specifically how it was helpful to you.

Gratitude, learning, curiosity, sharing…what’s not to love about information interviews?!

So what do you want to learn about?  Who are you interested in interviewing?  What questions do you want to ask?

Happy interviewing!