An informational interview is an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. Some refer to it as a coffee chat. Despite it’s name, an informational interview is NOT an interview and the objective is NOT to find job openings.
You may feel awkward reaching out to people you don't know. However, most people actually enjoy taking a few moments out of their day to reflect on their professional life and give advice to someone with an interest in their field.
Benefits of Informational Interviewing
Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular field, industry or position. This kind of information is not always available online.
Find out about career paths you did not know existed.
Get tips and insider knowledge.
Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific career field; meet people who may forward job leads to you in the future.
Do some initial research on the company and industry
Identify People to Interview
Pursue your own contacts. People you already know, even if they aren't in fields of interest to you, can lead you to people who are. This includes family, friends, alumni and former colleagues.
Develop a brief introduction of yourself and your hopes for the meeting.
Plan open-ended questions to ask.
Contact the person by email.
Mention how you got his or her name.
Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job.
Ask for a convenient time to have a 15-30 minute appointment.
Be ready to ask questions on the spot if the person says it is a good time for him/her and that s/he won’t be readily available otherwise.
Conduct the informational interview
Dress neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview.
Arrive on time or a few minutes early.
Bring your list of questions and take notes if you like.
Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not a job.
Give a brief overview of yourself and your education and/or work background.
Be prepared to direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally, and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
Respect the person's time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe.
Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
Ask for names of other people to meet so as to gain different perspectives.
Write down what you learned, what more you'd like to know, and what your next steps should be.
Send a thank-you email within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given.
Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a particularly nice interaction; let them know that you followed up on their advice and the outcome. This person could become an important part of your network.
Note: You can bring a resume, but don’t take it out (unless he/she specifically asks for it) or your interviewee may think you are actually fishing for a job.