How can you turn a stranger (or an acquaintance) into a career mentor or an inside source on a company’s culture?
You’ve heard about the importance of networking. But depending on your personality, approaching people you don’t know at a networking event can be uncomfortable or intimidating. And passively handing out hundreds of resumes probably won’t be very effective. Informational interviews, however, are a more targeted way to not only build your network, but also stay inspired in your job search.
These 1:1 convos, which typically happen over coffee or the phone, can give you insider career advice, help you explore roles and companies, and grow a professional network that could lead to your next big opportunity.
So how do you get one? Here’s everything you need to know about how to ask for an informational interview (with an outreach message template), plus how to get valuable insights that are more than worth the cost of two lattes.
Table of contents
- What’s an informational interview?
- Benefits of informational interviews
- Finding the right person for your informational interview
- How to ask for an informational interview
- Request for informational interview (template)
- They said yes, now what?
What’s an informational interview?
Unlike a job interview, an informational interview is a casual meeting you set up with someone who works in a position or at a company you’re targeting in your job search. It’s your chance to get the inside scoop on a role, career path or a specific company’s culture so you can explore, clarify and reach your career goals.
This isn’t the time to ask for a job. Instead, you’re absorbing information and making connections that could give you an extra edge in your job search.
While these private info sessions are more common for career changers, fresh grads and people looking for a new job, informational interviews can be a good networking and career exploration tool for anyone—whether you’re actively looking for a job or not.
Benefits of informational interviews
So should you spend your time and energy on informational interviews when you could be sending out application? There are tons of benefits—from building community to getting a job referral. Here are a few more ways informational interviews can accelerate your career:
You’ll develop contacts in your current or desired industry. A strong professional network could begin a potential mentorship, foster your career development and open up doors to new opportunities. If you recently relocated, informational interviews can also help you build connections in your new city.
You’ll stay up to date about trends in a specific career field. With tech changing so quickly, an informational interview can help you stay informed about which technologies are up-and-coming and which are being phased out. You can even learn about the tech that’s used most often in the niche you’re looking into (e.g., fintech, edtech, healthtech).
You’ll figure out if you want a similar job. You might come away from an informational interview feeling more excited than ever, or you might start second-guessing a certain industry or company after learning about daily life in the role.
You’ll avoid the same mistakes. You’ll learn what industry pros would’ve done differently to reach their career goals faster, or what next steps they recommend to help you jump onto your desired career track (minus the trial and error).
You might get a referral for a role you want. It’s all about who you know. Your interviewee might recommend you for future roles or put you in contact with hiring managers. Plus, since around 70% of jobs aren’t even listed publicly, an informational interview might help you break into the hidden job market.
Finding the right person for your informational interview
Search online for mid-level professionals who either work at your dream company, hold your desired job title or both. You can even reach out via your college’s alumni network or any professional associations you’re part of. Target people who realistically have more time to talk to you—i.e., probably not the CEO of a major company.
Try to find industry pros local to your area first, since face-to-face meetups often feel more natural and will make you more memorable. But feel free to open up your search to people outside your city. You can always have a meaningful conversation over the phone or video chat.
Beyond cold-contacting, consider asking your inner circle (e.g., friends, coworkers, family members, former professors) if they can introduce you to anyone who works in your desired role, industry or company.
Pro tip: If you like your current company, but want to explore other roles, go on informational interviews with your coworkers. This could potentially lead to lateral moves into another department, team or functional role.
How to ask for an informational interview
Once you’ve come up with a shortlist of potential interviewees, it’s time to make the ask. However, getting strangers to respond to a cold message isn’t always easy.
Instead of “My name is X. Here’s my resume. Let me know if you have any jobs for me,” here’s how to convince busy professionals to take time out of their day to meet with you.
1. Schmooze them, but make it authentic.
A generic message is a sure-fire way to get ignored, so think about why you’re asking this person in particular. Are you impressed by an app they built? Did you enjoy reading an article they wrote on software architecture? Are you inspired by their journey from self-taught coder to engineering manager?
