How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

By Lexie Brada

Did you know that, sometimes, there’s an interview before your job interview? If you didn’t, that’s fine! The term ‘informational interview’ is new to many people, but we’ll break everything down for you.

Let’s say that you aren’t quite sure which career or job title you want yet. Having some doubt is perfectly normal, and wanting to be sure that where you try to grow your roots is something you’ll enjoy is even more reasonable.

An informational interview is just what it sounds like; something based in information. It's time for you to figure out if a company is a good fit or not. However, don’t just go into it blind. There is some work you should do to prepare before walking into one.

First, let’s talk about finding someone to do an informational interview with. It doesn’t have to be hard.

Log into your LinkedIn and open your phone directory. You’re looking for connections; people that maybe aren’t in the field you want to be in, but know someone who is. This is a more casual form of networking, in which you’re casting your net out to see what you could draw in for yourself. Even if they don’t have the particular job you want, someone still within a company that interests you can allow you to have a good look at the company culture as well as help you make those connections with someone in a position you wish to fill one day.

If you’re comfortable, you can also cold-connect with people on LinkedIn asking for a meeting. Be courteous, to the point, and professional, and don’t be offended if they say no or never reply back at all. If they say yes, or if you find someone to do an informational interview with you, it’s time to start on our next steps!

Next, do your research. Look up the company's website, read articles about it, and see if you can find any insider information (e.g. on LinkedIn). The more you know about the company, the easier it will be to ask meaningful questions and make a good impression.

You can also make sure to use your time wisely in this way. There are many questions that you can easily answer for yourself on a company’s website that would be wasted time in an informational interview, when you could be asking deeper questions. The questions you are asking may depend on whether you’re trying to work at a specific company with a specific title or just trying to gather knowledge on a job type in general.

The sorts of things you can and should be looking up yourself can include:

  • What is the company’s mission statement?
  • How many employees do they have?
  • What sorts of foundations and charities do they give money to?
  • The CEO of the company
  • Any articles or work published by this company/ items produced by this company
  • Current news about this company
  • Services this company offers
  • The company’s history
  • Their competition
  • If they have any job openings in your field
  • What the posting responsibilities are for that title
  • The average salary for that job
  • How many people often work that job (is there multiple of one kind? Or is it extremely specialized and usually only on a team?)
  • The job title(s) you will go through as you advance at a job like this

By already knowing these, you can use this knowledge as a jumping off point to delve deeper into what it would mean to work with the company by asking questions that you cannot find online.

The next step is, once you have properly researched, to make your own list of questions you wish to ask the interviewer.

This is your chance to find out more about the company and the industry, so make sure to take full advantage of it. In addition to questions about the field or company, be sure to prepare some personal questions about the person you're interviewing. This will show that you're interested in them as a person, not just as a source of information.

Some good questions to ask include:

  • What does a typical day involve?
  • What are the biggest challenges in this industry/role?
  • What are the biggest trends affecting the industry?
  • What led you to your current role?
  • What skills and knowledge are necessary for success in your field?
  • How do people typically advance in their careers at your company?
  • What changes have you seen in your field over the years?
  • What are the hot topics and trends currently affecting your field?
  • What do you wish you had known when you were starting out in your career?
  • What advice would you give someone just starting out in your field?
  • Are there any resources or organizations that you would recommend for someone interested in your field?
  • Do you know of any job openings or internships that might be a good fit for me?
  • What makes this company worth working at?
  • If you couldn’t work at this company, which one would you want to work at?
  • How long does the average person stay at this company?
  • What is one challenge this company has in terms of employment?
  • How do you feel the work/life balance is? Is this for this job in general or specifically here?

If you plan on having more than one informational interview in the same field or the same company, this one is also vital to ask:

  • I’m currently planning to speak to [name the people]. Should anyone else be on my list? May I use your name when I contact them?

Make sure to take good, detailed notes while you are in this interview! Don’t just sit there doing nothing; make sure this time is used wisely and you have some comments to compare to later!

Remember to dress and behave professionally. This isn't a casual chat - you're trying to make a good impression and impress potential employers. So err on the side of caution when it comes to what you wear and how you act. Even if this is a Zoom interview, you should still be in a brightly lit place, have a background free of clutter or put a simple background on, and wear professional attire. This shows that you're taking the meeting seriously and want to make a good impression.

Be sure to express your gratitude for the interview afterwards with a personalized  thank you note. This is another opportunity to make a good impression and show your appreciation for their time. If you felt as though this was leading to a job opportunity, this can also be a chance to (gently) remind the company and maneuver your opportunities.

From here, you’ll either continue to conduct informational interviews or you’ll start applying to jobs or internships that you wish to have!

Want loads more tips on how to ace your interviews, along with other great resources to help you find the perfect career? Download our PathMatch app today!