2. Ask for career advice—not a job.
If they don’t know you, they probably won’t be willing to do you a favor. But by making it clear that you’re not asking for a job, you’ll take the pressure off the person and improve your chances of a response. (Wait until you’ve established trust before asking for help getting your foot in the door).
3. Bring up something you both have in common.
You’re much more likely to develop a genuine relationship with someone if you share common interests. Are you both alumni of the same university? Do you share a hobby? Are you both from the same city?
Avoid crossing the line: Only bring up commonalities you can find on their professional profiles (LinkedIn, GitHub, company website, etc.)—not a family vacation you found out about by scrolling through their Facebook profile.
4. What do you want out of the interview?
Instead of “I’d love to learn more about what you do,” ask for 15 minutes of their time to talk about how they broke into a career in machine learning. Or ask for 20 minutes to learn about what it’s like to work as a software engineer at Company ABC.
5. Give next steps.
Always end your message with a question so they have something to reply to. For example, you could ask “What time works for you next week?” or you could propose a few days and times that work for you.
Pro tip: Close with “Thanks in advance.” A study of 350,000 emails asking for help or advice shows that this is the most effective email sign-off, with a response rate of 65.7%.
Request for informational interview (template)
Now, let’s put everything together into a message that industry pros can’t ignore:
Hi [First name],
My name is [Your name] and I’m [a recent grad, looking to switch careers, looking for a new opportunity, etc.].
I [found your profile on LinkedIn/got your email from X] and [include what you admire about the person and why you decided to contact them].
[Add anything you have in common]
If you have 15-20 minutes to chat, I’d love to meet with you [over coffee/over the phone/via video chat] and talk about [what you’re interested in learning about, such as the company, career path or industry].
Coffee’s on me! What time works for you in the next two weeks? [Optional: I’m free on Wednesdays and Thursdays between 2pm and 7pm.] Let me know and I’ll send over a calendar invite.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks in advance,
They said yes, now what?
Got a response? Here’s what to do for a successful informational interview.
Ask these questions in an informational interview
You’re here to get answers, so come prepared with 5–10 informational interview questions. You don’t have to stick to a script (it’s important to let the conversation flow naturally), but make sure you have a rough agenda in mind. Remember, this is your meeting, so take charge of the conversation.
Here’s a list of informational interview questions you might want to ask (pick and choose the ones that are most important to you):
- How did your career path lead you to this role with this company?
- What does your day-to-day look like in this role?
- What do you enjoy most about this job, company, etc? What do you like least?
- If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you do differently?
- What’s the most challenging part of your job?
- What big projects are you working on right now?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? 10 years?
- Do you have any advice for standing out as a job candidate?
- Is there anyone else you’d recommend I talk to?
Show your passion
This is a valuable time to show off your personal brand—i.e., who you are and where you want to go, the value you provide, and your passion and enthusiasm. Getting a job shouldn’t be your immediate goal, but making a good impression could lead to a referral down the line.
Bring your resume (but hide it)
While you’re not trying to market yourself, sometimes an informational interview leads to an opportunity and you want to be prepared if it does. That’s why you should bring a copy of your resume, but keep it tucked away unless your interviewee specifically asks for it.
Wrap it up in a timely manner
Keep an eye on your time, making sure to check in if you find yourself going over the 30-minute mark. It can be easy to get carried away, but remember that your interviewee’s time is valuable. Say something like, “I know we’re running up on 30 minutes, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time…”, which leaves it open if they do have more time.
It’s your responsibility to stay in touch. Connect with them on LinkedIn, send a thank you note within 24 hours and update them a few weeks later on how you took and applied their advice.
Valuable career advice for the price of two coffees?
People often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get expert career coaching to hone their job search strategy or attend talks from industry pros at tech conferences. But an informational interview at your local coffee shop might only cost you $8 (if you buy a latte for you and your interviewee).
These informational interviews can put you on the fast track to a career that ticks all your boxes, whether it’s through building the foundation of your professional network, learning from someone else’s mistakes or even getting job leads—without ever having to ask. And there’s no limit to how many informational interviews you can set up (one person went on 30 informational interviews and ended up getting a job at Hulu).